A/N: Characters and situations recognizable from the books belong to C.S. Lewis's estate. My additions are meant to assist not detract from Lewis's world. Rostam appears in the books, but I took the liberty of assigning him a name and species based on my research into Assyrian and Persian mythology. Thanks go to meldahlie for allowing me to borrow her history for Thornbut. It can be found in her beautiful story "This Is No Thaw" which I highly recommend.
His Throne Is Upholden
"Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy."
~ Proverbs 20:28
"He can't go on just not knowing!" Lucy's voice, passionate even in a whisper, caught Peter's attention first.
"Lucy." Susan's voice soothed, although there was a definite hint of frustration in it. "It would be too much. Think about his interview with Mr. Tumnus. It's difficult enough already. If Aslan meant him to know, wouldn't he have said?"
"He didn't say not to!"
Peter poked his head into the solar, knocking on the door for form's sake as he did so. His sisters were alone in the bright room, arguing in the midst of abandoned mending (Lucy's embroidery was clumsy at best, and Susan had pointed out practically that at the moment the inhabitants of Cair Paravel needed dry cloaks more than they needed tapestries or monogrammed handkerchiefs). "What didn't Aslan say?"
Both girls looked at him with relief. "Won't you talk some sense into her?" said Susan.
At the same moment, Lucy said insistently, "Aslan doesn't do things to hide them!"
"Yes, but what are we talking about?" Peter loved his younger sisters, but Lucy, and occasionally even Susan, had a way of running away with a conversation before one knew it had started.
Instead of the usual rapid, tumbling explanations Peter expected, however, both girls hesitated for a moment. It was Susan who took the lead at last. "Did Aslan tell you, ever, how he settled things about Edmund? With her?"
Peter frowned. It had been barely a week since their coronation and Aslan's departure. "I said no one was to pester him about that. If he meant us to know, he would have told us."
Susan looked relieved. "That's what I said."
"That's not right," said Lucy. "Peter doesn't know himself." She turned back to him. "We followed him that night."
Peter squeezed his eyes shut, feeling a headache coming. "Lucy…"
"He let us," Susan put in. "That is, when he heard us, he didn't tell us to go back. He said we could go with him part of the way if we promised to stop when he told us." She glanced at their younger sister, and pressed on, apparently determined to do the telling if it was to be told. "It was a trade. Himself for Edmund."
Trying to process this, Peter shook his head. "She kept him prisoner? That's why he was away from the battle?" It was all that made sense, although the idea of anyone imprisoning Aslan with or without his consent was difficult to fathom. It explained, to a degree, what they'd been doing at the Witch's house to rescue her stone victims. If the girls had mounted a rescue somehow, then they ought to be knighted - or dame-ed, was it? - in their own rights. There was no need for the secrecy.
Susan looked injured. "She - killed him, Peter. On the Stone Table."
"Of course, she didn't!" said Peter in horrified protest. "I saw him. We've all-"
Lucy interrupted. "Deep Magic," she said. "Deeper magic, Aslan said. It brought him back because he hadn't - done - anything."
Hadn't done what Edmund had done, she meant.
They hadn't spoken of it since Beruna, although Peter knew rumors spread where he couldn't put a stop to them. The faun who had assigned himself as Edmund's attendant had hesitantly informed Peter that his majesty did not seem to be sleeping well. Peter who had dreamed of the battle for a week straight at the time of this conversation had thanked Paulus and resolved to speak with his younger brother. A red-faced Edmund had admitted to occasional nightmares and nothing else, and prying anything more than he chose to reveal out of Ed (even now when he had shed his former bitterness) was a task Peter sometimes considered beyond his ability.
He began to see what the argument was about. "Ed doesn't know?" Peter didn't really need to ask. Forgiven or not, his brother bore the weight of the past with a mixture of penitence and determined resolve. Edmund had never been boisterous, but he was quieter now than he'd ever been. Still, if he were bearing that burden, Peter rather thought it would be obvious.
"Would you tell him?" asked Susan seriously. "How could he bear it?"
