Chapter 1: Princes of the Universe
I'm a man that will go far
Fly the moon and reach for the stars
With my sword and head held high
Got to pass the test first time, yeah
I know that people talk about me, I hear it every day
But I can prove them wrong 'cause I'm right first time
- Queen, Princes of the Universe, 1986
They met with the client at a tavern on a backwater moon known as Neivis 6. A sign over the door declared the tavern’s name to be The Vengeful Spearfruit. Quill and his fellow Guardians of the Galaxy were just here to make a quick, quiet, and highly profitable deal. The client had requested that they retrieve an object from an archeological site. Apparently the guy couldn't just go get it himself because of some sort of territorial conflict, and so the Guardians, ever willing to assist someone in need, especially someone who paid in cash with half up front, had retrieved the item with very few complications. Now, after a discreet exchange of goods and money, the Guardians would be on their way. Perhaps it was time for a vacation. Only three jumps away, Palcade had a resort where you could bathe in pure moonwater under the stars, listen to bands playing music from all over the galaxy, and mingle with many attractive beings. Most of them even had humanoid forms. They'd have the money to visit a resort like that when the deal was done, even after paying for some well-needed repairs on the Benatar.
The tavern was dark, barely occupied, with a heavy scent of rot that the owners had tried to cover with smoke from smudge pots. Viewscreens flickered on the walls and the tables, some showing an old Kree documentary and the rest scrolling through a list of sports scores for the most popular games in the local star system. Which meant the owner hadn’t sprung for even a basic vid subscription, which meant he wasn’t going to get many customers during the game tonight, which meant this was the perfect place for a quasi-legal business transaction. And the spearfruit ale was pretty good.
Their client, a Rasathman called Mitrik Riit, sat at the end of the table. He was a grey reptile-man, who looked at them through slit pupils and spoke with a hiss in his voice. He had two humanoid bodyguards, one on either side of him, both in the same shade of grey, with visors across their eyes. They carried no visible weapons. Quill, on the other hand, had locked his pistols in a wall cabinet along with Drax’s knives, Rocket’s gun and some sort of bladed pistol belonging to Mitrik Riit. It was a show of courtesy, but just a show. The cabinet was made of plaswood and one good punch would crumble it. Most of the people in the room carried concealed weapons anyway. It was the way business was done.
When everyone had taken their seats, Quill lifted the preservation case and set it on the table. He straightened his back, tugged the lapels of his red leather coat, and said, with as much ceremony as he could, “Through great hardship and extreme personal risk, we have-”
“Just give it to usss,” Riit snapped.
“You know, I worked on this speech-” Quill looked at Riit’s expression and sighed. “Cash first.”
Riit took a unit card from his pocket, held it up. Gamora leaned over and scanned it. “Ten thousand units,” she said. Riit put the card flat on the table and covered it with one grey ridged hand.
“Shhow it to me,” he said.
Quill shook his head in disappointment. “No sense of style,” he said. He popped the catches on the preservation case, which let out a small hiss as the air escaped. He lifted a silvery cylinder about a foot long and half a foot in diameter. It was etched with the letters of a language he didn’t know and had indents around the edges at regular intervals, just the right size to hook a finger into.
“Here,” Quill said. “Just as requested-” He lost his grip on the cylinder and it slid from his hands. He grabbed for it, managed to hook two fingers in the indents, and lifted it up to show it to everyone. “It’s fine, nothing to-” He felt two clicks at the tips of his fingers and the world blurred and changed.
Peter pulled on his linen shirt, a Dwarven-made chainmail shirt, and a red velvet tunic embroidered with the Lion of Narnia in gold. He buckled on his sword belt and studied himself in the mirror. He wanted to show strength, but not aggression. He took off his favorite steel dagger and replaced it with another one that had jewels embedded all over the hilt. The blade was little better than tin, but it looked showy.
Peter looked out the window. The royal family had their own private tower and Peter’s rooms were on the top floor; a benefit of being the High King. The Calormene party was nowhere in sight. Good. Plenty of time, then. Several of the Magpies would be watching the sea and send word when Prince Rabadash’s ship was spotted.
He met his brother Edmund coming down the stairs. Edmund’s tunic was faded from washing and had been patched along one side. “Going to the salle?” Peter guessed.
Edmund nodded. “I’ve got a bit of time before lunch.”
Peter sighed. “You should be meeting with the Prince. You’re much better at diplomacy than me.”
Edmund grinned. “But you’re the High King, with all the rights and privileges thereof.”
The High King stuck out his tongue at his younger brother. “Practice well, then. I will meet you on the battleground tomorrow.”
“I will,” Edmund said. “Did you find a gift for the Prince?”
Peter stopped abruptly. “Oh, Lion’s Toes,” he swore. “I was going to ask Auntie Beaver and I forgot.”
Edmund frowned in thought, then said, “The Treasury. There’s some things that might do on the shelves near the back. Come on, we should have time to find something and give it a good dusting before they get here.”
"What about this?" Peter asked, holding up a necklace.
Edmund recoiled. "By the Mane, that's hideous."
"They outfit themselves in colorful garb, don't they?"
"Not quite that colorful. Besides, it's not a proper gift if we're trying to rid ourselves of it," Edmund said. He took an engraved knife off the shelf in the treasury. "What of this?"
"It's lovely," Peter said. "But I believe it's ill luck to gift a weapon to someone you wish to form a friendship with. Oh!" he exclaimed, pulling an object from behind a vase. "What is this?" He held up a silvery engraved cylinder with indents on the edges.
"How odd!" Edmund said. "Perhaps you use it in the kitchen?" He did not spend much time in the kitchen.
"Or hang it on the wall." Peter blew dust off of it.
"Maybe a weapon?" Edmund suggested.
Peter turned it over. "I can't see how," he said. He slipped his fingers in the indents. "Unless it's some sort of ma-" His fingers pressed something that clicked and Peter disappeared.
Another man appeared in his place. He had dark blond hair, a long, red leather coat and it had been a while since his last shave. "-worry about-" He stopped speaking and stared at Edmund. This man carried a cylinder identical to the one Peter had held. Even as Edmund watched, it crumbled into sand and sifted through his fingers to the floor. "Shit!" the man said. "That's ten thousand units gone. You got a dustpan?" he asked Edmund. "Maybe we can still get partial payment. Also, who the hell are you and where the hell am I?"
"You are in Cair Paravel and I am King Edmund," Edmund said. "What did you do with my brother?"
"Never touched him, I swear!" The man held up his hands. "We talked, that's all. Okay, we had a few drinks, got to know each other a bit, but it was all perfectly -" He frowned. "Wait, which one is your brother?"
"Peter," Edmund said, exasperated.
Edmund sighed, dragged his hand over his face, and said, very calmly. "With whom am I speaking?"
There was a moment of silence, then the man in red leather pointed to himself. "Oh, me? I'm Peter Quill, Captain of the Benatar, but you probably know me as Star-"
"Peter!" Lucy poked her head through the door at the top of the stairs. "The Calormen delegation will be here in half an hour. Are you ready? Oh, hello Edmund. Where is Peter?"
"That's rather the question of the hour," Edmund said dryly. He turned back to Peter Quill. "I'm sorry, please continue."
Quill sighed. "Star-Lord. Also known as Peter, also known as Quill, call me whatever because no one freaking listens when I talk."
"My deepest apologies," Edmund said. "This is my sister, the Queen Lucy. Will you please accompany me upstairs? We have food and drink, if you like, and we can sort this all out."
"Sure, I guess," Quill said. "Brother and sister, huh?"
Lucy smiled. "There are four of us who rule. We have another sister and brother, the Queen Susan and the High King Peter. Peter's the one that seems to be missing."
"Hey, if it works for you, 's all good." Quill looked around the treasury, with glittering jewels, swords and precious artifacts scattered on shelves and hanging from the walls. "So... is this stuff, like, for anybody?"
Edmund stared at him.
"No? Okay, that's cool." Quill said.
"Do you have a gift for the Calormen?" Lucy asked Edmund.
Edmund sighed. "Where's that hideous necklace?" He turned back to the shelf. Quill stepped out of his way and jingled slightly. Edmund frowned.
“Oh, this necklace?” Quill asked, producing it from the air.
"Use the tea set," Lucy commanded, pointing to a lower shelf. "We'll share a bit of Narnian culture and all that. Come on, we haven't much time!"
"Right." Edmund picked up the tea set and went upstairs. Quill left the necklace on a shelf and followed Edmund.
Edmund filled Lucy in on the situation as they walked. "He swapped places with Peter? Are you sure?" she asked
"One minute our Peter was there, and the next the Star-Lord took his place. As we haven't any wardrobes down there, I think we can assume it was the item Peter picked from the shelves that did the switch," Edmund said.
