Written for edenfalling in the 2012 Narnia Fic Exchange on LiveJournal. Thanks to my beta readers: evalerie and my husband.
"This shouldn't take long," Miraz told Prunaprismia as he mounted his horse. He looked down at her from the saddle. "One way or another, I'll have Caspian's head."
Prunaprismia nodded. She came close and put a hand on his leg. "Stay well, husband, for me and for Isidro." Accidents can happen in war, even one so minor as this.
Miraz laughed. He leaned down to cover her hand with his own. "As you wish, my sweet. Trust in your father's advice while I'm away." He straightened and looked around, judging the readiness of his men.
Prunaprismia stepped back, retreating to the steps into the castle. She stood, straight and proud, while the men mounted, formed up and finally rode out. Why, oh, why couldn't the wretched boy stay where he was meant to be? We were to be rid of him quietly. Isidro's position was to be secure. Instead, men will die, fighting monsters, all because of a boy who should have been got rid of years ago. She watched until the riders were out of sight, then turned her back on the empty courtyard and went inside. It's time to feed Isidro.
Miraz sent her news every day. She could tell he was glossing over details. Questioning the messengers gave her more information than any of her husband's dispatches. The men, she learned, were uncomfortable fighting creatures out of legend. The animals weren't so bad. They were too large, but they were animals nevertheless. That they could speak didn't come up in the fighting. The dwarves could almost be mistaken for men. Almost. They also weren't a problem. The real problem was the centaurs, fauns, and giants. The men were whispering, wondering what else was waiting to come out of the woods. Anything might be in there.
So she sent her husband private messages, full of news about their son, and dispatches of her own, meant to be read aloud to whoever might be by. She wrote of her certainty of victory, of the wives and children waiting eagerly to celebrate the end of the fighting. She refused to call it a war. That granted Caspian too much dignity.
The news of the twelfth of Greenroof completely blindsided her. She'd already received the day's letter from her husband. In it, he expressed the belief that it would only take a few hard pushes to completely obliterate the old Narnians. "They have no reserves," he wrote. "We can replace any man who falls. We have only to press without easing." She read those sentences aloud to the court with satisfaction. My husband is King. He's going to obliterate the last of the monsters. This is a country of men.
The rider came as night fell. Prunaprismia was walking along the top of the wall, carrying her son. Taking walks every evening was part of her way of showing that she wasn't concerned about her husband's absence. Walking the wall provided the right combination of high visibility and trusted guards.
The rider came up the road alone. He wore padding as if he had once worn armor. The padding even had rust marks. His horse was clearly exhausted. It could only manage a sort of half-hearted trot that brought them closer to the castle slowly.
Prunaprismia turned to one of her guards. "Go out to him. Find out who he is. If he has news, bring him to me." If he has news, it won't be good. How can there be bad news? Miraz promised. She handed her son to the nursemaid. "Let us go inside. It grows late." She raised her head and straightened her back.
They brought the rider to her in a small, private room. If this were bad news, she didn't want to share it with the court until she'd heard it herself and thought about what to do.
The rider knelt to her, going down on one knee. She recognized him as Lord Orenz, a young man made knight by Miraz only three months before. His family had supported Miraz since the early days. Caspian IX had taken away lands that Miraz had then restored.
"Lord Orenz, what brings you here so? We fear the worst."
He kept his head bowed. "It is worse than the worst, your majesty. His majesty has fallen, killed by treachery when undertaking single combat against a man claiming to be King Peter."
Prunaprismia closed her eyes. She could barely draw breath. But I knew. When I saw him coming, I knew. But he said worse. What could be worse?
Lord Orenz said nothing more for a moment. "That is not the worst, your majesty. The forest walked. Our forces have been routed and have surrendered. Caspian has won."
For a moment, she couldn't take it in. "Caspian won?" Her mind seemed paralyzed. "How could he win?"
