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Rejection of the Terms

Chapter Text

I. The White Stag

The chill woke him. Peter prised open an eye and pulled the blanket closer. "Can you close the doors?"

He asked even though, after all these years, he knew the answer and it was always the same.

"No," the Dryad said.

Dinan was standing on his balcony. She had thrown open the doors to the pre-dawn and now hummed and swayed to a song in the language of the Trees. Golden and russet leaves of Autumn fluttered into the room and whirled about her, tangling in her silver hair. Her thin arms stretched, long, waving and twining with her brothers and sisters of the Wood about Cair Paravel.

The Dryad would always wake thus. No matter the temperature outside that blew into his room, his complaints always fell upon deaf wood.

Dinan stilled and her limbs tensed. Peter felt, through the frame of his bed and into his bones, a thrumming energy.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Tumnus comes this way with news," she replied. "My sisters have seen the White Stag in the Western Wood."

So legends again roamed Narnia. "The White Stag? If you catch him, he grants wishes?"

"Yes."

Dinan pulled her limbs into her trunk, turning from Tree to Woman, and stepped back into the room. She drew the doors closed.

A bright red leaf, Maple, drifted down and landed on his bedsheet. Peter picked up the leaf and twirled it between his fingers. "Perhaps I should ride out and catch this Stag."

The Dryad stared at him, seeming now oddly forlorn. "But for what would you wish that you do not have? Narnia is at peace. Those you love are loved in return. You are content."

"I could wish the child for Edmund and Morgan, and for Lucy and Aidan, that they so very much desire. And then I would have heirs and Narnia would have her succession."

Peter had long since given up wishing such for himself. The best he could do would be to see happen what his brother and sister, what his whole family and all of Narnia, desperately desired.

"So you would wish for what Aslan had not yet in his wisdom seen fit to grant?"

"But what if I am the Foolish Faun by failing to seek such a solution to finding and appointing my heirs?" Peter countered.

"Still, I do not understand why you would wish for what you already have." Dinan said, standing firm like the Tree she was as her argument took root. "The Palace will be full with the children who come with your sister's new mate."

"So your message is that I should be careful of what I wish for?" It was true that overnight, their home would become home to five rambunctious children, ages two to fourteen, Aidan's own daughter and twin sons, and his two nieces. Still… "They are not my own blood," Peter replied.

Her leaves drooped, like a wilted flower, and she frowned. "Aidan and Morgan are not your blood, yet you call them family?"

"Well, yes, that is true." Peter drew his legs up and rested his chin on his knees.

"And you say Narnians are your family but they are not your blood either."

"Also true," he had to admit.

"You often speak of your Guards and their mother as family; you and I have our own bond, longer even than that of your brother and his mate."

He had wondered whether he and Dinan were bonded under Narnian law as Edmund and Morgan had been. He believed it different, though he was pressed to offer any explanation better than that Dinan did not wish it. Dinan was bonded not to him, but to the earth, light, and water that sustained her.

"So why would you wish for what Aslan has not seen fit to grant or for what you already have?"

Her silver Birch leaves stirred and flitted toward him. Peter blew them back to her. She waved her arm and a gold and silver cloud of leaves swirled about his room, glinting in the light of the rising Sun. "When you behold such beauty, can you say there is anything else you wish for?"

He held out his hand to hers. "I could wish you would come back to bed?"

This time, she allowed herself to be drawn in. "There is no need to seek the White Stag for that wish to be granted, Peter."

ooOOoo

Out of the fog came a white deer, a Stag. The deer cut through the smoke like a sharp blade. The smoke swirled around his legs and twined about his pronged antlers.

"Come, follow me." Peter followed the Stag.

He saw great ships and small ones, ports and cities, hunting parties and armies. There were giants and pirates, deaths and births, fire and rain, celebrations and funerals. He saw Lucy, Edmund, and Susan, older and younger, gay and weeping, beautiful and despairing, dancing and embattled. He saw Lucy with a bow, wearing bright chain mail, Edmund on a ship in Narrowhaven, Susan galloping away on her mare, her hair streaming behind her.

"Come, follow me." Peter followed the Stag.

He heard laughter and turned around to see children run by. They were balling up the white smoke and throwing it at one another in a game. They shouted and romped with Wolves, Dogs, Satyrs, and Great Cats.

"Come, follow me." Peter followed the Stag.

Peter saw Narnians and a few men and women. Some Narnians he recognized, most he did not. There was a sad woman with the dark hair and skin of the Islands of the Eastern Sea and a tall, broad, blonde man, of Archenland. He did not see his brother and sisters. Where did they go? Where are we? Why are we not here?

"Come, follow me."

Peter started and bolted upright, shaking, in a cold sweat, wide awake, and entirely alone, in bed. He frantically pulled at the threads of the dream and found, for the first time, they did not dissolve into nothing.

The dream was from the smoke ritual of the Centaurs that he had undergone during the Great Bonding. He'd not dreamt of that night in the Centaurs' cave in over a decade and never had the memory of those hazy visions been so starkly clear.

He could now name some of the faces in the dream that before had been unknown. The sad woman was Morgan. The man was Aidan, Lucy's new husband. And the children? Who were they? His own? Finally? The much wished for nieces and nephews? Or were they the children coming from Archenland with Aidan? Both?

Shivering, Peter pulled a coverlet about him. A few faded, crushed leaves in his bedcovers were the only evidence that Dinan had been there with him.

Now, he knew.

I have followed the White Stag before.

Do I follow him again?

II. Rejection of the Terms

In the divide and conquer strategy, Peter always felt he was the loser, even if, realistically, he knew he was not. In the aftermath of Rabadash's enspellment, return to Tashbaan, and humiliating and very public transformation back from ass to Man, they were all, again, scattered to the winds. Edmund was engaged in long overdue shuttling diplomacy, dispatched to the Islands and other foreign courts to assure all that while Narnia had no intention of turning other heads of state into barnyard animals, any who harboured aggressive designs would come to a very ill end, indeed.

Peter might have gone but the Islands meant boats. Moreover, Edmund was better suited to deliver threats that were really promises couched in gentle tones of diplomacy. Also, boats.

Lucy was in Archenland with Aidan, becoming acquainted with the five children and her new husband. Susan had followed with ponies, carts, a troop of willing Narnians (with hands) and a pack of Wolf Guards to help Lucy and Aidan with his extended family's relocation to Cair Paravel. Peter could have done that, but Susan also wanted to make a personal apology and expression of gratitude to Lune in the wake of the Calormene siege.

Peter was, therefore, left with Morgan to hold down the Castle, see to the preparations for the new arrivals, and still deal with all the critical and mundane tasks of running a country from day to day.

It was a task he accepted, and willingly – it was his turn, after all. But it was not particularly welcome given the company. He was often impatient with Morgan, something that she was sensitive enough to perceive, but could not seem to remedy its root cause.

It was revelatory when sharp-eared Beehn mentioned that Morgan talked to herself long before she would say anything aloud. "She practices what she's going to say before she says it."

"When you interrupt her, she has to start all over again and it makes her even more nervous," Fooh said, surprised that Peter didn't know of this. True to form, Fooh blandly added, "She doesn't do it with anyone here except you. When you are getting annoyed, it gets worse."