"Where is the item?" Lucy asked.
"It sorta fell apart," Quill said. He mimed brushing something off his hands. "Dust in the wind."
"Well, that will make things more difficult," Lucy said, chewing her lip.
"You think?" asked Quill.
“I'll fetch Susan and Sallowpad and Mr. Tumnus and we'll have a council immediately after Edmund's seen to the Calormen delegation,” Lucy said.
"I don't expect it will take long," Edmund said. "I'm just welcoming them to Narnia. We won't begin proper discussions until the dinner this evening." He looked down at his worn tunic. “Oh, blast, I’ve got to change. We’ll talk later,” he told Quill, and left them.
"Star-Lord Quill, I will take you to Auntie Beaver," Lucy said. "She'll provide you lunch and anything else you might need.”
“Sure,” Quill said. “Auntie Beaver.”
Quill expected a woman in a frilly apron, maybe with a scarf over her grey bun. What he got was… a beaver. Lucy led him to a kitchen where two very large mice and a badger chopped vegetables, kneaded dough and stirred a boiling pot of something that smelled really good. Auntie Beaver did wear an apron, though it was rather plain and covered with flour. Quill didn’t spot any cybernetic enhancements. It was probably rude to ask.
“Auntie Beaver, this is Star-Lord Peter Quill,” Lucy said. “Star-Lord, this is Auntie Beaver. She runs the household and we’d be utterly lost without her.”
“My Lord,” Auntie said, with a quick curtsy.
“Oh, I’m not-” Quill paused. Why couldn’t he be a lord, if he wanted? “-very formal. You can just call me Quill when we’re not being fancy.” He offered his hand and she shook it.
“Quill has arrived rather suddenly and with none of his belongings. Will you please assist him?” Lucy asked.
“Of course,” Auntie Beaver said. “Have you eaten today?”
“Just breakfast,” Quill said.
“Auntie, will you please make sure he finds his way to the parlor by one?” Lucy asked. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you for a bit,” she told Quill.
“I’ll take care of him, don’t you worry,” Auntie said.
“You’re a darling,” Lucy said. She gave Auntie Beaver a kiss on the cheek and left the kitchen.
Auntie Beaver offered Quill a lunch of stew, fresh baked bread, grapes, cheese and wine and led him to a long dining hall lined with tapestries. It seemed to be the end of lunchtime, but a few diners still lingered, chatting. At one table, a Squirrel was arguing with a Centaur.
“Don’t mind them,” Auntie Beaver said. “Nibblestrip is convinced the Centaurs can control the weather, not just predict it, and nobody can convince her otherwise.”
Quill took a seat and picked up a hunk of bread. They’d been eating rehydrated frozen food packs for the last couple days, which were filling and allegedly nutritious, but not very good as a dining experience. "Thish-" Quill said, his mouth stuffed with bread, "-ish really good. Really good."
Auntie Beaver beamed with pride. "Thank you. How long will you be staying?"
Quill chewed and swallowed. "Don’t really know yet."
"We're a bit full up at the moment," Auntie Beaver said. "We've even opened the dungeons for sleeping space. Chained the doors open, of course, and hung up blankets for privacy. Dusted everything, beat the rugs clean, had to mend a couple of quilts because the mice had gotten in to play poker and they are careless with their pipes. But nobody’s complained.”
"I can sleep wherever, but I don't think I'll be staying very long," Quill said.
"Well, we'll get you sorted, don't you worry," she said.
After Quill had eaten his fill, Auntie Beaver lead him into a parlor. The parlor had stone walls and a stone floor, but a thick, burgundy rug covered the floor and the soft midday light filled the room from a large window overlooking the sea. Quill sat in a chair that was soft enough to be cozy but not so soft that he sank in deep. It was a very welcoming parlor.
Lucy joined him soon, and brought with her a huge raven and a man who had the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat. His legs were so hairy that Quill thought they were pants at first, but he realized that the man was only wearing a long leather loincloth. A bold fashion choice.
Lucy introduced the raven as Sallowpad. The goat-man - a faun, Lucy said - was called Mr. Tumnus.
"Susan and Edmund should be here soon," Lucy said. "Oh, here they are." The door opened. Edmund entered first. He now wore a dark red tunic over a silver-grey shirt with flowing sleeves and had a gold circlet of braided wire with a ruby set in the front.
"Did it go all right?" Lucy asked.
Edmund sat down on a couch and tossed the circlet carelessly on the table beside it. "They weren't happy that Peter was absent. The Prince seemed to take it as a slight." He ran his fingers through his hair. "I made excuses as best I could, but I think Peter should arrange a meeting as soon as possible once he returns."
The raven croaked, and said, "It is as the old saying goes, 'It is easier to make a friend than to unmake an enemy.'" Quill jumped when he spoke; he hadn't expected the bird to speak. Fortunately, everyone was looking at the raven and didn't notice.
"Exactly," Edmund said. "Let's get Peter back, then, shall we?" The door opened again and a woman entered. She wore a long, green gown, laced in the front, with sleeves that fell to the floor. Unlike Lucy and Edmund, who were fair, this woman had raven black hair, braided in long strands and wrapped around her head, with flowers woven in. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Quill rose to his feet without thinking. Lucy let out an almost imperceptible sigh.
"Have I kept you waiting?" she asked. "I'm very sorry. There was a mix-up with the booths at the fair and three of the Badgers nearly came to blows with Flintmane."
"Hadn't started yet," Quill said. "You must be Queen Susan." He stuck out his hand. "Peter Quill. Called Star-Lord."
"It's lovely to meet you, Star-Lord," Susan said. She put her hand in his and Quill gave it a light kiss.
"Likewise, your Highness."
"Majesty," Edmund corrected quietly.
"Your Majesty," Quill said.
"I think we can begin now," Edmund said. Taking the cue, Quill and Susan sat down. Quill returned to his chair and Susan sat next to Lucy on a couch. Edmund turned to Quill. "What do you know of the device that switched you?"
"Well, we - my crew and I - were hired to retrieve it. It was in this abandoned ruin on this planet that had gone wild after a big earthquake a few centuries back. We're used to handling rough stuff so it wasn't a big deal." He shrugged, trying to appear effortlessly cool, like Don Johnson. He didn't mention that there had been someone else excavating the site when they'd arrived. Did that really matter?
"Planet?" Lucy asked. "You've been to more than one planet?"
"Sure, lots," Quill said. "Haven't you?"
Edmund, Susan and Lucy shared a look. “My sisters, my brother, and I traveled from another land to this one,” Edmund said. “We didn’t go by ship, though. We came through a wardrobe.”
Quill frowned. “What’s a wardrobe?”
“You hang clothing in it,” Lucy said.
“Like a closet?” Quill asked.
“Yes, exactly,” Lucy said.
“How did you steer it?” Quill asked. “What kind of fuel did it use? How did you all fit?” He looked at their faces. “You know, I really feel like I’m missing something here.”
“Magic,” Edmund said. “We went into the wardrobe, walked all the way to the back and walked out into a snowy forest.”
“That’s it?” Quill asked.
“That’s it,” Susan said.
“Can we use it?” Quill asked.
Susan shook her head. “It only goes one place, and you always get there at the time you left. I don’t think it would help us find Peter and I’m not sure if you could travel through it at all.”
"Do you think our Peter is in space?" Lucy asked.
"Probably," Quill said. "If he's with my crew, he's off-planet by now." There was a long moment of silent consideration, until Edmund spoke.
"Well, there goes my plan of sending a party to fetch him," he said.
“Is he safe?” Lucy asked Quill.
Quill shrugged. “Never know what you’ll run into out there. My guys’ll look after him, though.”
"Look, Su, is there an inventory of the treasury?" Edmund asked.
"Yes, of course," Susan said. "But many records were lost during the Hundred Years' Winter and I had to create new lists. We may not have more than a description."
“It’s worth a look,” Edmund said.
"There are books that contain myths about Men," Mr. Tumnus said. "Perhaps this has happened before."
"We should reconvene after we've gathered more information," Susan said. "Assuming the situation doesn't right itself before then. Star-Lord Quill, has Auntie Beaver found sleeping arrangements for you?"
Quill shook his head. "She just said the dungeons were full."
"I will speak to her," Susan said. "We're providing meals for all festival guests; Auntie Beaver can give you a schedule. I'll let her know that she's to help you if you need clothing or any other necessities. Please don't hesitate to ask for anything."
“Thanks,” Quill said.
They stood up to leave, and Lucy walked over to Quill. “There’s a party this evening for the festival guests and you’re welcome to attend.”
