Saints of Gold
A/N: This is not Chapter Two of Damascus Road, although I am still working on that. This is mainly a place for scraps that may one day find their way into full stories or may not, beginning with a one-shot written in honor of an off-site friend for her inestimable Susan and for encouraging me when I debated against ever letting it see the light of day.
Prince Corin (the real one) had been settled (for the time being and with great reluctance) into his bed in the kings' cabin. The queens had their own, but it was currently empty with Lucy at home at Cair Paravel and Susan too wakeful to seek her own rest. Edmund leaned against the stern railing gazing back across the sea. Overhead, a couple of the sailors, one Peridan's cousin, Bertil, and the other a Raccoon from Stormness Head who had scandalized his family when he chose to go to sea, clambered through the rigging removing the last of the colored lanterns and ribbons that had been placed there to convince the Calormenes of their deception.
"I thought to find you at the prow, urging us on toward home," said Susan, joining her brother at the railing. She could have remarked on his restlessness, but then he was likely to respond by commenting on hers.
He didn't look away from the southern sea, but a wry smile touched his lips. "Were you not the one who scolded me recently for spending too much of my time looking backwards? Where else would I be?"
That had been before they left for Calormen, no more than two months ago before Rabadash's charming guise had begun to slip, but it seemed more like an age. "Have you seen anyone following?"
A practical consideration, far more relevant than any of the others that lay beneath the surface. He shook his head. "Captain Nils hasn't mentioned anyone, either. They'd be hard-pressed to catch us now. Unless the Tisroc plans an ambush, I don't believe our little imposter gave us away after all."
It was almost enough to allow one to relax. "He would need Gulls for messengers to outpace us, and Calormen has never been kind to talking beasts." It had been one of her doubts about the match before the negotiations had fallen apart.
"The more fools, they," he muttered to the dark water. "Speaking of messengers, does Lu know we're on our way?"
"She will know shortly. I wrote as soon as we left the harbor. You didn't?" she added. "I thought you would be celebrating your vindication." There was more weariness than sharpness to the words, but his shoulders tensed anyway, and his hands gripped the railing more tightly.
"I'm not sorry Rabadash showed his true colors before you - we - were inextricably bound to him and to Calormen," he said carefully. "But I am sorry for the disappointment. For your sake, I wish he had been what you and Peter hoped him to be."
It was a diplomat's answer, despite the fact that their current flight was hardly diplomatic. "Well," she said, "I am glad the worst foolishness has been avoided, whether or not Peter appreciates it. I would hate for you to love me less."
That startled him into looking up. "Never." His eyes unfocused and then changed as he pulled up the memory of their conversation before setting sail. "It was a poor jest." He paused. "I considered it a lapse in judgment, but only because I feared for you. For your heart, for your person. For Narnia, as I don't know how she would fair without her Gentle Queen for six months out of the year."
"I know," she said, though it was good to hear. There would be enough recriminations due to this episode. "I would have missed you as well."
He smiled at the assurance, or perhaps, simply at not having to say the words. More briskly, he said, "As for the Magnificent, if I tell him half of what Rabadash said to me in Tashban, he'll demand to know why I didn't challenge the prince to a duel on the spot."
Susan raised an eyebrow. "You haven't told me what Rabadash said to you."
"No," Edmund agreed. "Since you've sense enough not to marry him, there's no need for me to offend either of us. And I would have, if there had been anything to be gained by it."
"Would have told me or would have challenged him?" she wondered aloud.
He raised his own eyebrow. "If I told you, I'd have to wash my own mouth out with soap the way Mum used to." His mouth puckered as if recalling the taste or possibly because the next admission pained him to make. "His royal boorishness is rightfully proud of his skill with a blade. Although-" He smiled fiercely. "I'm better."
She smiled as well. Peter would have fought to the death for her, and she loved him for it. Edmund would have ensured they never had to, and she loved him for that. "You didn't like him before that, though."
He straightened, stretched and looked up at the stars. "Well, I'm suspicious and skeptical, you know. Even of our little imposter. I didn't write Lucy because I've been trying to determine how I can possibly tell King Lune about our encounter and still look him in the eye."
"We had no way of knowing until he was gone, and then no way of being certain," Susan said. She bit her lip. "I might have tried my influence before we left. Once last time." The hint that she was once again softening had improved Rabadash's disposition for the short time before their escape.
Edmund shook his head. "We couldn't risk it. We had to leave. I only hope that if it was the missing prince, he finds his way home sooner rather than later."
"But you do believe he'll find his way home."