So reprimanded, Peter realised he needed to wait Morgan out and make better effort to control his impatience. Once he did so, the improvement in their communication was immediate. Morgan became far less tentative in expressing her opinions which were, in fact, not tentative at all. She also took enormous responsibility upon herself without asking and Peter found it a relief. She had obviously assumed the management of Narnian domestic affairs before, when she and Lucy had remained at Cair Paravel when he'd ridden North and Susan and Edmund had gone to Tashbaan.

Morgan slid back into that organizational role easily. Perhaps she'd never left it and it was merely that he was more cognizant of her considerable contributions. Morgan seemed to carry all of Narnia's material needs on a spreadsheet in her head. He knew that the Cair Paravel staff were going to her directly as they prepared for the arrival of and nearly three-fold expansion of Cair Paravel's Human population.

They developed a custom of planning the day over breakfast and coffee. Morgan's addiction to coffee surpassed even his own and beginning the day without it was unthinkable for both of them. Together, they would review the morning correspondence and divvy up responsibilities before going their separate ways to see tasks done. They might meet again for a working evening meal. Morgan would brief him on the ongoing modifications to and furnishing of rooms, the necessary increases in staff and material goods, and, she, emphasized emphatically, the need for more food, furnishings, clothing, laundry, medical care, and tutors.

Her familiarity and competence with domestic duties surprised him – he always assumed Morgan's interests and skills were beyond the walls of home and hearth.

"Multiple generations live in a single Banking House," she explained one morning. "It's communal living, very like a Rabbit Warren, so I know the needs in households with many more Humans than this one. Also, I've been corresponding with my mother."

Of course Morgan had a mother. Peter had never heard mention of her and his surprise must have shown.

"Felice manages her Lord's estate – in the Pire-Archen River Valley. You might have heard of it in Lune's court? Or met Lord Hur?"

And so Morgan was related to the family who ran one of Archenland's most prosperous holds. "I have indeed met Lord Hur. He is a very good man and always expresses warm respect for his Lady. I've even wondered how everyone could speak so highly of the health of Hur's estate when Lune was always sending him off as envoy to foreign courts. It seems that your own skills, Morgan, come from not your father, alone."

Morgan did not speak right away but now he knew to wait. "Thank you," she finally replied. "I think that's truer than I had ever thought. My father has always said that Felice was very good at what she did but I didn't appreciate that until I asked her for advice. Only Anvard proper has a larger population than the Pire-Archen estate and she manages it day to day. She's defended three attacks on the keep and raised six children into adulthood." Morgan held up pages of a very densely written letter and gestured to a ledger at her elbow. "Felice has lent me her older household records but only if I promised on pain of death to return them. I'd love to lure her Steward away but she'd launch a raid to retrieve him. I will try to negotiate a visit where he could provide training."

They were in very good hands and Peter confidently left it to her.

Morgan saved him from significant tedium the following morning. The fourth day of every month, the Monarch or Monarchs in residence at Cair Paravel would hold open court in order to hear petitioners and the airing of grievances.

He couldn't remember the last time he had been home and able to attend. Peter disliked the task when it fell to him alone – he was much, much more effective when Edmund, Lucy, or Susan was also present. Still, it was a monarchical duty, so he submitted to Mr. Hoberry's management and proper Court finery and crown – but not the red leather trousers. Morgan was already at table when he came down to the sun room for their morning meal. To his surprise, she was dressed up as well, in crisp Linch green linens with Narnia gold trim and wearing her own coronet. She had a stack of ledgers and a bound volume of Narnian law at her side.

"You intend to hear petitioners with me?"

She startled and nearly upended her coffee cup into the Narnia code. "Sorry. Iplannedtodoso. IthoughtIshould. DidIpresumetoomuch?"

Having become more accustomed to her verbal quirks, Peter was able to quickly reassure her, "No, not at all. I am surprised that you would volunteer for it."

She nodded her head vigorously and sounded ominously emphatic. "We've not heard petitioners in three months. We really should, especially with all the change and upset. It's an important symbol of stability." Morgan surprised him further by adding, "And some of the petitioners owe me updates."

Abashed, Peter admitted, "I obviously should aim to be home more given my woeful ignorance. I shall follow your lead, then."

Showing that her tact could still be a work in progress, Morgan responded, "I do think that best since I've done it more recently. You've not been here for the last eight sessions."

Peter had expected it to be tedious in the extreme with Morgan arguing every point to death. She had, after all, committed all of Narnia's laws and policies to memory. But he also recalled that she was a hard bargainer and the Houses mediated disputes for clients. The divvying up of food hoards, partitioning of fishing and grazing rights, and setting of property boundaries weren't any different, in substance, than what she'd been trained to do and had done for years.

The number of Narnians in attendance for open court in the Great Hall was, at first, cause for consternation. "We'll be here all night," he muttered to Morgan as they processed through the crowd to the dais. Mr. Hoberry had set up a table and chairs rather than the customary thrones.

"Oh no. These are the regulars," Morgan replied. "They've been following the Beruna Orchard matter like it's a dramatic production. Except it's real, in real time, with real characters. It's entertainment." She nodded toward the roosting Crows. "And there's the wagering, too."

The Beruna Orchard dispute was complex by Narnian standards. Like their attentive audience, Morgan had been involved with it for some time and she patiently listened to reports from the complaining Dryads about (alleged) injuries to the orchard they managed. They then heard from encroaching Birds, Bears, and Dogs who were eating the spoils and (allegedly) some fruits and seeds that weren't so spoiled. Then the Herds complained that the Dryads were (allegedly) extending the orchard and so encroaching on their ancestral grazing lands.

Morgan referred to her notes and pointedly reminded the complainants of their previous commitments, involving who could eat what, when, and where, and where expansion was permitted and where it was not, with reference to maps and that census from a few years ago that they had all thought was foolish at the time but had been useful enough that Susan thought they should do another. As Morgan listened, scolded, and cajoled the Narnian disputants, there were drooping leaves and tails, green blushes of embarrassment, shuffling, nervously stomping hooves, downcast eyes, and raised fur. Peter's meaningful contribution consisted of approving nods and severe frowns at the appropriate moments to encourage compliance with the very well-thought out plan.

After the complainants filed out, with promises to do better and report back next month, with threats of consequences if they did not (and many Most Royal Frowns), Morgan took questions from their audience about why she'd decided things the way she had. Many of the listeners – who had hands – were busily taking notes.

It would have become dreary for those not following the matter as avidly as a Hound on a scent but, at a shove from Rafiqa, Morgan told the enrapt audience that she would stay after open court concluded and they could continue debating whether there was a conflict between Narnia laws 02-12 and 05-3, and if so, which controlled, and to what extent Dryads could even claim interest in the fruit of trees that weren't Trees. Narnians, and Morgan, Peter conceded wearily, loved their spectacles and their arguments. He was reminded of what Roblang and Leszi had once told him – ask three Narnians a question, and you would get four answers.

The remaining matters were disposed of quickly. For personal reasons, Peter handled the complaints about the Moose and Badgers that had gotten obnoxiously drunk on fermented fruit and disturbed the local peace. Morgan handled the typical winter store problems –Squirrels, Chipmunks, Jays, and Mice squabbling over who had what cache.

The day closed out with the matters that were typical this time of year. Two adolescent Bears, a young Stallion, and newly paired Foxes and Raptors all petitioned for territory. The maps came out again, the census consulted, and the Crown's aid was promised in relocation.