“Sounds good,” Quill said. “I’d love to. What’s this festival about, anyway?”
“The Crown Prince of Calormen - that’s south of here, past Archenland - heard of Susan’s beauty and he has come to court her and perhaps ask her to be his wife. We are throwing a great festival in his honor, with feasts and tourneys and a fair,” Edmund said. The corners of his mouth quirked up just a little as he watched Quill’s expression.
“She’s not available then,” Quill said, and sighed.
“No,” Edmund said. His smile faded. “And I would ask that, whatever your interest in Susan, you do not interfere-”
“Nope!” Quill lifted his hand. “Don’t worry. Not doing that again. Getting royally fucked ain’t worth getting royally fucked, if you know what I mean.”
“I believe I get the gist, yes” Edmund said dryly.
Lucy smiled. “You’ve come to Narnia at a wonderful time,” she told Quill. She bit her lip. “But I do hope Peter’s okay.”
“-gic-” Peter said, and stopped. He found himself in a room he'd never seen before. He stood at the end of a long table, built from battered metal with images etched in glass over the surface. The walls had a straight, even grain, too regular to be natural wood. The floor was covered in a rug worn thin and faded grey from long use. Other chairs and tables sat around the room, as battered as the rest of the room, but empty of people. The place reminded him of the Dwarven tavern in Glasswater, though the tools displayed on the walls looked like none he'd ever seen.
At the table in front of him, six people stared up at him. A frowning raccoon, a tree with a small device in his hands, and a pretty woman with dark hair and antennae rising from her forehead sat to his left. A large blue man with red tattoos and a green woman with red and black hair sat to his right. A grey-skinned man in a dark suit sat at the end a two grey humanoid figures with grey visors over their eyes stood behind him. Peter couldn't see their eyes, but they did not seem to be looking at anyone in particular.
Peter cleared his throat. "Hello," he said. "I am Peter, High King of Narnia. I seem to have encountered a strange bit of magic. Could you please tell me where I am?"
"You're in The Vengeful Spearfruit ," the green woman said. "Where has Quill gone?"
Peter shook his head. "I don't know who that is." He looked down at the object in his hands and lifted it up to take a closer look. At the first hint of movement, the object shuddered, and a moment later it shattered into pieces as tiny as sand and fell through Peter's fingers. The man in the suit stood up and slammed his hands on the table. The glass panels on the table turned blue and symbols in white scrolled rapidly across them. The suited man was short, shorter than Lucy, but stout. He had grey ridges running down his neck and across his hands.
"That iss my property you have desstroyed," the man hissed, and now Peter saw that he had a green forked tongue.
"I really don't think so," Peter said, taken aback by the man's intensity. "It came from the Cair Paravel treasury, which makes it property of-"
"Take them!" the grey man said to his grey servants. Peter drew his sword. The others jumped up from the table, though the tree took a few extra moments to tap something on his tablet before he got up.
The blue man smiled. "It will take more than three of you to defeat us."
“Groot!” the raccoon snapped. The tree slapped his device against his back and branches grew over it to hold it in place. At the same time, the tree’s branches extended, punched a cabinet on the wall and pulled out the weapons inside. He dropped them in the hands of his companions.
The grey man smiled. Both his guards stepped to the side, but left themselves standing in the same place. Each of the four humanoids took a step backwards, leaving their other selves standing in front of them. The green woman drew the hilt of a sword from under her coat and with a flick of her wrist, a blade extended. She thrust it into the nearest humanoid. The creature faded briefly and the sword passed harmlessly through it. It grabbed the green woman's arm and she screamed as grey steam rose from its hand. She twisted and knelt, pulled herself out of the grip and tried to kick its ankles. Her feet passed through it and she stumbled. She caught the back of a chair to keep herself from hitting the floor.
The eight humanoids spread out and duplicated again. The raccoon shot one with an enormous gun, but again the humanoid faded and the shot passed through it.
"I am Groot," the tree said nervously.
"Run?!" the blue man indignantly. "I don't think so."
"Let's call it a strategic retreat," the green woman said. Her arm had gone grey in the spot the humanoid had grabbed, but she ignored it. She dashed around the blue man and pointed her sword at Peter's throat. "You will come with us."
"Yes, ma'am," Peter said politely. It seemed the best strategy for the moment. He sheathed his sword.
"Follow Rocket," she said. The raccoon, who was halfway out the door, looked back at this. Peter guessed that was Rocket. The creature ran out the door and Peter followed. Once outside, he stumbled to a stop, agape. Buildings towered over him, lit with strings of lanterns in all different colors. Great glowing signs hung suspended on cables crossing between the buildings. Advertisements, Peter guessed, though he didn't know the language. Around him were all sorts of people, strange people in different colors and sizes, some with horns or scales, others wearing glittering glass plates or with what looked like armor fused to their limbs. He saw no humans, though, and no fauns, dwarves, or any of the other races from back home, except for the raccoon.
A hand slammed into his back. "Go!" the green woman yelled. Behind her, the grey humanoids duplicated and the grey man yelled in a language Peter didn't understand. Peter followed Rocket and nearly stumbled again when he saw where they were going.
An aeroplane! Peter marveled at the airships in front of him. He’d never been on an aeroplane. As a child, he’d dreamed of being a pilot, destroying German bombers and fighting for King and Country thousands of feet in the sky. But life – and Aslan – had a different path planned for him. He had once ridden a winged horse while leading a battle against pirates on the Eastern Sea, but that wasn’t at all the same thing.
Peter didn’t have time to admire the aeroplanes, though. He was shoved towards a blue and orange triwing plane, with a nose that dipped down like a bird of prey ready to strike. It was badly battered and covered in dents with the paint scraped off in some places, but it was a graceful thing just the same. Rocket leapt up the side of the plane and unlocked a hatch. It swung open. Rocket swung himself inside the hatch and kicked a ladder, which slid down and hit the ground on rubber feet. The green woman pushed Peter and he climbed into the ship.
Two curved knives were immediately pressed to his throat. “Who are you?” demanded the blue man. “What did you do with Quill?”
Peter held still. “I’m Peter, High King of Narnia,” he said carefully. “I don’t know anyone by that name.” They were in a large cockpit, with the open window looking out over the port. The raccoon took one of the pilot’s seats at the front.
“Hey, Drax, we go through liftoff like that and you’ll take the guy’s head off,” Rocket said. “All of you, sit down and buckle up.” There was a sound of scratching, of something crawling up the sides. Rocket flicked a plate of glass in front of him and an image appeared of the grey humanoids swarming over the wings.
“Sit,” the green woman said to Peter, and pointed to a chair. He glanced at Drax, who reluctantly let him go. Peter sat, and let her clip him into the safety harness, but put his hand over his hilt when she tried to take his sword.
“I will answer your questions peacefully, Lady, but you will not take Rhindon from me without a fight.”
“You named your sword?” Rocket said in disbelief.
The green woman just nodded. “Rocket, lock him in.” The raccoon pressed a button and the seat harness tightened with a loud click.
Drax reluctantly sheathed his blades. “We will continue this discussion later,” he said to Peter. He sat down and buckled in, as did the others. The engine thrummed beneath them and despite the uncertainty of his situation, Peter felt a thrill of excitement. An aeroplane! What a story he’d have to tell when he returned home!
The plane shot forward and Peter sucked in his breath as they flew directly at a tattered building, but Rocket shifted a gear and the plane curved up, and kept curving up until it looked as though its nose was reaching for the sky. The grey humanoids fell from the wings. The force of the lift pressed Peter back against his seat. He curled his hands around the arm rests and waited for the plane to level out, but Rocket shifted again and Peter felt another boost of power. This had to be faster than any plane in the Royal Air Force! He waited for the nose to dip and the plane to level out, but that moment never came. As the ship hurtled towards the sky, Peter realized that “aeroplane” wasn’t the right word for this vehicle at all.
The spaceship burst through the atmosphere and out into the darkness above. Peter stared in astonishment at the stars all around him and looked down to see the planet below. Fog – or perhaps smog, he thought, remembering London – covered most of the surface below, though lights shown through, casting a splotchy orange glow over the surface.
“There’s a jump spot fifteen clicks away,” Rocket said. He flipped a couple of switches. “I figure we should get some distance between us and them before we take a break.” He shifted a gear and they sped up again, until they reached a glowing net of linked hexagons. They burst through it and were abruptly somewhere else. The orange planet behind them had disappeared and two other planets were now in front of them, one that looked like red rock and another that swirled with blue and gold. Rocket flipped another switch and the ship settled into a soft hum, hovering where it was.
Everyone unfastened their harnesses and stood up. Peter pushed uselessly at the clip on his chest, but it was still locked. Drax pulled out his blades.