"Aslan has accomplished greater things," he said, and then grimaced. "But it is difficult to leave it to him on occasion."
She reached across and squeezed his hand. "One miracle tonight, at least. Though, that is no reason for inaction." If they had left it entirely in the Lion's paws, they might never have left Tashban. "We will play our part. Do we have any contacts who might be useful?"
He nodded slowly. "A very few. Fair-haired boys are rare enough in Calormen, even among slaves. If he wasn't assigned to spy, then he was almost certainly running away from something." After a moment, he repeated, "Almost certainly. He had the air. I should have seen it at the time."
She didn't ask what air he meant. Edmund had a gift for recognizing wounded children that he had never been willing to discuss and which consequently was no longer questioned. He'd been in a cold fury six years into their reign over a dictatorial board of schoolmasters who had set up in Lantern Waste, and refused all other projects until the institution had been disbanded. That was not a hole into which she would allow him to fall tonight.
"Then may the Lion speed his flight as ours." He looked at down at her, and she echoed his own words. "He has accomplished greater things."
He smiled. "I am very glad Rabadash did not succeed in stealing you away," he said. "For all his fine poetry and expensive silks." The words were light, but his expression was sincere.
Better to laugh at it than to mourn, she supposed. "The poetry had its points. The silks were lovely, but the offer pressure his father to end harassment of the Lone Islands was enchanting."
"If I'd thought him sincere," Edmund trailed off. "It would still have been an uneven trade."
Susan recalled the council that had met to discuss the prince's suit. "You said as much."
He winced. "I was a boor."
"A small one."
"An enormous one. I had as big a part to play in bringing us here as any of us."
"Our navy is at strength. I'll not accept selling our sister as the price of a peace we can achieve on our own."
"Edmund." Susan frowned at him.
Two lines formed between Peter's eyes, an echo of their father when he was particularly exasperated. "What would you accept then?" It was poorly phrased, but the high king's expression showed that he had not meant the words as they escaped.
On a fairer day in an easier mood, Edmund would have overlooked them. "I thought my price was well-documented," he said. There was an appalled silence, and then he stood. "Forgive me, I don't believe I'm fit for these chambers at the moment." He nodded to the councilors, bowed to Susan and Lucy and stood, ramrod straight, before his brother, waiting. "My king."
It was a standing agreement that they refrained from argument before witnesses. Peter nodded, shortly.
Edmund bowed. Before leaving, he added in a more peaceable tone, "I would let him prove his good faith."
"Did you truly think his gift to you was purposeful?" She hadn't believed it then, but it seemed more likely now.
Though he saved the richest for his hoped-for bride, Rabadash had showered all the sovereigns of Narnia with gifts in his suit for Susan's hand: swords and daggers of Calormene make for the kings, embroidered silks and jewels for the queens, wines from the vineyards along the coast, and in memory of a years-previous visit to Tashban, a box of Turkish Delight for Edmund.
A look of disgust for - someone - crossed Edmund's face. "It's the sort of thing I would do if I wanted to subtly insult someone without appearing to do so," he said. "All it takes is a bit of research and a smiling presentation, and Calormenes are excellent at presentation. The nicest thing about being home will be being able to take a meal without ten minutes of poetry describing each course-"
"Ed." He stopped rambling and raised both eyebrows in his best innocently curious expression. "Don't change the subject, please."
For a moment he looked as if he might deny the accusation, but then he shrugged. "I thought so. Although backstabbing is such an art in the Tisroc's court, he may have meant it as a compliment."
The thought nagged, even more than the hundred of little objections that had appeared to the match once they arrived in Tashban. Perhaps because it might have prevented this whole trip if she - if any of the rest of them - had shared his misgivings. "He apologized very prettily," she said thoughtfully.
Edmund smiled sardonically. "Yes, he did. To me, as well. Ten thousand apologies for having unintentionally offended, etc." There was a slight strain in his voice. "I was content to ignore it. I supposed someone had spoken to him, though if it was intentional, it was hardly news." That the Just King had once betrayed his family and people was far from a secret even beyond Narnia's borders. Still, certain details tended to be jealously guarded. "I didn't think you would tell him so much."
Quietly indignant, she said, "If he learned, it was not from me. I would not so betray you."
"Edmund. You didn't think that?"
He sighed, eyes lidded, but the edge had left his voice when he answered her. "I thought you would not be so frank without need with anyone to whom you had not very thoroughly given your heart. You were fond of him." It was her turn for silence. He raised penitent eyes. "Will you forgive me for doubting you?"
She shook her head at his expression. "Have I ever been able to not?"