He was always glad to see families grow and expand - leaving the nest as it were was a day to celebrate. Still, it always felt to be something of a personal failure that Foxes and Hawks could do what he had not. Morgan became tight-lipped and he thought it surely bothered her as well.

With that business handled, they were concluded. Morgan tarried in the Great Hall with the – dare he call them – fans of the Beruna Orchard matter. Several observers were writing treatises on the dispute and hoping to see them published.

Did Mr. Hoberry know that he would be feeling out of sorts? Was it clairvoyance or simply superb organization and long habit? The Faun met him in the foyer, relieved him of the crown and outer finery, and said, "As you and Banker Morgan worked through lunch and tea, I took the liberty of setting a tray in your office."

He made his retreat. Mr. Hoberry anticipated all needs or, at least, Peter's own. There was willow bark powder for the dull headache, a substantial roll stuffed with last night's meat, a small jug of wine, and some sweet biscuits.

He poured a cup of wine, downed the headache powder, and the sandwich disappeared in two bites. He threw himself on the couch and threw an arm over his head.

"Hearing those matters always makes you melancholy," Fooh said, settling next to him.

"Yes." Peter swirled the wine in his cup and decided to not go for the Lightning yet – maybe after dinner. "I know it is a good thing for our young to grow up and move on to their own homes – it is good for Narnia and the Narnians."

"You are a great King and you aren't a failure," Fooh said, and shoved his head under Peter dangling arm.

"I didn't say I was." Peter winced inwardly at his Guard's perception – Fooh was very much Dalia's son in that regard..

"You didn't need to," Fooh replied. "But you are feeling it even if you shouldn't."

"Do you want the rabbit?" Beehn asked.

"You just want to play with the toys," Fooh accused with a growl.

"Today was hard. I think toys will make us all feel better," Beehn countered.

"I am fine, Beehn," His Guard was already nosing about the toy trunk. "But yes, you may get the bone and feather ball out of the trunk."

Fooh tried to be indifferent but he enjoyed toys as much as his brother. Peter gestured with the hand not clutching the cup of wine. "Please feel free to do so as well, Fooh."

He relaxed to the sounds of Beehn chewing on a bone and Fooh purring.

"Morgan's here," Fooh suddenly said. His voice was muffled because his head was inside the trunk. A knock on the door followed.

"Come in, Morgan!"

She pushed the door open; Rafiqa stuck her head into the office, took one look at Fooh and Beehn, and, with a disdainful curl of Canine lip, withdrew back into the hall.

"It's too cramped for her," Morgan explained.

"Like thiz bezt," Fooh said. The Cheetah could not speak as he had a ragged blue scrap of fabric between his teeth and was pulling it out of the trunk.

Peter laughed, feeling his humour return and pulled himself up from his couch and out of the negative self-absorption. Perhaps they did need toys today. "Just do not tell Mrs. Furner! I stole that blanket from the cupboards when you were Cubs and you both promptly shredded it so badly I had to hide the damage!"

Beehn raised his head. "I remember that blanket! You kept it?"

"I did indeed," Peter said.

"I have it now," Fooh countered. He was purring loudly. With the scrap clamped firmly in his jaws, he backed up and retreated to another corner of the room.

"What's this?" Morgan came into the room and looked in the trunk. To a non-Narnian, the things filling the top tray appeared to be detritus – wadded up parchment and gnawed on leather balls, bleached knuckle bones, feathers, bits of yarn stolen from spinners, and pieces of rope and string. "Oh!" Morgan exclaimed with a smile. "I didn't know you were so sentimental, Peter. A secret stash of toys?"

"I am discovered," he replied. "And admit to terrible over-indulgence. These are toys for the Kits, Cubs, and Pups. I have a drawer in my desk with toys for the Chicks. There is a stall in the stables with things some of the young herd Beasts enjoy."

He plucked a feather out and twirled it between his fingers. There was far more under the tray that he had shared only with Fooh and Beehn.

"Do you…" She started to blurt it out and then clamped her mouth shut.

"Do I what?" Peter asked, replacing the feather in the tray. He should have assumed Morgan, of all people, would ask.

"Do you have any toys for Humans? For boys and girls?"

"Yes," Peter replied, slowly. "I do."

He could see how Morgan weighed the choice. It was hard enough for him to see these things. For Morgan, who had miscarried at least twice, it would surely be very painful.

Finally, she said, "Would you show them to me?"

"Are you certain?"

Morgan nodded. "Unless…"

She stared again at the feathers and scraps. "Maybe you don't want to share them. It might be very private. I'm sorry. I didn't want to pry. I just…"

This was difficult for her, but it was also hard for him to reveal so much his naked folly to another. Though, of all people, Morgan would understand how it felt to fail to do this one thing that it seemed came so easily to the rest of the world.

"I don't mind, Morgan. I would be glad to share them with you, if you truly wish it."

She nodded again.

Peter bent down and carefully lifted the top tray out of the trunk to reveal what was below. The bottom of the trunk was filled with toys – dolls, cloth-stuffed animals, blocks, balls, picture books, puzzles, games, and so many other wondrous things.

"Oh, Peter!"

She leaned in eagerly, just as Fooh had, and touched a wooden block painted with pictures and letters for learning the alphabet. "How long have you been collecting these?"

"Years," he admitted. "From almost the very beginning. With all the diplomatic visits, it's remarkable how often a Monarch is taken on shopping excursions – the market in lower Anvard town, the bazaar in Tashbaan, the Galman stores. I was expected to do them the courtesy of buying something, but so many things could be fraught with political uncertainty, even offense. I never went wrong buying a child's toy."

"There's more, too," Fooh offered. "In his rooms."

Peter would have, and should have, corrected his Guard for volunteering such personal information. But as Morgan carefully picked through the blocks, balls, wooden boats, and dolls, exclaiming in wonder at each, he saw that they both did share a bond of disappointment.

"These are just the toys," he told her. "As Fooh has revealed, I have another trunk with play weapons, wooden swords and shields, bows and blunt arrows, all sorts of things."

"They're beautiful, Peter. Oh!" Morgan carefully pushed away a puzzle and withdrew a rag doll.

"So now you know how terribly wistful the High King of Narnia is to be collecting children's toys as a dragon hoards his treasure."

"I won't tell anyone," Morgan assured him. She cradled the doll in her arms. "I had one just like this when I was girl."

Peter now noticed that the doll was dressed in House of Linch greens that matched Morgan's own gown, with swirls of trees and birds stitched in her robe.

"The stuffed rabbit is his favourite," Fooh said. "It rattles when you shake it."

Peter glared at Fooh for another too-personal revelation but the Cheetah blandly flicked his tail and otherwise ignored his silent reprimand.

Yet, perhaps Fooh's judgment was correct, and there should be no shame in sharing this secret with Morgan, as she was completely absorbed in adjusting the doll's robe, brushing away the lint and dust, and straightening her yarn curls.

So, Peter took the red-checked rabbit from the trunk and made it hop about. "I have wondered if I would start a diplomatic crisis if I permitted a child of Cair Paravel to play with this. Would I insult the Rabbits?"

"Or maybe every other Beast would demand the right to provide a suitable representative!" Morgan gasped sharply. "The play room!"