"Your majesty, the forest walked. The trees came to life and pursued our forces to the river, at Beruna. The bridge was gone. The only choices were daring the river and surrender."
"You dared the river." Why didn't others? Were they so eager to make peace with- with- whatever they are?
"Someone had to bring you word." He looked up at her for the first time, his expression earnest. "You and the young king are in danger. I expect their forces will take some time at Beruna, but someone will think of you soon enough."
Prunaprismia clenched her hands in her skirts. Yes. We must flee. But where? "Our options are limited." Too many people know my face, and I couldn't live as a peasant. I could send Isidro off with his nursemaid. Could I trust her for that? No, I barely know the girl. Even if she did it, he'd grow up without knowing his heritage, his birthright. Archenland is the other choice, probably the best choice. King Nain has been neutral on the Narnian succession. He wouldn't turn us away or, worse, send us back. Archenland is human. It doesn't have all these hidden creatures that Narnia turns out to have. "We'll be ready to go in half an hour." Somehow.
Prunaprismia did her best not to let Isidro know how much she worried, how she feared each Narnian visitor might be the assassin. Caspian had made no effort to persuade her and Isidro to leave Archenland. He'd even gone so far as to grant them a small stipend. She knew better than to think that, simply because Caspian was naive, the men- and creatures- around Caspian were so foolish.
Narnia's current ambassador to Archenland was a dwarf named Laban. He'd spoken to Prunaprismia once, to tell her about the stipend. She suspected that he'd arranged for Lord Kester to offer to take her and Isidro in. Separating them from the court at Anvard, sending them somewhere out of the way, was basic politics. Prunaprismia didn't mind. She'd never expected King Nain or the great lords around him to support Isidro's claim to the Narnian throne, and living away from Anvard made it easier for her to communicate with those in Narnia who did support Isidro. Living away from Anvard also gave her more of what she desperately needed- time.
Living at Kester's Keep had another advantage. It was far cheaper than living at Anvard. No one looked down at her for wearing the same dresses over and over, and potential servants asked less in wages. Isidro's nursemaid had only lasted six months before homesickness drove her to quit. Prunaprismia hadn't argued. She'd sent the girl on her way with a letter of recommendation and had hired a local woman, a widow with five children. She thought the chance at additional allies worth the divided attention. She just hoped Isidro wouldn't fall in love with one of the girls.
Everything was harder than she'd imagined. She'd never had to dress her own hair or mend her own clothes before. Fortunately, Lord Kester's servants laid the fires and cooked the meals. She'd have had no idea how to go about either task. She made an effort to learn how to care for Isidro, just in case they had to flee again, and was appalled to discover how much sheer work caring for a child involved.
Still, they settled into a routine. Isidro learned to walk and talk at what his nurse said were the appropriate times. Prunaprismia had long talks with him about his father and Narnia. She looked forward to the time when he would understand her words.
She missed Miraz dreadfully. Her bed was cold and empty at night, and she missed having an equal to talk to. She thought with some longing of marrying again, but men of rank were thin on the ground at Kester's Keep. Lord Kester was sixty if he was a day, and his sons seldom came to the Keep. She suspected strongly that any sign of romance between her and one of Lord Kester's sons would see her shown the door. She didn't dare risk that. She also didn't dare risk a husband who would resent Isidro.
When Isidro was three, Lord Orenz came riding in with letters from Prunaprismia's family. "I can't stay long," he told her, "but the news couldn't wait. Three weeks ago, Caspian sailed east from Cair Paravel. There is no saying when- or if- he will return."
Prunaprismia set down the shirt she was sewing for Isidro. She folded her hands in her lap to hide the fact that they were trembling. "Isidro is too young to go to war." But a chance like this might not come again.
"It shouldn't come to war. The Old Narnians believe that they're meant to be ruled by a 'son of Adam,' by which they mean a man. They're as worried that Caspian won't return as we are hopeful. They know as little of the sea as we do. Indeed, of all the creatures, only a Mouse was brave enough to accompany their king. Everyone else on board the ship was a man."