“Drax. Put your knives away,” the green woman said, and her voice held a note of command. The blue man lowered his knives, but did not sheathe them. It did not escape Peter’s notice that the woman’s own sword was still drawn. She introduced the crew briefly: Rocket the raccoon. Drax, the blue man. Mantis, the lady with the antennae. The tree was called Groot and the green woman herself was Gamora. “Where is Narnia?” she asked Peter.
“North of Archenland, by the shores of the Eastern Sea,” Peter said.
“What planet, genius?” Rocket demanded.
“I…” Peter said, and realized he had no idea. “We have no name for it.”
“Great,” the raccoon muttered. “What are the coordinates?”
“Coordinates?” Peter said blankly. He hated feeling stupid and feeling stupid with blades pointed at him was even worse.
“Can. You. Find. It. On. A. Map?” Rocket asked very slowly.
“Oh!” Peter said, relieved. “Yes, I think so.” Even if they had different names, he could still recognize the shape of the coastline. And they must have Calormen on one of their maps. It was too large to ignore, even if the small northern kingdoms could be overlooked.
“How is this relevant?” Drax demanded.
“You think they changed places,” Mantis said softly.
Gamora nodded. “I’ve seen something like this before." She put away her sword, took a small box from a cabinet and bandaged the wound on her arm.
Rocket swiveled a plate of glass towards Peter and jabbed some buttons. “We’ll start here.” He turned the sheet of glass towards Peter and a star chart appeared. “Point at anything that looks familiar,” he said.
Peter stared at him in disbelief. “Is this a joke?”
Rocket leaned over to look at the map, then looked back at Peter. “No?”
“Haven’t you got anything, er, closer?” Peter asked.
“Of which one?”
Peter stared at the image. He had to start somewhere, he supposed. “Try this one.” He tapped one at random.
“That one,” Rocket said.
“Yes,” Peter said. “Why not?”
Rocket dragged a paw over his face. “That’s a sun. It’s a sun. You’re saying you live on the firey surface of a sun in 10,000 degree weather?”
Peter stared at the map again, then pointed at a different dot.
“Also a sun,” Rocket said.
Gamora leaned over and tapped the screen. “Here,” she said, bringing up a surface map. “This is the planet we just left.” She showed him how to make the map larger and smaller and how to move around.
Grateful for the help, Peter studied the map, but finally he shook his head. “No. Narnia isn’t here.”
"What do you know about the device you were holding when you arrived?" she asked.
Peter shook his head again. "Absolutely nothing. My brother and I found it in the Royal Treasury and I picked it up to examine it. Neither of us had seen it before."
"So you stole it from the Royal Treasury and then what? How'd you make it do whatever it did?" Rocket asked.
"I didn't steal it," Peter said indignantly. "I'm the High King. The treasury belongs to my family."
Rocket put a hand to his chest and made a mocking half-bow. “ Well , then, your Maj-” He froze. “Wait, you have a whole treasury of your own?”
“I share it with my sisters and brother,” Peter said. “And the realm, of course.”
“Of course,” Rocket said. “And they’d be grateful to get you back, wouldn’t they? Could be a reward?”
Ah. “Yes, I believe something could be arranged,” Peter said, with a smile.
Groot looked up from his tablet. “I am Groot,” he said.
Rocket turned to Gamora. “We must get this man home safely.”
"You don't know anything and all we've got is a couple of surface scans." Gamora considered this. "We'll have to go to the Librarian."
“I am Groot,” Groot said.
“Chores before games,” Gamora told Groot.
“I am Groot !” Groot stamped his foot.
“Clean up where you shed,” Gamora said. “Ten minutes, that’s all.”
“I am Groot,” Groot grumbled. He shuffled out of the cockpit and down the ladder, stomping each step with a large wooden foot so the sound rang throughout the ship.
“I could do it,” Mantis said, after Groot was gone. “It would be very fast.”
Rocket sighed and shook his head. “He’s gotta learn.”
“Are you fostering him?” Peter asked, curious.
“He’s ours,” Rocket said curtly. He took his seat again. “Buckle up, everyone. We’re off to see the Librarian.”
Next: People Are Strange
When you're strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you're strange
No one remembers your name
When you're strange
When you're strange
When you're strange
-The Doors, People Are Strange, 1967
They arrived on the planet Vardent around midday of that planet's cycle. Both suns were high in the sky, but hidden behind thick, grey clouds. Rocket brought the Benatar close to the ground and steered it directly at a towering building made entirely out of open squares. Peter braced himself as the ship flew directly at the structure, but Rocket piloted it safely into one of the squares and docked it. Peter realized that the entire building was made of rooms designed to hold ships, rather like the part of the bay outside Cair Paravel where small boats were moored.
As they prepared to leave the ship. Peter came to a sudden realization. "I haven't any money." He rarely needed money at Cair Paravel as Susan handled most of the finances.
Rocket shrugged. "Sell your sword."
Peter clutched the hilt. "This is Rhindon, the sword given to me by Father Christmas, with which I slew the wolf Maugrim and with which Aslan knighted me and named me Wolf's-bane. There is no sum of money in the world that could part me from Rhindon."
"What about the dagger?" Gamora asked.
Peter looked down at his belt. "Oh, that's useless. I could sell that."
Rocket eyed the jewels on the dagger. "I know a guy that buys odds and ends. I could get you a good deal. Just twenty percent finder’s fee."
"I wouldn't mind a bit of help, I suppose," Peter said. "But I think ten percent should cover your assistance."
Rocket gave a long sigh, as of one who was at the end of his patience. "You're a stranger. You don't know the language. You don't know the currency."
"Units," Peter said, who had picked up on that much.
"And the exchange rate?" Rocket asked.
Peter paused. "Er. Look, if you tell me the price of bread, I'm sure I can calculate it from that."
Rocket shook his head. "You're hopeless." He threw up his paws. "You'll get half the value, if that. I'm a bargain, but if you can't see that, there's nothing I can do."
Peter considered his options and realized he had very few of them. "Twelve percent. I might only get half without you, but you'll get none without me."
Rocket nodded reluctantly. "It's a deal. I'm doing you a favor, princess, and don't you forget it."
"High King," Peter corrected. "I will remember."
"You should get a translator," Gamora said. She slung a bag across her chest.
"What, hire someone?" Peter asked, puzzled.
She shook her head. "An implant. They're not expensive and you'll be able to manage if we get separated."
Peter frowned. "But everyone speaks English."
"I am Groot!"
"Nearly everyone," Peter corrected himself.
"I am Groot," Groot said smugly.
"Yeah, he's special," Rocket said. “We all got translators. I can hear you, you can hear me. You think I wanna waste time learning Human?”
“I suppose not,” Peter said.
“I know a place. We’ll hit it after you get some units,” Rocket said.
“I’ll go arrange an appointment with the Librarian,” Gamora said. “There’s a diner on the south side of the lake, next to a grocery store-”
“I know it,” Rocket said.
Gamora nodded. “We’ll meet up there.” She turned to Mantis. “Why don’t you come with me, and Drax, you can go with Rocket.”
“I am Groot!” Groot insisted.
“Fine, you can go to the arcade.” Rocket sighed. “You wanna shoot asteroids, we could just go shoot asteroids.”
“I am Groot,” Groot said stubbornly.
“I said yes,” Rocket said. “Don’t spend all your units.” He flapped his paw at Groot and Groot grinned and dashed off.
Drax pressed a switch and a cabinet opened, filled with odds and ends. He took out three soft squares and handed one to Rocket and one to Peter. Peter unfolded it and realized it was a long jacket, thin enough to be nearly transparent, but with a tint of red around the edges.
“For the rain,” Rocket said. He was already wearing his. “It’s Quill’s. He won’t care.”
The rain here must be pretty light if a jacket like this was enough protection, but he put it on anyway. They left the docking room and went into a long hallway, painted in a forgettable beige, then got on a lift. Peter hadn’t realized it was a lift until the floor dropped. It stopped a moment later, in a surprisingly gentle landing. Drax pushed open the door.
It was, simply, the greenest place Peter had ever been. Moss covered the buildings, vines wrapped around the lampposts and grass stood waist-high all around. A pathway wound through the streets and forked off to the doors of the buildings. Peter stepped out of the lift and was hit by a deluge of water. He looked up to see where the waterfall was coming from and choked on the water that filled his nose and mouth. He spat. The water had an odd taste; something pungent and earthy. “Is it poisonous?” he asked, wiping his hand over his mouth.
“The rain pulls up fertilizers in the mountains and dumps them on the lowlands,” Drax said. “It is the reason for the virility of the plants in this region.”