It took him a moment to register that Morgan was referring to something that was, even as they spoke, being furnished in the Monarchs' wing of the Palace. They'd never had a children's room before.

"Yes? What of it?"

"I've been so worried that we didn't have any toys for Aidan's family when the children arrive." She held up the doll. "But now we do!"

And so, despite the many tasks and duties of running a kingdom, he and Morgan spent the rest of the evening filling a play room with toys. Peter found, uncomfortably, that he had to adjust his very long-held expectations. He had always assumed he would be bestowing these gifts upon his own sons and daughters; he had eventually reconciled to playing the benevolent uncle to nieces and nephews.

Once he let go of the fantasy, he enjoyed seeing the empty room become a bright place. He genuinely wanted to share with the Archen children joining them who had had a very difficult time of it, with the deaths of parents and siblings. This was the harsh reality of the Archenland poor peasantry and soldiery, as Aidan and his family were. It was a little uncomfortable to think of Narnian prosperity being their rescue, but then Morgan had spoken proudly of her Archen mother raising six children to adulthood. In Archenland, that was a prodigious accomplishment, even amongst the merchant and landed ruling classes.

Palace staff made their own contributions of toys and games. Peter hauled out the trunk of toy weapons. Some were judiciously added to the play room, with Mrs. Furner's very firm suggestion that others were better kept as outside toys.

Morgan suggested they have their late supper at the child-sized table in the play room. She arranged the Linch doll and the rabbit on a chair so the toys sat across from them.

It was awkward sitting on child-sized chairs but Morgan warned, "We might be doing this a lot. Tea parties and picnics, you know."

She looked at the doll often as they ate.

"Why don't you keep her, for now," Peter said, hoping Morgan would agree.

Morgan sighed and stared down at her stomach. "But for what? They're just dreams at this point and it's silly to keep holding on to them." Echoing his earlier reflections, she added in a bitter undertone, "I just hate disappointing everyone."

Peter reached across the tiny table and took her hand in his. "Morgan, please do not blame yourself. No one else does. I count as most blessed the day my brother met you. I would not change a thing of it, even if I could."

"Thank you, Peter. I appreciate hearing that." She returned the squeeze of his hand and then used his arm as a brace to awkwardly rise from her little chair. "But it is selfish to cling to these precious things when there's true need arriving in days and children who will get real joy from them."

Morgan picked up the doll and set her on a shelf. "She belongs here."

She looked about the room and smiled in satisfaction. "This is a happy place and we'll give them a good, loving, safe place to grow up. I'm very glad they are coming."

Peter felt the floor tilt and spin beneath his feet.

"Peter?"

Fog. Smoke.

The Centaur's smoke. Yet, not. It was the same. Yet, not. Morgan in that other vision had been sad, not happy and contented. What did it mean that he had not followed the White Stag this time? There were children in that vision. He had felt peace. Surely, this was good?

"Peter?" Morgan repeated, now sounding concerned at his gap-mouthed confusion.

He shook his head to clear his vision. "I apologize. It's fine. You simply reminded me of something I had forgotten until very recently."

It was as Dinan had said. Families rose from many places. Families were not built upon blood alone. Their future was arriving.

He stood and kissed her cheek. "You are right. I am being selfish and it's time to let go of what I cannot change."

Peter set the rabbit next to the doll.

III. Breakfast with the family

It had been a rough night. Frieda was sleep-walking again and startled the Night Guard, who in turn startled Frieda awake, so there were screams and snarls. Susan brought Frieda to her bed to help if it happened again. Then, little Livinia woke up, crying, and so Lucy and Aidan brought her into their bed to comfort her, which was, even in the absence of fur flying in the halls in the middle of the night, something that occurred more often than not. Ronda became frightened to be in a bed by herself without her cousins and so she snuck into Edmund and Morgan's room and crawled into bed with them. Then Ber and Berend woke up because obviously something very exciting was occurring that required light and a lot of noise. Peter ordered the twins back into their room with dire threats of more drilling in the Training Yard.

The combined effects of both that night, and the ones that preceded it (and how did caregivers manage this with a higher children to adult ratio?) meant that Peter made the mistake of sleeping late. So, when he arrived at breakfast, Morgan had already drunk all the coffee and the breakfast dishes were looking as if someone had been walking through them, or at least counting every piece in them – and he knew who was to blame for that.

At the children's table, set up in their formerly spacious and now cramped breakfast room, Ber and Berend were dueling with spoons and pieces of toasts they had gnawed into daggers. The Chief of the Mischief, Teddy, was under the table, cleaning up the scraps.

"Eat," he ordered the twins, "Or I'll tell the General and Captain Bree." What precisely the General and Horsemaster might do to them he left to the boys' very active imaginations, which were more lurid than even the most brutal of regimens Leszi could have ever designed.

"Good morning," Susan said. Edmund yawned, nodded, and waved an envelope. His brother and sister were reviewing a tray piled with the morning correspondence.

Ronda should have been at the children's table – usually with her nose in a book despite instruction to keep food away from valuable texts. This morning, she was engaging in her other favourite activity – sitting on Morgan's lap counting out things with her hands – in this case, the breakfast berries. Ronda was mouthing all of them, eating half of them, and then putting the remainder back in the bowl.

Frieda was, as always, the island of relative calm and Peter took his seat next to hers. He saw now that Frieda had anticipated his need and hidden one of the coffee pots under a dish towel, behind a bowl of eggs, and out of Morgan's reach.

"Thank you," he whispered.

She poured a cup for him and at the sound of squeals and galumphing in the foyer, their eyes met.

"Hurry!" she whispered.

Peter quickly dished up a generous helping of eggs and Frieda reached for and collected the other breakfast dishes that still had food in them and that did not appear to have been personally handled, mouthed, and counted by Ronda.

It wasn't that they were ever really short of food – none of them was going to starve. But if anyone tarried in bed, the punishment was often short commons at the breakfast table.

Lucy galloped into the breakfast room with Liv on her back. Aidan jogged up behind them, carrying Red Rabbit, Beatrice the Linch dolly, and the hefty Pliny's Animalia and Botanica. At least two of the three always accompanied Liv, everywhere. Peter knew from experience that it was very uncomfortable to fall asleep with both little Liv and Pliny's in his lap.

"Good morning all!" Lucy neighed, pulled up, and let Liv slide carefully to the floor.

Greetings were exchanged and chairs moved to make space at the table. Once upon a time, the breakfast room had spaciously accommodated four adults and four large carnivores. As Frieda scooted closer on one side, and Susan on the other, Peter wondered when they might have to retire the breakfast room to some other purpose and eat every meal either in the Great Hall or outside. The Birds and Woodland Beasts would be very helpful with clean-up.

Aidan carefully set Red Rabbit and Beatrice at the corner end of the table on a high stool reserved just for them and Lucy helped Liv climb into her boosted seat.

Peter quickly dished out rolls and sausage and then slid the plates down to Lucy and Aidan. He kept the coffee for himself and he wasn't going to share it with Morgan.

"Now, can you divide them by 3?" Morgan asked Ronda, removing the bruised berries from the bowl again. "And eat what is left over?"

Aidan was sharing his plate with Liv and tussling with Lucy over the leftovers.

