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the grace of kings

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ANVARD. AUTUMN 1006

“I appreciate your coming out all this way, King Peter, truly.”

It had taken some time, following their coronation, for the new Narnian kings and queens to get their bearings enough to finally make the trip to Archenland. Since that first trip, the Pevensies tended to travel in various pairs to visit King Lune and his court, as they did to any of the other kingdoms. 

Peter, however, had resolved to make his way to the castle in the mountains on his own quite regularly. It seemed a bit pointless at times, as, in the past two years, he still hadn’t heard anything from even the furthest reaches of Narnia regarding Prince Cor’s whereabouts. But, he had not lost hope yet—he was determined to see this through.

“It’s nothing,” he insisted, before realizing how crass it sounded. This visit was nothing; he had found nothing. 

Still, the King of Archenland didn’t appear to be offended. After so long, Peter wondered if the hospitality he gave felt more natural than it did tactic. Lune was getting on in years, but Peter reckoned he felt much older than he actually was. Losing a child seemed to be the kind of experience that aged a person.

“We’ve received reports last week of drifting snow in the mountain pass. Are you certain we can’t convince you to stay a few days more? Or aid your return home? I understand your siblings are across the seas with a few of your ships. We would be glad to offer you use of one of our charters.”

He shook his head. “Thank you, but I’m afraid a sea voyage would delay me longer than necessary. I’m due for a visit with the dryads of the Shuddering Woods within the week.”

“Then, please, at least take stock from our stores for your journey.”

Peter bowed his head in gratitude, silently marveling at the man’s strength. To be so gracious, to open his arms to child kings and queens, no matter how weighed down he was with the loss of his own son. It couldn’t have been easy. Peter had a hard enough time handling Narnia himself, and he neither had the same burden nor the need to do it all alone. But King Lune never appeared as burdened as he must have felt. Instead, he held a steady and dutiful grace. 

Absently, Peter wondered how long it might be before he himself had something even vaguely akin to it. 

 

The thuds of wooden blades rang through the training yard, punctuated by shouts of encouragement and direction. Early though it was, Prince Corin’s movements were quick and the battering of his weapon against another was loud. 

Still, the sound of Peter’s voice cut through to him sharply, and it was enough of a distraction to land him flat on his back in the dirt at his opponent’s feet. 

When he managed to catch his breath and pry his eyes open again, Corin found himself staring up at the Narnian king’s face, a rueful smile directed his way.

“You missed a step, there,” Peter said lightly, before extending a hand to haul him up. 

“I would have had him!”

“I know, Corin,” he said, smiling slightly. “Come on, I’ll help you put everything up.”

On their way out of the yard, Corin made a point to catch the eye of his opponent—Emylan, another page boy about his age—and give him a nod. He nodded back, stiffly, and Corin turned his attention to Peter. 

He’d first met the Narnian king four years prior, but Corin barely remembered the occasion. In fact, he remembered Queen Lucy more than he did King Peter, at least from that visit. Since then, however, the High King had come to Anvard often—much more frequently than his siblings did. Corin has come to appreciate his time with the king. Looked forward to his visits, however brief they tended to be.

“When did you get in?” he asked when they made it to the armory.

“Late last night.”

“Are you here for long?”

Peter shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Just until the afternoon. I’m only passing through this time.”

They settled in the far corner of the room, near the benches, and Corin worked methodically at the straps of his gear. If Peter only had the morning with them, this would likely be all the time he would get.

“Something on your mind, Corin?”

He looked up, a bit startled, but Peter only smiled.

“You’re normally much more talkative than this.”

Corin dropped his gaze and bent forward, shifting his efforts to his shin guards. “It’s nothing.”

“If you’re worried about what happened in the fight, don’t be. You’re still training, you know.”

Corin nodded dumbly, but he could feel the weight of Peter’s gaze on the back of his head still. Then, the gentle touch of his hand at his shoulder.