“Really,” Peter said. He held out his cupped hands and let them fill up. “The crop yield must be incredible.”
“They provide most of the food for the star system,” Drax said.
“We have enough food for our people back home, but my sister Susan has been thinking we could export-”
Rocket cut in. “You two can stay here and chat vegetables, but I’m gettin’ out of the weather.” He stomped off through one of the pathways. When he turned a corner, the grass hid him. Peter hurried to follow.
He didn’t have far to go. Rocket stopped at a small shelter next to a raised track. He smacked a button on the side of the shelter and moment later, a small, yellow carriage slid down the track and stopped in front of them. It was rectangular, with rounded edges, and hung by a single arm from the track. It swayed a little when Rocket opened the door set into its side. “Come on,” he said. Peter and Drax climbed into the carriage after him. It had two benches built into the side of the that faced each other. No driver was in sight.The door snapped shut, Rocket tapped on a glass screen and the carriage shot forward. It slid smoothly along the track as the ground below them dropped slowly.
Peter eagerly leaned over to look out the valley below. A cluster of buildings in the center of the valley rose up from the greenery, vines twisting around them as if the plants were trying to draw the buildings back to the earth. Several of the buildings had murals painted on their walls. They showed people who were not human, but appeared to be held in high regard. They wore no crowns, but all had prominent jewelry of some sort and one was posed in front of a flag.
The track dipped down and stopped in front of a rain shelter on the top of one of the buildings. Rocket jumped out of the carriage and led them to another lift, which dropped them straight to the ground floor. Outside, the rain still sluiced down on them. Rocket led them to a shop on the fifth floor of another building, where Peter sold his dagger to a woman with tiny television screens embedded in her arms. Peter wondered if she was born that way (it seemed unlikely) or if she’d had them installed (a very odd choice, though they did appear to be useful) but he politely did not ask and no one offered an explanation.
Rocket then led them to a medical office in a different building. It wasn't a large office, but corridors led off to the right and left, presumably to other rooms. The floors and tables were white and polished to a shine. A desk faced the door and a woman with pink skin and brown hair sat at it, writing something in a ledger.
Rocket hopped up on the desk. "My friend here needs a translator implant." He waved at Peter.
The woman eyed him with distaste and tugged a stack of folders away from his feet. "Do you have an appointment?" she asked Peter.
"Er, no," Peter said. He glanced over at Rocket, who shrugged uselessly. "We've only just arrived here."
She sighed heavily. "We have a remote appointment site that you can connect to from any standard comm system."
Peter tried to act as if this made sense to him. "I'm sorry."
She sighed again and flipped open a different ledger book. "You're in luck. We had a cancellation. What's your name?" she asked Peter.
"I am Peter of Narnia," Peter said.
"Is that your full name?" she asked.
"No, but -"
"Your full name, please," she said, pen hovering over the paper. "It's regulation."
Peter unconsciously straightened his back and said, "I am High King Peter the Magnificent, Wolf's-Bane, Emperor of the Lone Islands, Lord of Cair Paravel and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion." She blinked at him. "Pevensie," he added. She nodded and bent her head to write it down.
When he'd given all the necessary information, she pointed at a set of white chairs against the wall and said, "Wait there. The doctor will see you soon."
Peter, Rocket and Drax took their seats. Rocket took a handful of wires and metal plates from his pocket and began to fiddle with it. His feet dangled high above the floor. Drax picked up a magazine with a blue and gold woman posing on the cover with a large gun. Peter looked at the selection of magazines, but none of them were in a language he could understand.
"Is it a very painful procedure?" he asked.
"What is the worst pain you've ever felt?" Drax asked.
Peter thought about this. "I once took a spear to the belly and my brother had to carry me down a mountain in the middle of a storm," he said, then, "Wait, no, I took a severe burn on my left side when we drove a dragon away from the Lone Islands. That was worse."
"This ain't going to hurt as much as those things," Rocket said.
Drax looked him over. "You have no scars."
"I have a very faint one here, where the spear pierced me," Peter said, putting his hand over the spot. "My sister has a cordial with the juice of the fire-flower that heals all wounds short of death."
Peter sat for a silent moment as Drax turned the page in his magazine, then said, "Have you had any interesting wounds?"
"No," Drax said. "I don't get injured."
Rocket looked up from the project in his hands. "You got knocked out by Ronan and nearly drowned!"
"That doesn't count," Drax said calmly.
"What? Why not?" Rocket asked.
"I don't remember it," Drax said.
"Because of the head wound!" Rocket exclaimed.
Drax ignored Rocket and looked at Peter. "You should try not getting injured."
Peter waited, but Drax didn't add anything else. Peter nodded. "That's a good strategy. Thank you for the advice."
Rocket rolled his eyes. "Either of you got a battery?" he asked. Drax produced a small metal cylinder from his pocket and gave it to Rocket.
"Thanks," the raccoon said.
As it turned out, the procedure barely hurt at all. The doctor pressed an injector to his neck, just below his right ear, and pulled the trigger. It stung briefly and then the pain faded to a faint ache. The doctor told him that the ache would fade in a few hours. Peter touched the spot, but did not feel a wound or a bump.
"Here, read this," the doctor said, handing him a chart.
Peter stared at the strange words in foreign alphabets, then blinked and rubbed his eyes when the letters shifted and settled into the familiar Latin alphabet. He lifted his head as he heard a whirring sound. He touched the implant. Was it supposed to be doing that?
But the doctor was giving Rocket an odd look. "Is your pocket moving?"
"What?" Rocket asked. He looked down at the pocket carrying his project. "Oh, crap," he said. He left the room, and a moment later, they heard a muffled boom. Rocket returned, smelling of smoke. "It's all right," he said, to the faces staring at him. "I'm fine."
Peter looked at Drax, who seemed to see nothing odd about this. The doctor looked a little confused, but she tapped the chart he was holding. "If you could please read this?" She held up a small device and watched the screen.
"Certainly," Peter said. "'The rapid beige Ferex leapt over the laggard hound'," he read aloud.
The doctor nodded and put the device away. "Everything's in order. Do you want any additional language packs? 20% off if you buy them now."
"No, thank you," Peter said.
The doctor nodded. "If you come back here, it's 10% off for the life of your implant since you bought it from us. Any upgrade at any time."
"That's very generous," Peter said, but he expected he wouldn't be back after he returned to Narnia. It was a pity, really. He would have loved to explore this new world, but this unexpected trip couldn't have come at a worse time. The festival would bring people from all over Narnia and beyond and as High King, he should be there to meet them and speak to them, so they knew the High King would be on their side in times of trouble - and so he knew he could call on them when needed. Besides, he was missing all the fun! The merfolk would be singing for them, which only happened on rare occasions, and there would be a joust, and he and Edmund were to fight in an exhibition duel. He couldn't stay away for long. But perhaps this Librarian would have answers.
They met up with Gamora, Mantis, and a sullen Groot in front of the diner. "I am Groot," Groot informed them when they arrived.
"You spent all afternoon at the arcade. It won't kill you to spend some time with us," Rocket said.
"I called in a favor and we've got an appointment with the Librarian. We can get dinner after. Many of the places here are open all night," Gamora said.
Something cooking in the restaurant smelled delicious, but Peter nodded. Finding out about the device that had brought him here was more important.
Gamora led them to a building to the - well, Peter would have called it south back home, based on the movement of the sun, but with two suns here, he wasn't sure how it worked. Did they even use four cardinal directions? They must, right? In any case, she led them to a tall building that had a mural of a bookshelf covering an entire side of the building, with a shelf of books on each floor.
"The library's in there?" Peter asked.
"That is the library," Gamora said. Peter looked up and tried to estimate how many books were in that building. More than in all of Narnia. "It's not all books, of course."
"Oh," Peter said, surprised at his own disappointment.
"There's a floor for music and a floor for classes," she said. "The top five floors houses Special Collections. That's considered too dangerous to be open to the general public."
"Where are we going?" Peter asked.
Mantis pointed upward. "All the way to the top," she said.
This lift was slower than the others, because people got on and off along the way. When they'd reached the highest floor that the lift buttons allowed, Gamora swiped a card and the lift kept going up. It stopped at the top with a faint ding and the door slid open with a whoosh. They stepped out of the lift into a small office, where a blue man with green scales instead of hair sat at a desk reading a book. He looked up when they came in and raised a single, green-scaled eyebrow.
"Hello," Peter said. "I am Peter of Narnia, and these are-"
The blue man put up a hand sharply to stop him, then held out his hand. Gamora gave him the card she'd used in the elevator. He picked up a tablet, swiped the card along the edge, and read whatever appeared on the screen. Then he nodded. Gamora started to step forward, but he held up a hand again, still watching the screen. Finally he nodded again, pushed a button on the edge of the desk and a door behind him slid open. He swept his hand toward the door.