Once, Mr. Hoberry could monitor the level of every dish and pot from the distance of the kitchen and magically reappear with refills. This was another change that had come with the near tripling of the human population at Cair Paravel. If Mr. Hoberry had still been delivering the bottomless breakfast, they would never leave the morning room, nor have anything ready by the time supper had to be served.

"What have we here?" Edmund injected, speaking a little louder than usual above the din. He held up a piece of carefully folded parchment, formally sealed with wax and the stamp of one of the Terebinthian royal families.

Peter recognized instantly what it was. "If it is scented, I'm not interested," he said shortly.

Edmund raised the letter to his nose. "No, not scented."

"In that case, I am no more interested than Peter," Susan said, not bothering to raise her eyes from her own correspondence.

"I shall do the honours, then," Edmund said. He carefully cracked the seal and unfolded the crisp paper. His whistle of surprise drew everyone's attention. "Well, well! My elder brother and sister, it seems this proposal is not for either of you!"

"No," Morgan said bluntly. "I don't share."

"Is it a good offer?" Aidan quipped.

Lucy gave him a shove. "I'm not sharing, either."

"It is not for any of us," Edmund said.

What?

Oh NO!

Peter felt a swell of anger rise within him as Edmund confirmed his dread suspicion.

"Frieda has her first suitor."

The outraged bellow was out of his mouth before he could stop it. "ABSOLUTELY NOT!"

"Ewwwwww," Berend drawled out, expressing eloquently the general view at the table.

Berend had the right of it. Peter would see the meddler squashed. He tried to snatch the letter from Edmund but Susan snared it first.

"Oh Peter, don't be ridiculous! That is not how we handle things here," Susan scolded.

"She's much too young!" he countered, furious that this was happening already. He would not see Frieda go through the misery the rest of them had.

"Do cease with the angry glowers," Susan replied, scanning the letter and then folding it up and setting it aside, and out of his reach. "You and I both had our first proposals at younger than Frieda is. I've been expecting this for months."

"But who would want to marry me?" Frieda asked, sounding bewildered.

"Nobody!" Berend said with a snigger.

"That's quite enough, Berend!" Aidan barked. "Any unkindness is paid for three-fold in the Training Yard when the General hears of it!"

Peter was fully aware of hypocrisy in feeling pique on Frieda's behalf that she would be mocked for having a proposal even if he wanted to gut the person who had the presumption to make it.

Edmund had the appropriate rejoinder. "More relevant, Berend, suitors shall come calling for you soon enough, and if your teasing persists, we shall turn you over to the first Princess who asks for your hand in marriage."

Ber and Berend both spit out toast – one in horror, the other in malicious glee.

"Oh! I should have opened this sooner!" Susan exclaimed suddenly, unfolding another letter. "Mr. Tumnus has sent word! The White Stag has been seen in the Western Wood!"

"Again?" Edmund muttered, sipping his tea and turning to the next letter.

"He's hardly novel anymore," Lucy said, between bites she was competing with Aidan for. "One would think he wanted to be caught."

"If you catch him, he grants wishes?" Frieda said.

"Yes," Peter replied, still very irritated and thinking that he knew what he would wish for regarding Frieda's audacious would-be suitor. Of all the nerve.

"I wish I don't fall off a pony today!" Berend injected.

"Me too! Captain Bree is hard!" Berend added in something very close to a whigne.

"That's how you learn and it's an honour that he puts up with the two of you!" Aidan said.

"Bet you wish you could stay on a horse, too, Da," Berend said.

"My backside does," Aidan agreed.

Bree had been teaching all the Archenlanders to ride and was a very harsh taskmaster. No one could argue with the results, but there was a lot of pain to get there.

"I wish someone would help me inventory our summer stores at the warehouse today," Morgan said, helping Ronda wipe her hands on a linen.

"Oh! Me! Me!" Ronda cried. "I wish that, too!"

"Then both our wishes are granted," Morgan said.

"I wish someone would tell me how to say no to that suitor," Frieda put in.

"I would grant that one…" Peter began, but before he could finish the sentence, Susan interrupted. "I will be glad to help you, Frieda."

"Liv, do you have a wish?" Lucy asked, handing a small cube of soft bread and cheese to the little girl. Her teeth were still falling out and coming in and Liv would offer every morsel of food to Red Rabbit and Beatrice before gumming it herself.

"Flying unicorn," Liv said. "Green."

"A green unicorn with wings?" Lucy asked as they all tried to not laugh. The boys were sniggering.

Liv nodded and pointed to Pliny's. Given all the spots and stains on it, Peter was thinking he should wish for another copy. "No white. Green. For Beatrice."

"Then let us wish together!" Lucy exclaimed. "You and I shall search in the garden for the White Stag and if we catch him, we shall ask for a flying green unicorn!"

"Let's be clear it's not a dragon," Aidan said.

Liv was reaching to feed her bread to Red Rabbit, squealed excitedly and dropped her food on the floor. A snap and chomp from under the table meant a Rat's fondest wish had been granted.

ooOOoo

Peter's own wish had been nothing more complex than riding out with Frieda to the pastures to greet the new young of the Cair Paravel Herds. Frieda agreed only after exhorting his promise that thereafter they would join Morgan and Ronda to count apples and root vegetables.

Frieda, like the other Archenlanders, was still learning to ride and so their mounts were both very sedate and the pace relaxed. Fooh and Beehn hung back with Frieda's Wolf-guard, Minsi, so that the carnivores would not unduly alarm the Foals.

Where the orchards ended and the pastures began, the Mares came forward and solemnly introduced their gamboling, gangly Foals to the High King and the Princess Frieda. The title of Princess always embarrassed her but the Narnians all took such pleasure in using it, Frieda didn't have the heart to request a different style of address.

And, as Peter had expected, as soon as the Horses left, the woodland Beasts began arriving to see the Princess – the Mice, Rabbits, Voles, Moles, Hedgehogs, and the other small ones who made their homes around Cair Paravel.

He let the horses loose to crop the grass at the meadow's edge, Beehn stretched out in the sun to enjoy a nap, and Peter sat in the grass with Fooh while Frieda held court under an apple tree.

"This always happens," Fooh said.

"It does. Frieda has bonded with the small folk of the Wood, as Susan did," Peter said, settling against the tree. "We will be here some time, I think."

"That's why you agreed to go to count vegetables," Fooh said, dropping his voice to a whisper and his tail brushed against Peter's legs. "You knew by the time we got there, Banker Morgan would have finished it."

Peter ran his hand over his perceptive Guard's domed head. "The thought did occur to me. Between the two of us, I admit it is another wish granted." He stretched out his legs, chewed on a grass stem, and contemplated what bodily harm might be done to those who vexed his adopted niece. Better still, he should ask Morgan to devise some form of financial deterrent. The children of his new family were finally enjoying some peace and stability and they were all happier for it.

"I couldn't possibly take so fine a nut, Tippy," Frieda told the chattering red Squirrel who had offered it. "But thank you all the same."

The Rabbits always brought pungent and prickly flowers and leaves that Frieda carefully wrapped in a linen. These days, she was learning from the Physician how to make smelly ointments and salves. Frieda has also begun taking over more of the day-to-day work as the old Porcupine wasn't as spry as he was once – which had painful consequences as his quills were as sharp as ever.

