The Ledbury Run
By Maddy Carr
Disclaimer: All standard disclaimers apply. I do not own Peter or Edmund Pevensie, the Malvern School, or anything else that resembles anything real. Don't bother suing, as you won't get much except a few cheque stubs and a car loan
Summary: A year after Voyage of the Dawn Treader and grey, war damaged England doesn't provide much in the way of excitement for two schoolboys who used to be Kings. Yet danger lurks in the most unexpected of places and Edmund and Peter find they must draw on all their skills to defeat a desperate enemy.
Author's Note: C. S. Lewis never specifies where Peter and Edmund go to school, so I have sent them to Malvern College, where Lewis himself attended. Every year, the older boys took part in something called the "Ledbury Run", or "Ledder" in that English Public School slangy manner, a 7.5 mile Cross-Country run from the village of Ledbury back through the Malvern Hills to the Senior college field. The school has (or had) ten houses and I have randomly put the Pevensies in School House. That's all you need to know!
The Race Starts
Edmund knelt to fasten the laces on his gym shoe more tightly just as Peter started muttering to himself. Peering up at his elder brother, a half-rueful smile on his face, Edmund wandered, not for the first time, where on earth Peter had picked up this strange habit of talking to himself before every race. Even their classmates had come to expect it and rolled their eyes good-naturedly when the muttering inevitably started.
Although, Edmund considered as he rose lightly back to his feet, not all the eye rolling was as good-natured as it appeared. After all, Peter was the one to beat when it came to athletics and he had won enough races over the past couple of years to make the other boys take any and every opportunity to beat him. Frankly, most were rather intimidated by him (and not just because of his athletic prowess) and the muttering, well, didn't really help to soften his image.
"You sound like a mad man", Edmund said kindly, far too used to his brother to imagine that telling him to shut-up would make any impact.
"Hmm?" Peter looked towards his brother, eyebrow's raised in innocent enquiry.
Edmund couldn't help his affectionate smile back - Peter really didn't know the effect he had on people and would probably have been surprised that his muttering was even noticed. Edmund decided not to call him on it today - watching the more competitive boys edge away from his brother, the muttering maniac, was far too entertaining.
"Do you fancy your chances against the Champion of the Ledder, then?" he asked, waggling his eyebrows to comic effect.
Peter mock-glowered back, but Edmund was not deceived and was well aware of the pleased twinkle behind the blue eyes,
"Prepare for defeat, Usurper," Peter declared, horribly overdoing it, as usual.
Edmund furrowed his eyebrows dramatically, partly to express rage and partly to stop his face crinkling with amusement
"Ha! I laugh in the face of your bluster!" he declared, very nearly speaking the literal truth.
Matthews, who was standing nearby, struggling to get the blue cotton jersey over his rather round head, snorted with amusement, well used to the Pevensie pre-race show. Horley, beside him, was not nearly as impressed. He had been running well this season and truly did fancy his chances against the current Ledder Champion - Edmund Pevensie.
Edmund would have been highly amused to discover that he was just as intimidating to the boys as his elder brother. The fact of the matter was, that Peter had been beaten before - only it was his younger brother who had done it every time! Edmund, who was nearly three years younger and who had not yet gained the muscle bulk, height and finesse that he would acquire in later years and would make him a more equal match for his brother, was more than used to being outclassed at this stage of his career. The fact that he occasionally snatched victory (including the previous year's coveted Ledder) was more a testament to his superior tactical skill than his physical strength. ("Sneakiness", Peter had called it last year, both proud and piqued by his unexpected second place finish).
No, until he grew a little more, he was sanguine about his chances of beating Peter and enjoyed every little victory as a bonus, but shrugged and smiled without surprise at his more frequent defeats. He would have been dismayed to discover that this gentlemanly behaviour rather awed his rather less mature contemporaries who would have given away the contents of their tuck boxes for the chance of rubbing defeat in the face of the Golden Boy. That Edmund occasionally did succeed, and did no face rubbing of any kind afterwards, was also a cause of whispered debate. It made his classmates wonder what other miraculous achievements he might one day be able to pull off.
"Boys! Gather at the line! No talking now!"
Mr. Leadbeater's pipe-roughened voice drifted over the heads of the boys from School House and they obediently shuffled forward with the boys from the other Houses in Ledbury High Street. Edmund grinned at Peter in anticipation, then leaned forward subtly, preparing himself for the race. He was dimly aware of Peter doing the same, but didn't notice that a pocket of space had formed around the brothers, despite the crowd of nearly 100 boys. Horley's determination aside, nobody really doubted who would be the winner. It would be a Pevensie. Either one.
Edmund had ceased to care that he and his brother were, to put it mildly, faster, stronger and quicker than their classmates. He supposed it had something to do with the air of Narnia, or the breath of Aslan, or some such thing. Although it had been over a year for him, and nearly two for Peter, since they had breathed Narnian air, the apparent effects had not worn off. Edmund didn't suppose they would. Peter, on the other hand, was constantly amazed, as though he expected them to wake up every day as four-foot weaklings. This amazement was yet another reason why Edmund found his brother endlessly and endearingly amusing.