"Thank you," Peter said, but he'd already picked up his book again. Right, then. He followed Gamora into the next room.
The Librarian had eight (at least) tentacle arms stretched out around her office, tapping on keyboards and screens, calibrating instruments that didn't appear to be attached to anything and darting around to change places or type on a new screen. One arm brushed against a stack of books, but as it teetered on the edge of the table, another arm swept in and caught it, straightening the stack and giving it a small pat.
"Yes?" the Librarian asked. She wore a loose skirt and a sweater vest. A pendant hung from her neck in the shape of an eye, and Peter was wondering what it symbolized when it looked at him and blinked. He started.
"We need information on an item we found," Gamora said. She produced a small silver rectangle and handed it to the Librarian.
"'Found'," the Librarian snorted. She took the disk from Gamora delicately with the tip of one arm and slid it into a slot on the wall. An image of the device that had transported Peter popped up on the screen. "Where is the item now?"
"It is gone, my lady," Peter said. "It crumbled to dust."
"You used it, then," she said. "Where did you go?"
Hope bloomed in Peter's chest. If she knew what it did, she surely could reverse it! "Well, here," he said. "That's rather the issue."
"And you didn't bring the other along for a return trip?" All three of her eyes focused on him.
"I only had the one," Peter said.
"Our friend had the other," Gamora said. "We believe they might have changed places."
The Librarian nodded. "Yes, if they triggered the devices at the same time, that would happen."
"Where can we find another one?" Peter asked.
"You cannot," the Librarian said. She popped the disk out of the slot and handed it back to Gamora. "Only one set was made and the maker is long dead. I'm surprised these survived. I'd assumed they were used up centuries ago."
"But...," Peter said helplessly. "How will I get home?"
She shrugged. "Like anyone else, I suppose. Find a transport and plug in the coordinates. There are crews that will let you work for passage if you can't afford it."
"I don't know the coordinates," Peter admitted.
She raised three eyebrows. "How does anyone let you leave the house, boy?"
Peter's face burned. "I am no boy, my lady. I am Peter, High King of Narnia, and I did not travel here by choice!"
"And I am no lady," she smiled, showing teeth. "Narnia, then? Is that your planet?" She pulled up a keyboard.
"Country," Peter said. "I do not know the name of my planet, if it has one." He hurried on before she could comment. "Have you any references to Narnia? Calormen? Archenland? Telmar?"
She tapped at a keyboard, but shook her head to each of these. "Have you had any other identifiers?"
Peter shook his head.
"Well, then." She hit a button and the door behind them slid open with a whoosh. "Rufuz will validate your parking if you need it." She looked directly at Gamora. "My debt to you is paid."
And they were waved back into the lift and going down before Peter could think of anything else to say.
After a quiet moment, Mantis spoke up. "Perhaps Quill will find a way back," she said. She looked at Peter. "And you could do what he did, but in reverse."
"Perhaps," Peter said gloomily. Aslan wouldn't leave him lost here, would he? Surely not. Unless Aslan had expected this to happen. Was there another prophecy? A lesson he needed to learn? He wasn’t a tame lion.
They didn't speak for the rest of the lift ride, until they were out in the pouring rain. "Does it ever stop?" Peter said irritably. He tugged the hood of his jacket forward. In truth, he was entirely dry under the coat, but he was getting very tired of having sheets of water dumped over him.
"Let's eat," Rocket said, and so they went to the diner.
Peter's brief enjoyment at being able to read the menu diminished when he realized he recognized none of the dishes. "What would you recommend?" he asked his companions.
"This one," Rocket said. "I heard it's good for humies."
"He means humans," Drax explained. Rocket leaned close to Drax and said something that made both of them snicker.
"All right," Peter said. He supposed it was as good a choice as any.
Mantis looked at the menu item Rocket had pointed out. "Quill doesn't like that one," she said.
"Oh?" Peter said, without much interest. Right now, he didn't care much about Quill's likes and dislikes.
Mantis nodded. "He says it wriggles in your stomach."
That got Peter's attention. "Wriggles?"
"Yes," she said. "It's served live and you eat it whole."
Peter looked at Rocket. Rocket and Drax broke into laughter. "What does Quill like?" he asked Mantis.
She studied the menu, then pointed out an item. "He gets this at lots of places."
The meal Quill preferred turned out to be a slab of cooked meat and slices of fried tubers. He ate it with a beverage made of some kind of fruit, which Mantis assured him was a favorite of Quill's.
"How did you become King?" she asked him, as they were finishing their meal. "Was your father King before you?"
Peter felt better now that he'd eaten a proper meal. There had to be a way to get home, and he would find it. He shook his head. "No, my father was never a king. When I was fourteen, my brother and sisters and I traveled to Narnia," he began, and he told them the story of four children and a wardrobe, a Witch, and a Lion. He left out Edmund's betrayal, however. It was in the official histories in the castle's library, but when the story was told at the Feast of Aslan's Spring every year, the bards did not mention it, and the ballads that were sung across Narnia left that verse out.
Mantis listened to the story eagerly and Drax stopped him to ask more about the battle. Gamora stayed silent, though, until Peter had finished his story, and then said, "This Aslan. He took you away from your parents and made you into his weapon? He offered you the chance to rule in exchange for destroying his enemies?"
Peter didn't understand the sadness in her voice. "Yes," he said. "I suppose he did."
"I am Groot," Groot said eagerly.
"He wants to hear about the trees again," Rocket translated, so Peter told the story of the first Dryad he'd befriended in Narnia. Gamora did not say anything more.
"We should go back to the ship and get some rest," Peter said. "We can begin afresh tomorrow."
"Hey, we don't take orders from you," Rocket said. "I'm going to go back to the ship and sleep."
"I am Groot."
"It is not the same!"
Peter rolled his cup between his hands, watching the pinkish green pulp swirl at the bottom. Plink. Peter looked down in puzzlement at the thumb-sized silver disk that had attached itself to his shoulder. Plink. Drax got one, too. Plink. Plink. Plink. Groot, Gamora, and Rocket. Plink. Peter guessed that was Mantis, but he couldn't look because he found himself completely unable to move.
“We got ‘em!” an unfamiliar voice said. “Roll ‘em up, boys, we got a shipment for the Diamond.” A face with a green beard, gold eyes and a rather rank smell peered into Peter’s face. Peter tried to twist away, but he couldn’t even turn his head. “Gimme an extra zap on this one. Still got the lights on in here.” Peter tried to speak, but the silver disk on his shoulder gave him a strong electrical shock and everything went dark.
Next: Dancing in the Moonlight
We'll return to Peter Quill in the next chapter, which will be up in about two weeks. After that, I'm taking a posting break until after January 1, since everyone's going to be reading Yuletide and holiday exchanges for a while. Subscribe if you want to be notified when the next chapter goes up!
The playlist for this fic is up on Spotify and I'll be adding relevant tracks to it as I go.
Chapter 3: Dancing In the Moonlight
Lucy shows Quill some Narnian hospitality by taking him to a party in the woods, where he makes new friends.
This was supposed to go up on Dec. 16, but there's so much happening in December that I figured I'd post it early. So enjoy! Step away from the burning wreck of Tumblr, take a break from figuring out all the features in Pillowfort, and read fic for a bit.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
We get it almost every night
When that moon is big and bright It's a supernatural delight
Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight
Everybody here is out of sight
They don't bark, and they don't bite
They keep things loose, they keep 'em tight
Everybody was dancin' in the moonlight
- King Harvest, Dancing in the Moonlight , 1972
The party was several hours' ride up the coast to a small forest. Lucy rode a Horse nicknamed Brae, who she said was her usual companion, and they were quite good friends, sharing gossip along the road. Quill rode a Horse called Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay who refused to answer to any shortened versions of his name. Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay informed Quill that he was only providing this service as a courtesy to the Queen, and that Quill shouldn't expect any additional favors after this.
"It's really an honor for a Horse to agree to carry you," Lucy said.
"I appreciate it," Quill said. "It's very kind of you." He eyed the saddle the groom was buckling on the Horse. "How do I steer?"
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay growled and Lucy put a calming hand on his neck. "He's new here. He doesn't know." To Quill she said, "You don't. Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay will take care of everything. All you have to do is hold on."
"I'm sorry," Quill said to the Horse. "I've never been on a Horse before. Or a horse." Even in his brief time in Narnia, he'd learned to hear capital letters.