The Shrews talked so fast, it was impossible to understand them – they were more highly strung than Hummingbirds, though not as ill-tempered. Frieda overturned a rock and the Shrews attacked the earthworms. Mouths full of chewy worm, the Shrews mumbled their thanks and scampered off and so the last of the Princess' petitioners were dispatched.

Frieda plucked two apples from the tree and joined him on the grass. She handed him the larger apple.

"How did you know?"

"About what was in the letter?" Peter rubbed the apple on his sleeve and bit into it. It was a little green.

She nodded.

"Long, bitter experience."

Frieda chewed on her apple. "I don't understand," she finally said. "Why such a formal proposal? From the second eldest son? And willing to come to Narnia on the promise of further… assurances?"

"I suspect it's my fault," Peter said. His anger had cooled, some, mostly because Susan had railed on him for being an idiot in not foreseeing that of course this was going to happen, that it was going to happen to all of them, and that she had the matter well in hand. He was still annoyed at the impudence and that Frieda would be badgered by these things. Though, in truth, he was more irritated than she seemed to be. "I suspect that once you and I visited Galma and Terebinthia, the courts have presumed that I intend to name you our heir."

"Heir?" Frieda squeaked. "They think I will someday be Queen of Narnia?"

"Yes."

He was just testing the idea, curious as to what Frieda would think. The vision of the White Stag intruded. Chasing dreams. He might as well wish for a flying green unicorn. Relying upon magic was not a wise strategy, Morgan would say. So, why not Frieda, who was sensible, kind, and well-liked by the Narnians?

"What do you think of that possibility, Frieda? Would you wish to some day rule Narnia after we are gone?"

Her decline was in the long, long pause. Finally, Frieda replied, "I wouldn't want to Peter. I suppose if everyone agrees, and Aslan asks, I would, if there really wasn't anyone else."

"We've made it seem so awful?"

"It's hard, Peter. And there are four of you and two consorts." Her eyes dropped to study the apple in her lap. "I'm good at managing a home and such, and delivering and raising babies, and curing fevers, but I'm not a queen."

"A Monarch would have to do those things. We had less experience than that, Frieda. "

She shook her head. "I think you're being hasty, Peter. You will have heirs!"

"I don't think that is a reasonable conclusion to draw after so long. The Tale of the Foolish Faun instructs that I should act."

"Well in that case, you should name Ber and Berend!" Frieda said with a sly smile. "Though, if my cousins ruled, Narnia would be in ruin within a month!"

He laughed. They were good boys. They would be fine soldiers and captains, some day. He was reminded of Corin who always insisted that Princes had the most fun. Ber and Berend would go through life enjoying it first and foremost.

"I am so certain you are wrong, Peter, I was hoping that I could take training at the midwifery college in Anvard town. I had an invitation before coming here but could never accept before. I really think you want someone other than the Physician to be attending in the birthing room."

"Birthing?" Peter was mystified at how certain Frieda seemed.

"You don't know the look, do you?"

"There's a look? Apart from…" Peter gestured awkwardly with his hands about his middle.

Frieda laughed and patted his arm. "Soon," she said. "Very soon."

Chapter Text

IV. Peter meets the Prince

Fortunately, Aidan understood his state of mind as they patrolled the Northern border. Peter apologized more than once for his vacant preoccupation, but Lucy's consort was as gracious about Peter's distraction as he was about everything else.

"Do not trouble yourself with it at all, Peter," Aidan as they rode from the headwaters of the Shribble to where it emptied into the sea. "Truly. I am very glad to be here to share the burdens you all have borne for so long and so also hopefully the joy." With a happy smile, he added, "I do understand."

So they crisscrossed the River, collecting reports, talking to the dour Marsh-Wiggles who watched and spied, and investigating old camps and hideaways, still abandoned. Ettins were creatures of habit, after all. They camped two days atop the bluff that looked onto the blasted plains of Ettinsmoor. They burned hot, high fires, made noise, flew bright banners, and made themselves open, obvious, and aggressive. See us, Harfang. We are here. We never sleep. Know that Narnia is defended.

In the distance, they could see, and the far-seeing Raptors confirmed, lumpy piles of rock moving about. The Ettins had their own scouts and the Narnians made certain they had plenty to see lest they think of testing a border.

The morning of the third day, a little Swift, a Bird as fast as it was dim, fell like a stone from the sky as they were breaking camp. Peter scooped the Bird up gently in his palm, willing himself to patience.

"Friend," he said. "Our great thanks. What news from Cair Paravel?"

Aidan thrust a rag at him and Peter squeezed drops of water into the exhausted Bird's mouth that were gratefully gulped down. There was a message tied carefully to his leg but the Bird had flown very hard and fast and deserved oment's recovery. In his anxiety for the news, Peter did not want to alarm the Swift, who would promptly forget what little of the message he had been told orally.

"From King Edmund," the Bird gasped. "News."

A ripple of anticipation went through the Company at the Swift's strangled words. They had all been on edge knowing what might occur at Cair Paravel in their absence.

"Good or ill?" Peter demanded.

In his eagerness, Peter had pushed the exhausted Swift too hard. The Bird cringed in his hand and mutely offered his leg. Peter carefully removed the tiny scrap and unrolled it.

It was Edmund's hand, written hastily.

Morath. Yellow!

Morath. A word only recently added to the dreaded Rat and Crow cipher. A word Peter himself had created. And if Yellow, then things were very well indeed. Beneath the code, penned even more hurriedly, something Peter had never seen Edmund write before, uncoded. Please come home.

"Good news," Peter breathed, then shouted it, so that all could hear. "Good news from Edmund! All is well! They are all well! I must..."

Someone tossed reins in his hands, his horse already saddled and Peter hauled himself up. "Fooh, Beehn!" he called. "We're..."

"Already on our way," Fooh called over his shoulder and loped away after his brother.

Peter gathered his reins and leaned in his saddle. "Home!" His horse sprang forward, chasing after the Cheetahs.

They followed singing Birds and jubilantly pealing bells all the way to Cair Paravel.

When the Palace finally came into view, Narnia's dream was flying high from the ramparts. A new pennant now snapped in the wind, unfurling streamers of Linch green and Narnian gold and scarlet.

The Narnians of Cair Paravel and environs were thronging the road to the Palace, all shouting and cheering. Some had obviously been celebrating all night. No one stopped him though there were many shouted congratulations as he galloped up the road to the Palace. Why were they congratulating him? He had done nothing to bring about this day!

"Make way for the High King! Let him through!"

The crowds parted. He would have galloped his horse straight into the Palace but the Dryad groom and Mr. Hoberry appeared first. Peter vaulted off, threw the reins in their general direction, hesitated... Fooh and Beehn were exhausted, tongues lolling out, sides heaving.

"Go!" Fooh gasped. "We're fine!"

Peter took the steps three at a time, bells ringing in his ears.

His forward momentum was halted by the necessity of crossing a hardened battle line in the foyer. Ber, Berend, Ronda, and little Liv were hacking at each other with wooden swords. Liv's sword was far longer than she was and clinging to Beatrice, her Linch doll, was impeding her defence. Peter had not realised until it had occurred that the same thinking which kept valuable objects high enough off the ground so they would not be swept away by wagging tails worked equally well with small, destructive people. Still, this was a lot of energy confined in a small space.