The boys fell silent; their eyes fixed forward, their ears primed for the blast of the starting pistol. Edmund slid his gaze sideways where he knew his brother waited. Depending on that extra sense that always told the siblings where the other was, Edmund knew that Peter could not help himself but gaze back. Now, if the timing were right…
The pistol went off just as Peter, momentarily distracted, had looked back at Edmund. Edmund, who had been hoping for just that event grinned, winked cheekily, and then without warning, sprinted forward through the pack of boys ambling off the line. Barely breathing, Edmund streaked forward, easily outpacing everyone, hoping to gain a considerable lead before he was forced to fall back into a more manageable running speed.
As he ran, relishing the bite of the autumn air, he imagined his brother, startled and spluttering in his wake and he couldn't help the pleased grin that spread over his face. Sprinting like a competitor in the 100 yard dash was no way to start a seven and a half mile cross-country race, as he well knew, but Edmund had no illusions about the outcome of the race and he would cling to every tactical and psychological advantage he could get. Of course Peter was going to win! Edmund had surprised him the previous year and Peter never made the same mistake twice. His only hope this year, and it was a forlorn one, was to shock his elder brother into relinquishing the lead for as long as he could. Edmund was quick and he was clever, but he couldn't beat Peter for stamina and consistency. He was going to pay for his lighting start later in race, but Peter would have to work for his victory! He felt that staying in the lead until the last couple of miles would salve his amour propre and he would be well satisfied with that modest goal.
Besides, he loved shocking his brother.
His aching legs and gasping breath finally forced him to slow his break-neck pace and he risked a look back over his shoulder. He had reached the edge of the village and was starting uphill on the winding track would take the runners through the Malvern Hills, back to school. When woods, fields and hedges were upon him, he would have no further opportunity to gauge his lead. He was initially pleased by the gap he had achieved, but apprehensive when he saw that a small group of boys had drawn ahead of the main bunch and were intent on chasing him down, albeit at a steadier (and much more sensible) pace. Naturally, Peter led that group.
Edmund sighed and pressed on, annoyed that his tactic had only partially worked, and enormously pleased and proud that Peter had recovered so quickly from his cheeky manoeuvre. He wondered, not for the first time, why they insisted on testing each other so frequently. Their mutual competition had been going on for nearly twenty years now and showed no signs of stopping. He supposed it had started out of a sense of practicality, as well as fun; when you rule a kingdom of talking animals, it is very difficult to compare your own physical skills and development! Hence, they inspired each other to get faster, stronger, better. He supposed they always would.
Of course, they had also frequently ridden out to battle and honing their skills was a matter of survival. Here in this sleepy part of England, where the war seemed so far away, and only the occasional drone of aircraft overhead reminded them of the terrible dangers and suffering elsewhere, there was little incentive to keep up their commitment and enthusiasm. They did, of course. The habit was too ingrained - the habit that was born of great responsibility, and once a King of Narnia, always…well.
There was no point in dwelling on what couldn't be changed. Edmund took one last glance back, then settled into a steady rhythm as he veered eastwards off the track into the woodland that stretched up to Little Malvern Court.
Running through woodland, albeit tamed and gentle as this was, took a certain skill that Edmund was more than familiar with. You had to watch your footing and look out for dangling branches; beware of the unexpected too - there had been more than one boy startled off the path by a spooked deer in the history of the Ledbury race! Edmund, alert for all the usual dangers, failed to account for a danger he'd never met in the Great Western Wood - the human one.
Afterwards, he would analyse every memory he had of that moment, trying to find out if there was something he had missed, something that would have alerted him. But he couldn't wish it had happened to somebody else - the somebody else would have probably been Peter.
Was it the rushing noise or the push that came first? Perhaps they happened simultaneously - he remembers a hard yank at his ribs, a leafy, rustling sound, a sudden intake of breath, then a gasping, nauseating tumble away and down from the path, green and orange flashing in front of his eyes.
The sudden stop was so shocking, so unexpected; he had difficulty recalling how long it all took. Maybe it was only seconds before he crashed to a halt, weight at his waist and his wrists. He hadn't realised he was pinned at first. The sense that he was very close to another person came before sight confirmed it. Had he collided with somebody? He was later to feel embarrassed that at that moment he had felt that very British thing, an apology, form on his lips.
The hand grasping his wrists tightened and his sense of self-preservation kicked in. Lying awkwardly half on his back and half on his side, he stiffened, then bucked against the pressure. Eyes flying open, he looked up into a tense young face. He had a momentary picture of a frightened, determined gaze, a flash of blond hair before his eyes, flicking over the scene, settled on an insignia. The collar of a uniform. His mind automatically translated. Luftwaffe.
Shocked and panicked, he bucked so violently, he threw the hands off him for the moment and scrabbled away on hands and knees, grasping hurriedly for a branch to hoist himself upright.
Peter he thought. Peter!
He knew his brother was approaching and his reaction was automatic. Wasting precious seconds, he clambered to his feet, grasping hands at his ankles, as he put two fingers in his mouth and whistled.
Four short staccato blasts. And again.
He reached three when his arm and neck were grabbed in a bruising hold and shoved forwards.
"Ruhe! ruhe!" he heard behind him as he was flung headlong into a tree.
His didn't remember much beyond that point.