Prunaprismia didn't see how that was relevant, but she nodded anyway. "Surely it's too soon to try anything." She hoped it was and then castigated herself for thinking that. Isidro deserves the throne. He does. But he is so very young. It will be many years before he can grasp power as his father did, and, in the meantime, we would depend on powerful men, men who might not want to give up their power when he's grown.
Lord Orenz shrugged. "It is, of course, but if we don't plan now, we won't be ready when the time comes. I came so that you would know that we have not forgotten you, that we mean to make the most of this opportunity."
I don't even know who he means by 'we.' So many left Narnia after Caspian won. The others- They all swore fealty to Caspian. None of her handful of correspondents ever mentioned names. There was too much risk that her mail would be intercepted, and trustworthy travelers seldom passed her way. She gripped her hands together. "Who would be regent?"
"Caspian left the dwarf, Trumpkin, as regent. If we're to do this peacefully, we'll have to accept him, at least for a time, until we can discredit him," Lord Orenz said. "He's not a fool, so he'll be working to discredit us, too."
And Isidro will be caught in the middle. "He can't possibly approve of me," Prunaprismia said. "I've tried to be circumspect when speaking of the Old Narnians and of Caspian, but my views- my husband's views- can be inferred." I will not let anyone take Isidro from me, not even to make him king. I'm the only one certain to have his best interests at heart.
Lord Orenz nodded and looked sympathetic. "That is a difficulty. I don't think Trumpkin would try to separate the king from you, not with him so young." He didn't sound certain enough to reassure Prunaprismia.
"I think-" Prunaprismia did her best to put certainty into her voice. "-Isidro and I will stay where we are until Narnia invites us home. I won't put Isidro at risk by taking him to Narnia before we can be certain of our welcome. I know there's a risk to that, too. Someone else might take the throne." And Isidro would be more at risk from whomever did. "I can live with that risk." I have no choice. I'd rather not take it, rather not wait. Still, if we cross that border without official backing, someone will kill Isidro.
"I- we- hoped you'd come to Narnia. To gain support, we need to show that his majesty is available to take the throne. The Old Narnians, in particular, need to see him. Rumor for them might make him a monster."
Rumor certainly does his father, Prunaprismia thought with some bitterness. Her mother seemed almost to revel in passing on the stories. "We could go to Anvard for a while. People could see us there." I'd rather not go to Anvard. We're not welcome there. "Anvard is close enough to Narnia for visiting. Just let me know when." Because we can't stay for long.
Lord Orenz nodded. "It will be enough."
It will have to be.
"I'll send you word through your father. No names, but if he asks you to meet him in Anvard, go."
"I will." Prunaprismia rose to her feet. "I would like some names, just to know who our allies are. I know those can't be put in writing, but I'd like to know." That will tell me how much to trust them. I'm sure to recognize the names.
Lord Orenz also rose to his feet. "I've spoken to General Ivander and Lord Malchan personally. They mentioned Yepheth and Clotario. I'll see what other names I can get for you."
Ivander doesn't care who's king as long as the army is strong. I wonder what he thinks of non-humans in the army? Prunaprismia nodded. "Thank you. I appreciate what you've done. Isidro and I owe you everything." Malchan, I'm not sure about. I expect he'd like to be near a young king, one he could make decisions for. I don't remember Yepheth or Clotario.
She offered Lord Orenz her hand. He took it and bowed over it. "I've only done my duty, your majesty. I take my oaths seriously." He straightened.
What about your oaths to Caspian? Or have you evaded giving those? Even Caspian wouldn't be so foolish, not even if he didn't know your family history. "Did you want to see Isidro before you go?" That will let you report that he's growing well, that he's healthy.
"I would be honored."