He gently scolded them for fighting amongst themselves when danger lurked just outside the door. As their High King he ordered the troop to report to junior Armsmaster Cyrus in the Barracks and muster a counter-offensive to retake the Palace from the dread foe of rocks-shaped-liked-Ettins he had just ridden through at great peril. They were to report to him of their successful sortie before supper. Cyrus was especially adept at redirecting childish energy, though the children were picking up enough swear words from the Satyr to embarrass the family in polite company.

Troops thus deployed he bolted up the stairs to the Monarchs' wing. Susan met him first. He was reeking of sweat, smoke, horse, and travel but his sister hugged him fiercely.

"Everyone, are they..."

"Fine," Susan soothed. She sniffed. "Better than fine. And I shall start crying again for sheer relief and happiness." She gave him a shove. "Go! They are waiting for you."

Lucy and Frieda ambushed him at the top of the stair. Their embrace was awkward; Lucy had to move her swollen belly to the side - had she gotten bigger in the last 3 days, or was it his imagination?

Frieda delicately brushed grime from his cheek to kiss it. "I should make you wash first, Peter, but we'll make an exception today!"

He returned the kiss and tried to push by them but Lucy grabbed him by the shirt.

"Stop!" she ordered.

A slice of fear … was there...

"Deep breath, Peter!" Lucy insisted. "Everything is fine."

"But you must be calm," Frieda said, "or Gahiji will scold and Ajouga Fumb will bar the door."

Now that he was here, he did notice the contrast. In comparison to the hubbub and celebrations outside and the dueling in the foyer, now removed to a larger and more supervised space, all was very, uncommonly, calm in the Monarchs' wing.

He looked over Lucy's shoulder and saw at the end of the hall a shrouded figure, hooded and cloaked in black, hunched over a stool. He could barely make out the shape. A large, green-eyed Cat, purring loudly, sat next to her? Him? He could not tell.

"Ajouga and Gahiji arrived two days ago," Lucy whispered, nodding to the person on the stool. "They knew Morgan from Narrowhaven and tended her there." His sister paused. "They are of the Maza Blaksa clan?"

Oh.

That explained Lucy's judicious use of pronouns.

"They are very skilled," Frieda said in a whisper. "Truly the best I've ever seen, better even than their reputation."

"And they, in turn, highly praised Frieda's skills and excellent sense as she also attended," Lucy said proudly and gave her niece a one-armed hug. "We are all in very good hands."

"Having them does help," Frieda replied. "Hands, I mean."

Peter bowed respectfully to the Black Dwarf. "Thank you for coming to us. We are honoured by your presence and grateful for your assistance."

"You are welcome, High King," the Cat said, in the stead of her companion. "I am Gahiji. All is well within and we foresee no difficulties at this time. But, please, compose yourself."

The Black Dwarf stirred in their chair. The Cat glanced over her shoulder and then looked back at him. However they communicated, it was silently. "They are all awake within," Gahiji said. "You may enter."

Still, Peter knocked, though Jalur and Rafiqa would have known he was outside the door.

"Come in, Peter!" Edmund called.

Peter pushed open the door.

Morgan was lying in the bed, propped on pillows. Edmund was standing at the window, holding...

There was roaring in his ears, blood rushing straight down, feet rooted at the threshold, he was paralyzed.

In the quiet peace of the room, he could hear Rafiqa's tail thumping on the carpet and Jalur's satisfied chuff.

"Don't just stand there," Edmund finally said, sounding so tired and so very, very happy. "Come and meet your nephew, Edmund Linch."

Peter crossed the distance in two strides. As eager as he was, first he went to Morgan's side, leaned down, took her hand, and kissed it. "Congratulations, sister. We were all blessed the day you came to us."

Morgan smiled.

"Is everything... all... Are you? Is he?" Despite Frieda's concerted efforts the last few months to cure his ignorance, Peter floundered, not even sure what to say or how to ask the questions swirling in his mind that could not find their way to his mouth.

"Ten fingers, ten toes," Morgan said. "Lungs of an elephant, appetite of a Centaur and as nocturnal as an Owl."

"And you?" Peter asked. "How are you who did all the work?"

"I am well," Morgan replied.

"I worked, too!" Edmund said in a voice just above a whisper as he gently rocked his son.

Jalur growled.

"Some," Edmund insisted. "Moral support. Bathed her brow. Held her hand."

Morgan's lopsided gaze went past Peter to her bondmate and spouse. "You did indeed." Her soft expression was intimate and beautiful.

The cradle next to their bed Peter now saw was occupied – by Red, the checkered, stuffed rabbit who had been Liv's constant companion since arriving in Narnia.

"An unexpected gift from Liv to her new cousin," Morgan said, smiling. "She wanted Edmund Linch to have a friend his own size until she can play with him."

Peter had accepted, and with glad heart, that the toy that had been so special to him was deeply loved by a child who was not his own blood. That little Liv had gifted Red touched him deeply. "That was very kind of her."

"Well, she wasn't going to give up Beatrice, but I thought you would be pleased," Morgan replied.

Peter nodded.

"Would you like to hold him?" Edmund asked.

"I.. uhmmm.. yes?" Peter stammered. He'd carted the children around on his back, picked up little Liv to toss her into the air, and catch her again – it was never as high as she wanted. But a baby?

"Uhm how? I don't want to..."

"Frieda has been giving everyone lessons," Morgan said.

Edmund laughed. "Which I may now pass on. Peter, just put your arms like I am, and I'll lob him to you."

"What! No!"

For all Edmund's teasing, the transfer was smooth and his brother easily slid the blanket-wrapped baby into Peter's arms.

Peter refrained from mentioning that Prince Edmund Linch looked squashed and red-faced. If they weren't concerned, he was not.

"He's so small!" Peter exclaimed, marveling at the tiny fingers that would someday hold a sword and a quill.

"Try pulling something that size out of your navel," Morgan said.

Peter stepped as gently as he could to the window; Edmund hovered at his shoulder.

The Crows were all perched in the Tree outside, craning their necks for a look. They were all undoubtedly wondering who had won the wagers.

The good Sun streamed in, all light, bright, and warm.

"Welcome to our family, Edmund Linch," Peter said to the baby. In his heart, he knew he spoke to one who would someday sit the High King's throne, wear his crown, and bear his sword. "Behold Narnia. I cannot give your our land for she is herself. I cannot give you life, for that your parents have done. I give you my love and protection to my last breath." He bent down and kissed his heir on the forehead. "Aslan's blessing on you and us all. May you be forever in his paws."

The rest of the speech Peter had rehearsed never got said as Edmund Linch took the most solemn moment to loudly demand food and a clean nappy.

V. The Token

"I am going to ask Liv to marry me," his son blurted out.

It's about time.

Edmund opened his mouth to utter his sincere and heartfelt congratulations, but Edmund Linch rushed on.

"I don't want any more of these ridiculous contracts; I am sick to death of them and the polite responses and having to play nice to all these women who come parading through here like so many peacocks. It is not fair to them, or to me, or to Liv, when they don't have a chance of succeeding and the only reason we're doing it is to avoid giving offense over some delicate negotiation involving seed corn and coffee. The Crown Prince of Narnia will not to be bartered in the marital marketplace to gain some infernal political advantage!"

Silence fell upon this impassioned pronouncement.

"Are you finished?" Morgan asked, not even looking up from her ledger. "Or is there more to that speech you want to get out since you've been rehearsing it?"