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay snorted, but Lucy said, "That's good. You won't have picked up on any bad habits. All you have to do is hold on with your legs. Squeeze with your thighs. You can do that, can't you?" She gave him a sunny smile.
"Oh, yeah," Quill said. "I have very strong thighs." He winked. "What if I squeeze too tight, though?"
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay eyed him. "Your human legs cannot possibly do me any harm."
"Yes, they could!" Quill protested, then reconsidered. "If I wanted them to, which I don't."
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay yawned. "Squeeze as tight as you like. If I feel any discomfort, I shall let you know. But," he added sharply. "if you dig your heels in, I will throw you in the dirt."
Quill looked at Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay and turned to Lucy. "Maybe I should walk," he whispered.
"You'll be fine," she whispered back. "He's a sweetheart, really."
Quill looked back at Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay, who grinned, showing teeth.
Despite his threats, Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay carried Quill gently. The road was smooth and well-traveled, so the trip went by quickly. They took a wide path into the forest and the Horses stopped by the bank of a swiftly flowing stream.
Lucy dismounted easily and helped Quill slide off of Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay. He stumbled a little when his feet hit the ground, but kept himself upright and did not knock Lucy over.
"I shall see you later, my darlings," Lucy said to the Horses, stroking each of them on the forehead. Brae nudged her affectionately and the Horses trotted off.
"Where are they going?" Quill asked.
"The Deer are having a get-together and they were invited. It's not far. They'll come back for us later," Lucy said. "Come along!" She pushed through the trees and they came to a large clearing, full of dancers of all kinds of species. Dryads danced with each other, with Satyrs and Fauns and the occasional Dwarf. Smaller creatures, like Rabbits and Squirrels and Foxes and Hedgehogs, danced with each other and wove in and out of the Dryads' dances in time with the music, and in such a graceful way that no one was tripped or stepped upon.
Lanterns hung from branches, grapes grew from all the trees, and barrels of wine were stacked at one end of the clearing, with goblets and bowls beside them. Quill watched as a Fox filled two goblets and gave one to another Fox resting beneath a nearby tree.
A band played a fast, upbeat tune. A Rabbit played a wooden trapezoidal instrument with strings stretched across it longways. His paws danced over the strings, plucking and strumming the tune. A Dwarf played a fiddle, a Faun played a pan flute, and a Horse stood on a wooden platform made of multiple kinds of wood pushed together, with cowbells nailed to the sides. She stamped the platform to the rhythm of the music and kicked the cowbells with perfect timing. Her dancing drove the music and all the other dancers followed her beat. A Raccoon at the front of the band sang a tune. Quill couldn't make out the words, but it sounded old and strong and joyful.
Quill held out his hand to Lucy. "Dance with me?" he asked.
She smiled up at him. "I'd love to." She wore her hair loose, except for a few thin braids woven with ribbons and wrapped around her head. Her dress was made of panels of green and gold green and gold with short sleeves and loose skirt panels that flew out when she spun, like the petals of a flower. You didn't need to know the steps to this dance. The music swept you up and you just had to keep your feet underneath you. Quill and Lucy wove in and out of the other couples, dodging and spinning and laughing for the pure joy of the dance.
Finally the music stopped and the musicians put their instruments aside to have a little wine and catch their breath. "Do you want something to drink?" Lucy asked.
"Sure," Quill said. She went to fetch them wine and Quill tugged the lapels of his red leather coat back in place. He wandered over to the band. "You guys are really good," he said.
"Thank you," the Rabbit said. "This is Janet," he pointed a paw at the Raccoon, "Neehy-Priehy-Winny-Brieny-Heeh," he pointed at the Horse, "Briflkin, and Darrus," he said, indicating the Dwarf and the Faun. "And I'm Clover." He stuck out a paw.
"Star-Lord. Peter Quill," Quill said, shaking the paw. "Hey, do you take requests?"
"Perhaps, perhaps," Clover said. "What would you like to hear?"
Quill fumbled in his pocket and brought out his Zune. "Here, you put these in your ears," he said, showing Clover the earbuds. He demonstrated how to work the music player and queued up the song he wanted. "How about it?"
Clover held an earbud in his ear with a paw and nodded. "I like it. We'll see what we can do."
Lucy returned with two goblets of wine. "What's going on?" she asked.
"Sharing tunes," Quill said. He accepted the goblet she offered.
"Come, I'll introduce you to some of my friends," Lucy said. She linked her arm in his and led him away from the band.
As they left, Quill heard Clover say, "Don't worry about me, I have perfect recall."
"And I have perfect pitch," said Janet the Raccoon.
"We know," the Dwarf and Horse said in weary unison.
"Uh-oh," Quill said, glancing back.
"Oh, are they bickering again?" Lucy said with a sigh. "Don't worry, they'll make up before the next set. Oh! Tumnus!" She let go of Quill and ran to embrace the Faun, nearly spilling her wine.
"My dear Lucy!"
"I thought you wouldn't be here," Lucy said.
"Wouldn't miss it!" Tumnus said. Quill walked over slowly, not sure if this was a private moment. But Tumnus turned to him. "I must apologize, Star-Lord," and here he dipped his head respectfully. "I have found no answers yet."
Quill tried to squelch the weight in his chest at that news. "It's all right," he said gamely.
"I have not finished looking, though!" Tumnus said. "My cousin is arriving tomorrow and I have tasked him with bringing a number of books from my home. I am certain I have a book of legends about King Frank and Queen Helen and I think one tells the story of how they arrived in this world."
"Cool!" Quill said. "I mean, you guys have been super, but..."
"But you miss your home." Lucy smiled. "I understand. We are eager for the return of our brother, as well." She linked her arm with his. "We'll find the answer, I promise."
"Daena asked about you," Tumnus told Lucy.
"Oh, yes, I must say hello! Where is she?"
"She's with Greea in the upper clearing," Tumnus said.
Lucy gave Tumnus a lingering kiss on the cheek. "I must go greet them. I will find you again soon."
Quill heard a strong drumbeat as they went up the hill to the other clearing. This party had no lanterns, just the moonlight streaming through the branches of the trees. The musicians played no melodies and when Quill stepped into the clearing, he realized why. The band consisted of three trees dancing at one end of the clearing and using their own branches as instruments. One shook thick bunches of dry leaves like maracas.
Quill thought he was used to walking, talking trees now, but Narnian trees were nothing like Groot. They were beautiful people in human form; willows with long, flowing leaves for hair that hung below their knees, tall, barrel-chested oaks with layered beards of green leaves and small acorns, slender birches, with limbs as thin and pale as bones, and others Quill couldn't identify. They laughed and flirted and entwined limbs. The trees weren't the only creatures there. Quill saw several Fauns and a Centaur. One Dwarf appeared to be having an intimate conversation with an oak.
Lucy caught sight of someone on the other side of the clearing. "There's Daena and Greea! Come, I'll introduce you." She linked her arm in his and they wove through the dancers to meet Lucy's friends.
Lucy introduced him to Daena and Greea. Daena was a willow. Her long leaf-hair flared out as she moved and made Quill think of a cape. Greea was a birch and her bone-white limbs had a light dusting of green blossoms. There was a third woman, as well. Nacila had a soft, rippling voice, like a flowing river on a summer day. She looked as though someone had poured water over a human woman and taken out the woman, leaving only the water.
"Where did you find this one?" she asked, barely loud enough to be heard above the party.
"He showed up on our doorstep," Lucy said with a smile.
"He's lovely," Nacila murmured. She touched his cheek with a cool, damp hand. Lucy explained that Nacila was a Naiad, a water spirit. Quill could feel the gentle touch of her skin under the water. Nacila turned to Lucy. "May I borrow this one for a bit?"
"He is free to go where he wishes," Lucy said. She looked at Quill.
"I would be honored to spend time with you," he said, with a little bow.
"Have a good time," Lucy said. She kissed his cheek and let his arm go. Nacila took it up.
"Would you like to see my pond?" she asked.
"Absolutely," Quill said. "Is that where you live?"
She led him away from the party and along a path through the trees. "You could say that."
"What would you say?" Quill asked. They came out of the forest and the moonlight let Quill see the pond clearly. It was about fifteen feet wide and fed from a small waterfall a little taller than Quill himself. A dam kept the water in and the overflow poured into the stream below. Nacila dove into the water and disappeared. Quill tried to see her under water, but he could only see rocks. Then she surfaced and Quill saw her take shape as she pulled the water into herself. "I am the pond," she said. Her self flowed like a wave to where Quill still stood on the shore. She stepped out of the water and cupped his cheek with a translucent hand. She kissed him. "Can you swim?" she asked.
"Yes," Quill said. He touched the drops of cool water that remained on his cheek. "If I'm in the pond, am I in you?"