“It’s not the fight, is it?” Peter asked, pulling him carefully back upright. “What is it, Corin?”

“Why…” He took a breath, and picked his head up. “Why do you visit so often?”

Peter furrowed his brows but did not look away. “What do you mean?”

“It’s just… We get envoys from the islands all the time, and I’ve met so many of their families I can hardly keep their names straight without help. But you don’t make as much of a fuss about your visits as they do, and your trips are always so short.”

Something in Peter’s posture eased. “My visits don’t have the same purpose as theirs, Corin. 

“I know. You talk to my father about things I’m not allowed to know about, even though he says I should be learning everything about the kingdom. Including our affairs outside the kingdom.”

“I don’t come to Anvard to talk about diplomacy. I expect you’d see a lot more of Queen Susan or King Edmund than you would of me, if that was the case.”

Corin frowned, “I don’t understand.”

Peter sighed. “You’ve grown up in Anvard, so you don’t have much other example to go by aside from your father’s, but not all kingdoms are ruled by just one man. It’s true that for our kingdoms, a king is all that’s needed to govern and lead the people—or just a queen, perhaps. But in most cases, a king and queen tend to rule together and, often, they share their duties. 

“In Narnia, we’re luckier. There are four of us to share the crown, and for the most part, we attend to the things we are best suited for. Susan and Edmund are better negotiators than I am, generally speaking.” 

Thinking back to what little time he’d spent with the other Narnian monarchs, Corin was inclined to agree—though by his way of thinking, their youngest sibling was plenty persuasive too, if a bit unorthodox.

“Then how come we hardly ever receive them?”

“Because there’s little reason to negotiate new terms to the alliance between Narnia and Archenland, and we’ve come across no real need to rely on one another against those who might pose a threat,” he answered simply. “Things are good between our kingdoms.”

Corin bit his tongue to keep from asking the same question as before. Clearly, Peter would not answer him directly. With a silent nod, he returned to his leather gear, and, after a moment, Peter followed suit, tending to the straps at his shoulder. 

“Does it get tiresome?” he asked, a short while later, after freeing his arms of their padding.

“What’s that?” 

“Being king.”

Peter stilled, but Corin grit his teeth and pressed forward.

“Father always says kings and queens are representations their kingdoms. He says I should learn to be more aware of my actions because of it,” he explained softly. “Because I’ll have to be an example for the people here one day, when I am king.”

Peter’s answer came slowly, like he was afraid he might be misunderstood. “I’m afraid tiresome doesn’t begin to cover it. Being king is not a simple task, and there aren’t any true rules or guidelines, so it can be difficult to know whether you’re doing the right thing.”

“So, how do you do it?”

He knew Peter hadn’t been king for very long. Just a few years less than Corin had been alive, actually. But somehow, he felt asking Peter was easier than asking his father. 

“Do you love your people, Corin?”

The prince looked up at him curiously but nodded. He was only nine, sure, but Corin knew what it was he felt for Archenland. He wanted to do right by them, any way that he could. 

“Then, that’s all you have to remember. Keep their well-being in mind. Know what it is you hope to achieve for them and stay true to it.”

“But what if I make a mistake? What if I fail?”

“It won’t be a matter of if, but when. Everyone makes mistakes, even kings.”

“But how will I—”

Peter set his hand gently on his shoulder, a careful mirth rising in him. “Easy there, your Highness. Your father is still in good health, remember? You have time yet make your fair share of mistakes—with plenty of help along the way, I’m sure.” 

“Help?”

“Of course,” Peter confirmed. “You’ll have your council to turn to. Some of them will have years of practice and experience, and some will bring fresh eyes to various situations. Value their opinions and trust your own judgement.”

Frowning still, he asked, “Do you ever disagree with your council?”

To his surprise, Peter laughed. “Almost every day.”

“Every day?”

“Yes, though I suppose my circumstances are a bit unique. My siblings reside on Narnia’s High Council.” Corin felt his jaw drop, but Peter only continued. “Disagreements aside, I’m fortunate to have their counsel. When the time comes, you can too, if you request it.”