"Well, there was more," their son admitted. Looking a little deflated, he sat heavily in the chair on the other side of Morgan's desk. "So, you don't object? To Liv?"

"Quite the opposite," Edmund assured him. "We love Liv and more importantly, you love her. I think I'll be able to forego the pleasure of drafting courtship agreements for you both."

As popular as the Crown Prince had been in the marital marketplace, Princess Livinia had had nearly as many suitors. Liv had returned from Anvard last year with a trunk full of poems and sonnets composed in praise of her beauty and wit. A steady stream of offers for marriage had been arriving for the last three years.

"It's hardly a surprise," Morgan said, blowing on the ledger and then turning the page. "You've been best friends for your whole lives and been sharing a bed for years."

"Remarkable how a Tiger can also be a Rat and Nag as well," Edmund Linch retorted with a glare at Alek, his Guard.

Alek had learned those skills from Jalur, gone to Aslan's paws over ten years ago.

"You intend to announce this before she sails tomorrow?"

Edmund Linch nodded and stared down at his hands. "I thought maybe if we were betrothed, she wouldn't have to go to the Lone Islands for shut-in and Conclave."

"No," Morgan said shortly, the bold marks of ink underscoring how strongly his wife felt about the matter. She insisted that all the children spend at least one winter in her House learning how to account properly and be with her family. There were other, political benefits as well.

To prevent the argument Edmund could see brewing, he swiftly added, "Liv goes as the representative of the Narnia crown. She'll learn more of the Protectorate you will be Emperor of and its people. And she'll learn accounting and management skills a ruling Queen should have."

"I thought you would say that," Edmund Linch said.

"Do you disagree?" Edmund asked.

His son shook his head. "No, I see the wisdom of it. I just don't want to wait the way…"

Their son wisely stopped before adding the criticism, "like you both did."

"Well, it will give Susan and Peter all winter to plan a grand celebration so that all the Known Lands can be invited and learn you are, as you say, off the marital market."

Edmund Linch looked a little concerned, showing that he did not fully appreciate what was to come. If he knew what was in store, he'd be truly alarmed and they'd get at least the Gretna Green bonding in before Liv sailed.

"You can make good use of the time by working on your courtship dances and nest building skills," Morgan said, not helping in that regard.

Their son looked back and forth between the two of them and Edmund could guess what the next question was. "You both really did all those ceremonies in the Regalia?"

Edmund exchanged a fond glance with his wife.

"Every. Last. One. Of. Them." Morgan replied so emphatically that their son blushed with embarrassment, which was pretty rich given that The Language of Love, Volume 1 had mysteriously disappeared from their private book shelf a few months ago. And really that was far more about his son's private life than Edmund ever wanted to know.

Edmund Linch let out a deep breath. "Well, then, we might as well get started. The Regalia makes much of giving tokens and presenting gifts. I thought I should give Liv something before she sailed."

"No dead bugs or dung," Morgan said, turning another page in her ledger. "That comes later."

"So the Regalia is not being metaphorical there?"

"No," Edmund told their son. "You do want to give something that clearly communicates your bond with Liv. And since she'll be in Narrowhaven all winter, representing you and the Crown, I would recommend it be Narnian but in the language the Bankers respect."

Edmund Linch twisted his signet ring on his finger. "Something simple, beautifully crafted, and useful for Narnia but extremely costly to satisfy the Bankers. Do you have any suggestions?"

"We could go down to the treasure stores, Edmund. I'm sure we could find something appropriate as an heirloom of Narnia for her future Queen to wear."

"I have something better," Morgan said suddenly. She raised her sleeve and flashed the gold Lion pin. "Your father bought it in Narrowhaven. He gave it to me at the end of our first Conclave."

Morgan did not mention that they had both wanted to return to Narnia together – but hadn't known how to say it. That time had been painfully awkward and was uncomfortable even now. He was so grateful that in the apportionment of skills and gifts, Edmund Linch seemed to have bettered both his parents in this regard.

Morgan fumbled with the pin and he scooted over closer on the work bench they shared to help her. She suddenly stiffened and glanced up worriedly, eyes sliding past his to look over his shoulder. "I thought…"

"I can't think of anything better," Edmund assured her. The crowns, swords, thrones, and kingdom would all be his son's someday. This was a gift from him and Morgan to their beloved son and his Queen-to-be.

She handed the pin across the desk to their son, pressing it into his palms. "It's a very well-known piece. Anyone in Narrowhaven and every Narnian will certainly know what it means if Liv wears it."

"I added a Linch tree to it for your mother," Edmund said. Their son turned it over in his hands and traced the mark with his finger. "The smiths could add a stamp for Liv."

Edmund Linch held it in his hand, weighing it. "Are you sure?" he asked, finally. "I've never seen you not wear this, Mother. It surely is important to you. To you both."

"It is important to us," Edmund said, and put his arm around Morgan.

"And that's why Liv should have it," Morgan finished and leaned into him. "Now, you'd better go and rehearse what you are going to say. She sails tomorrow!"

They both received warm, relieved hugs. As Edmund Linch sauntered out, he scolded Alek, "And if you say a word, I'll replace you with a Dog."

Alek lashed his tail so hard, he sent a ledger flying off the bookcase and on to the floor. The door slammed behind them.

Edmund went to retrieve it – it was just the sort of thing Morgan could trip over.

He turned back around when he heard her sniffling and quickly crossed back to her side.

"Tears?"

She nodded and sniffed.

He kissed the top of her head. They both had more gray hairs these days.

"Did you just lose a wager in the Murder?"

She huffed. "No. Did you?"

"Only as to timing. I had thought they would announce something after Liv returned from Anvard with all those gifts and poems from her admirers."

Morgan drew her arms around him and settled her head against his shoulder.

"What is it?' he asked.

"I never thought we'd see this." She sniffed again.

"Really? I thought the only surprise was that it took them this long to announce."

She shook her head. "No, not that. I meant that I never thought you would be here, too." Her hold tightened. "I thought you would be sent away, back to where you came from."

"Of all the things to worry about?" He ran his hands down her back. There was no corset today. And Volume 1 had disappeared, but Volumes 2, 3, 4 and 5 were still available.

Morgan pulled back to glare it him, though always askance. "I dreamt about it, Harold. For years. What came to Narnia could leave the same way. I heard that, over and over."

She shivered in his arms and he knew it to be fear, long suppressed.

"I didn't know," he said softly, thinking of things Morgan had done and said over the years that he had assumed were just quirks and insecurities. "And yet, despite those fears, you went forward anyway. You came. You stayed."

"I loved you and Narnia, and then Edmund was born..."

"And Linch loyalty, once given…"

He cupped her chin in his hand and raised her eyes to his own. Morgan nodded.

Edmund drew his wife close. "Neither of us knows what tomorrow might bring, Morgan. But I am here. I am with you. Narnia is well. Our son who will be King loves a woman we love as a daughter. I would wish for nothing more."

Morgan drew her arms up around his neck. "Really? Nothing more? Not even another attempt at Volume 4, Illustration 23?"

Well, there was that.


And after this, I'm hoping to pull together a little story about purloined dresses of indeterminate colour and a white and a black llama. The 3 sentence ficathon will wind up on soon on my Dreamwidth journal, so check it out if you are interested! I hope to begin updating Apostolic Way next.

Thank you

rthstewart