She rested a hand on his chest and thought for a moment. "Yes," she said. "But it is an embrace, not penetration." She slid her hand lower. "I can only be penetrated in my human form."
"Does that mean-"
Nacila shut him up with a kiss. "I can tell you," she said softly, "or I can show you."
"I'm a visual learner," Quill said.
"I am a tactile teacher," Nacila said. She grabbed the lapels of his jacket and fell backwards, pulling him with her.
From down the hill, Quill could hear familiar music.
I love rock and roll
So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
I love rock and roll
So come and take the time
And dance with me
A couple of hours later, Lucy found him asleep, lying next to the pond as the water lapped gently against him. She knelt down and shook his shoulder gently until he woke.
"It's Rocket's turn," he muttered, and threw his arm over his eyes.
She shook his shoulder again. "Quill, it's Lucy. The Horses are here. If you don't want to walk back to Cair Paravel, you need to come with me now."
Quill slowly opened his eyes. "Narnia," he said. He dragged himself to his feet.
Lucy nodded. "Here. Clover asked me to give this back to you." She pushed his Zune and earbuds back into his hand. He slid them in the pocket of his jacket, then grabbed a handful of his shirt and tried to squeeze the water out of it.
"Don't worry," Lucy put a hand on his arm. "We can get you dry clothes at the castle."
"Thanks," Quill said. He knelt down and put a hand in the water. "Thank you. That was awesome ," he told the water. He stood up again and said to Lucy, "Seriously, that was incredible."
Lucy giggled. "I'm glad you could share company with Nacila. I think she gets lonely up here sometimes."
"Any time," Quill said. "Seriously. I mean it." He looked around. "Where are the Horses?"
Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay took one look at Quill and said, "No. Absolutely not. He's drenched. He'll ruin my saddle."
"You've worn that saddle through thunderstorms," Lucy said.
"With a rider over it," Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay said. "He'll get water under the saddle and it'll chafe. He'll have to walk."
Brae stomped her foot. "Oh, stop. I'll carry him. Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay, you can take the Queen. There. Let's go home. I'm tired and I want to be in bed before the wine glow wears off."
And so it was settled. Lucy and Quill mounted the Horses and rode back to the castle.
Lucy walked arm-in-arm with Quill up the staircase of the royal tower of Cair Paravel. "You can dance if you want to," Lucy sang. "You can leave your friends behind. Because your friends don't dance and if they don't dance, well, they're no friends of mine." She leaned against Quill. "It's a bit mean, isn't it? I'd never send a friend away because they refused to dance."
"But you could leave them behind and go off to dance in the woods for an evening." They reached a landing and Quill twirled her.
"I had a wonderful time," Lucy said, with a happy sigh.
"So did I." Quill grinned.
"Come, this way," Lucy said. "You're staying in Edmund's quarters, I believe. I'm sorry we couldn't find better accommodations, but we're packed. We've even had to put people in the dungeons."
"Yeah, your... uh... aunt? mentioned that."
"'Auntie Beaver'. It's okay to call her Auntie Beaver. It's her name."
"Oh. Okay," Quill said.
"Beavers only share their real names with people they're very close to," Lucy explained. "For everyone else, they use titles similar to human ones. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver were two of the first people I met in Narnia. Auntie Beaver is Mrs. Beaver's sister. She's marvelous. I don't know what we'd do without her."
"She's super nice," Quill said.
"We're in the family tower now," Lucy said. "That's our sitting room." She pointed to a door as they went up the stairs. "Then my rooms, and Edmund's above that, then Susan's, and Peter's got the top floor." She gave Quill a slightly guilty look. "Peter's bed is empty, but it doesn't feel right to let a stranger to use it, do you?"
"I know I'd feel weird if it was my bed," Quill said.
They reached the landing on Edmund's floor and Lucy knocked on the door. A moment later, Edmund opened it. He wore soft breeches and a loose shirt and his fair hair hung loose to his shoulders. "Oh? Oh, yes. Come in." He held the door open to let Quill and Lucy in. "Why are you wet?"
"Nacila took a liking to him," Lucy giggled.
"She was amazing," Quill sighed happily. "I have hooked up with quite a variety of chicks, but wow , she was something else."
"Mm-hm," Edmund said. "Do you want something dry to wear?" They were in a living area, with a sofa and a couple of chairs arranged around a low table. To the side stood a bookshelf. A fireplace was set into one wall and a large, framed map was mounted above it. Quill saw the names Narnia and Archenland and Calormen. One end of the room had a cot set up, with pillows and a blanket piled on top of the mattress.
"Yeah, that's be great," Quill said. He adjusted his pants in a way which might have been subtle if everyone in the room wasn't already looking at him. "These are getting a little uncomfortable, if you know what I mean."
"Not a problem," Edmund said, declining to confirm if he knew what Quill meant. He went into another room and returned with a towel and clean clothes. "You can change in there, if you like," he said, pointing at the door.
Quill took the towel and clothes and went into the other room, which turned out to be a bedroom with a dresser, a couple of chairs, a four-poster bed, and enough bookshelves to cover one wall. None of the candles were lit, but the moonlight through the window made it bright enough to change. He went back into the other room.
"You can hang up your wet things on the coat rack," Edmund said, so Quill did.
"I'll let Auntie Beaver know, and she can find someone to clean them in the morning," Lucy said.
There was a knock at the front door of the suite and Lucy ran to open it. "Su! Come in!" Susan wore a dressing gown over a long nightgown and her hair was braided back in a single plait that hung down her back. "Did we wake you?" Lucy asked, closing the door.
"I was up," Susan said. "I wanted to see you. Oh, this is where you ended up!" she said to Quill. "I'm sorry our hospitality is so poor."
"No, no, we're cool," Quill said. "I appreciate you putting me up."
Susan sat down on the sofa. "Well, tell me about the party!" she said to Lucy. She patted the spot next to her. Lucy took the seat and gestured for the men to join them. Edmund and Quill sat down in the chairs opposite the sofa.
"Oh, it was marvelous!" Lucy sighed. "Brrin-whinn-whinny-whooy-hay and Brae carried us to the forest, though we separated at the bottom of the hill. They had their own party, you know."
"I did hear that," Susan said. "Heny-Neeny was thinking of going and asked if I needed a ride."
"Why didn't you come?" Quill asked.
"We had another engagement," Edmund said. "Would anyone like some wine?" There was general assent, so he got up to fetch a bottle and four goblets.
"Prince Rabadash of Calormen has come here to court me," Susan explained to Quill. "We've written to each other, but this was the first chance we've had to meet."
"Tell me everything!" Lucy exclaimed. "How was the fabulous Prince?"
"Oh!" Susan laughed. "He was lovely. He brought me lilies-of-the-south - did you tell him they are my favorites?" she asked Edmund.
Edmund shook his head. "Not I." He poured the wine and brought the goblets to his guests.
"Well, someone must have, because he brought a gorgeous bouquet." Susan went on to tell them of the Prince, of the stories he told of his great battles and his travels around the Calormen Empire.
"What did you think of him?" Lucy asked Edmund.
"A handsome fellow, and one very taken with our Susan," Edmund said.
"Edmund spent the whole time talking to one of Rabadash's ministers about imports and exports," Susan confided to Lucy.
"Oh, Ed," Lucy sighed.
"Not the entire time," he protested.
"At the next ball, I shall hire mice to watch you and alert us if you start to talk business," Susan said.
They chatted for a bit longer, but when the women had finished their wine, they decided to retire to bed. When they'd gone, Edmund went to extinguish the candles and Quill said, "Why don't you like this Rabadash guy?"
Edmund stopped. "What makes you think I don't?"
"You evaded when Lucy asked," Quill said. "He's 'very taken with our Susan'. What's wrong with him?"
"Nothing," Edmund said.
Edmund shook his head. "I don't know. I cannot find a single trait or action that disturbs me, yet I am uncomfortable at the thought of him with Susan." He scratched the back of his head. "It may be that this is the usual reaction of a younger brother facing the possibility of his sister permanently leaving the household."
"Uh-huh, sure," Quill said. "Or he's a dick and she doesn't notice because he's turning on the charm for her. Why don't you just say something?"
"It has to be her choice," Edmund said.
"What if it's the wrong choice?" Quill asked. "Some people - not me - make really terrible choices in relationships."
"I had better take my rest now," Edmund said. "I have a full day tomorrow. You're welcome to keep a candle if you wish to read."
Quill shrugged. "Your family," he said. He went to the cot and unfolded the blanket. Edmund put out the candles and went to bed.
Next chapter in January! Thanks for reading! Comments are always love. <3