Corin slowly drew his mouth closed again and swallowed. Then, schooling his expression back into something more appropriate, he dipped his head in a shallow bow. “I would be grateful for it.”

“Good. Then I’ll make sure we all call on Anvard more often. Or perhaps we can arrange for you to come to Cair Paravel.”

“Truly?” he asked, perking up considerably. He hadn’t been outside the kingdom yet, and the opportunity to do so was exceptionally appealing.

Peter grinned. “You should get to know all the men and women advising you. I trust my brother and sisters with my life and with all of Narnia. But it is because I know what they believe and what they each hold dear that I can form my own judgement after hearing theirs.”

“It seems,” he admitted bashfully, “I’ve got a lot to learn.”

“There’s always something more to learn, Corin.”

“Even for kings?”

“Especially for kings.”

 

They were only an hour out from Anvard when Oreius fell into step beside him, silent but curious. The centaur had an unnatural ability to appear just when Peter needed him. Most of the time it was convenient and reassuring. Other times, less so.

“Do you think we’ll find him?” Peter asked. The wind that cut through the mountains made his ears ring, but he knew Oreius had heard him.

“He has been missing for many years now, my king.”

“Yes, but…” He bit his lip. There were certain things better left unsaid. Certain things over which he did not want to tempt fate. “Corin. He…he’s worried.”

“I should think all young princes worry, your majesty. The Archen boy is no different. He has a people to care for, himself.”

“No. I mean…” Peter sighed, unsure how to put it all into words. Corin’s fear had been palpable in the armory that morning. He’d been quiet, cautious in his questions, but they were the same questions Peter himself had at the beginning. Questions he still had at times, when he thought the worst of himself. 

It had taken time for him to understand he did not have to bear the full responsibility of Narnia’s well-being on his shoulders alone. He had plenty of discussions about the matter with Susan, Edmund, and Lucy each—more than once and, from time to time, with all of them together. And yet, as much as he knew he wasn’t alone, the doubt lingered. 

His conversation with Corin that morning was a clear reminder, and no matter how he’d managed to calm the prince’s worry, Peter’s remained. Not just for his own kingdom, but for the task he’d given himself for King Lune’s sake.

“What happens if we find him?” he asked. “He disappeared a year after being born, and even if we’re lucky and find him in the next year, he’ll still only be ten. How can we possibly expect him to accept that he’s the crown prince of Archenland? He could ha—”

“Your majesty, please.” 

Peter stopped short and realized how quickly his heart was beating, how shallow his breaths had become. Taking in the mountain air, he calmed slowly.

“If you do not mind me saying so,” Oreius said. His voice was warm and deep, soothing in its own way. “I know of another young man who held similar concerns at accepting his role as leader of a nation.”

He looked up, catching a kind expression on the centaur’s face. 

“As far as I can recall, he took the to transition well enough, with some help. I suspect the same would hold true for the Archen prince.” 

For a moment, Peter wasn’t sure whether Oreius’s reassurances were all that comforting. He loved being king, but he hadn’t been lying before, when he told Corin of how difficult the task was. To be responsible for placing that sort of burden on someone who didn’t see it coming seemed wrong.Corin, at least, understood his role as prince, knew the throne of Archenland was meant for him some day. Cor, should they find him, would change all that—and he hadn’t a clue what awaited him.

“I trust your worries to be of proper concern, my king. But perhaps they are better suited for King Lune to address, after we’ve found the boy.”

Oreius was right. The business of Archenland’s throne was not Peter’s responsibility. His only obligation toward the matter was self-inflicted, born out of his own desperate need to keep a family together. And if Lune had been kind enough to accept the help, then Peter had to trust that he had a plan—or would have a plan when the time came—for how to address his own legacy. 

In the meantime, Peter would keep looking for Cor and attend to his own kingdom.