"He's gone for a walk with his nurse. They should be back any time now." He has too much energy to sit here while I sew. Getting him out to run around is the only way. He and his 'sword' take up too much space once he starts swinging that stick around. She hadn't objected to the toy sword, knowing that it would help prepare him for the day when he picked up a real sword. "This way." She led the way out of her rooms.
"Did King Caspian say when he'd return?" Prunaprismia asked as they descended a staircase to the front hall. Just how good is this opportunity?
Like her, Lord Orenz was mindful of possible listening ears. "His majesty didn't say. He took an oath to find out what happened to the seven lords who sailed away all those years ago. That might take quite a long time."
They never returned. He might not either. And the ocean is vast. Finding one ship would be a matter of impossible luck. If their ship went down, he'll never find it. For a wild moment, she was tempted to pack Isidro up and head for Narnia immediately. No. My reasons to wait are still good. If Isidro were even a few years older- But he's not. He's three. Waiting a few months can't hurt. She considered saying that she would pray for Caspian's quick return, but she knew that no one would believe it. No need to give anyone reason to look at us with more suspicion. Instead, she changed the subject. "Lord Kester, our kind host, has promised to see Isidro trained as a knight." She opened the door to the courtyard.
Isidro, his nurse and her two youngest children were just coming in through the gate. "Mama!" Isidro said, dropping his toy sword and launching himself at her.
Prunaprismia bent to catch him. She lifted him and kissed him on the forehead. At least he's not wet or muddy. She turned him to face Lord Orenz. "This is Lord Orenz. He brought a letter from Grandmother and Grandfather."
Isidro regarded Lord Orenz seriously and silently, his eyes wide. He ducked his head a little, bumping it against her shoulder.
He's so unlike his father. She couldn't imagine Miraz as a shy child. He was always bigger than life. She looked at Lord Orenz and shrugged a little.
Lord Orenz smiled. "I'm pleased to meet you, your highness." He bowed.
Prunaprismia frowned. Now is not the time to tell him that no one calls Isidro 'your highness.' 'My lord,' we can get, no more. "It occurs to me, Lord Orenz- You might be able to help me with a small matter."
Lord Orenz bowed again. "If it's within my ability."
"Isidro needs a tutor, one who knows Narnia. We can't pay a high salary, and it would require living here, but I thought you might know someone." Prunaprismia swallowed hard. The next bit is hardest. "The tutor need not be human. A human might be more comfortable here in Archenland, but that's not required." Please find me a human. Unless there's something to be gained from having a- a- whatever teach him.
"I'm sure I can find someone." Lord Orenz looked more than a little relieved.
I might have asked for something truly hard. Well, Lord Orenz, three years here has taught me to be practical. "I've hesitated to ask my father. His connections aren't what they once were." His connection with me drags him down, politically. Prunaprismia cleared her throat. "The tutor need not know sword work. Lord Kester has an armsmaster who will teach Isidro." Though heaven knows Kenelm isn't a brilliant swordsman. We can worry about that later. Competence will do.
"That will make finding someone simpler." Lord Orenz bowed a third time. "I really must be on my way, your majesty. I'm expected in Anvard."
"Thank you for detouring to drop off my letters." Once again, she didn't correct him on the form of address. I miss being Queen Prunaprismia. It's hard to be simply Lady Prunaprismia. She shifted Isidro's weight to make him easier to carry.
"It was no trouble at all." Lord Orenz looked, for a second, like he was going to bow again. Instead, he nodded. "I see that they've held my horse for me." He turned and walked over where a groom was walking a horse back and forth. He spoke quietly with the groom for a moment, gave the man a coin and mounted his horse.
"Let's go inside," Prunaprismia said to Isidro and Lysis, Isidro's nurse. "It's time for a snack." I won't dwell on the what ifs. Caspian might come back. He might not. Isidro might become king. He might not. I can't do more, not safely. All I can do is wait, wait and do the things I'd do anyway.
Isidro laid his head on her shoulder.
And after the snack, a story and a nap. Just like always.