The question lingered in Peter's ears for the next few weeks. It didn't occupy every moment, weighty as it was, because there was still the business of ruling to be about. Narnia had been under the Witch's rule for a century, and there was a great deal to be mended and rediscovered. The thaw of a hundred years of winter meant for a very wet spring and while the newly uncovered earth was rich and fertile, it was necessary to plant now if they meant to have a harvest in the fall. In addition, the breaking of Jadis's curse made Narnia and her young rulers a subject of interest to the surrounding lands. A ship from Galma docked in Cair Paravel (causing quite a scramble as the oldest Narnians tried to remember how to bring her in and ensure that said docks were sturdy enough to take the disembarking embassy) on the same day that the brand new ambassador from Archenland extended an invitation to visit King Lune's court, and that evening Mr. Tumnus arrived from Lantern Waste carrying rumors that remnants of the White Witch's army had been seen near the Stone Table.
"Right then," Peter said as they gathered in an alcove in the library at Cair Paravel (the council chamber leaked awfully when it rained, and a crew of Mud Swallows were currently working on repairs there). "I'll have to ride out to the Stone Table and investigate the threat." After hearing the girls' description of what had passed there, Peter was rather anxious to see it, in any event. "If it's genuine, one of us ought to be there to deal with them."
"We ought to," agreed Edmund, his expression slightly distant.
Susan looked meaningfully at Peter. "Someone will have to entertain the Galmans, and we can't all decline King Lune's invitation. According to Phoebus, our relationship with Archenland was always the closest before the Winter, we oughtn't lose the chance to make it right again." She turned to Edmund, "You were reading that book about the first kings of Archenland, weren't you?"
There was a surprised, "Ow!" from Lucy, and the youngest queen sat up a little straighter in her chair. "Yes, Edmund," she said after a frown at her sister. "You were telling me about it."
"If you're suggesting I go to Archenland," said Edmund, "Su's the better choice. She's the one who knows how to talk to people." He said this quite easily, Peter noted, who could remember an Edmund who fought for every ounce of credit, whether deserved or not. "And Peter will need me with the army."
Peter considered. Susan, he suspected, did not want Edmund anywhere near the Stone Table, and Peter himself rather wished to see the place as it was now before he allowed his brother back to the spot where he'd come so near to death. "It would be good to have you," he said thoughtfully. "And you're right, Susan's the best diplomat, but she'll need an escort. It really ought to be at least two of us who travel to Archenland." He turned to Lucy. "Lu, can you manage the Galmans? You'll have the council to advise."
Lucy looked mildly offended that he would even question it. "Of course, I can!" She tilted her head. "They're really just curious as to what we're about, I think. The last time any ships came in sight of Cair Paravel there was nothing but ice here. I think I'll have Thornbut tell them that story - unless you're going to take him with you?"
Rather relieved at this suggestion (Thornbut was a hero of Beruna and one of the soldiers Peter trusted most with his siblings' safety), Peter shook his head. "I won't be taking all the army for this. Thornbut can head the castle defenses. He's our best archer-or will be with Su in Archenland."
Susan smiled a bit self-consciously at this compliment.
"We can set out together," Peter added to her and to Edmund. "The day after tomorrow, if that's not too soon to be ready. We'll follow the river together and separate into two parties at Beruna."
That, in the end, is what they did. Peter was still getting used to that part of being high king, making decisions and having them accepted, giving orders and having so many (even his sisters and especially his brother) obey them. He'd rather expected some resistance from the latter, but Edmund did not protest beyond one anxious, "Are you sure you won't need me?" as they set out.
The journey went well enough until they reached the ford of Beruna. The woods were quieter than they had been a month ago. Little hinted at the violence that had occurred there, although Peter caught a glimpse of a gash in the bark of a tree and the Dogs and Bears with the party perked up their ears and sniffed the air as if they could smell blood or hear the shouts and clash of swords from the former battle. Peter pulled up his horse and bowed his head to listen to the silence. He was surprised when he looked up after a moment to see the others following suit. Edmund and Susan looked to him expectantly. He cleared his throat and nodded. "This is it, then," he said, including the whole party as well as his siblings. "The Lion guard your steps."
It was a saying among the oldest Narnians, the ones who remembered before the winter, and had been kept alive by them and passed down to the younger in whispers. The new kings and queens had adopted it naturally. "The Lion guard your steps," echoed a fervent murmur.
Two and a half weeks later it was verging on summer, and Peter was frustrated. Try as they might, they could not find the raiders. They saw signs of the enemy's passage after they had gone and heard the stories of the local Beasts and Trees, but not a glimpse was caught by any member of the party. An extensive search revealed nothing, and Peter almost began to wish he'd brought Edmund along, after all. Changed for the better though he was, Edmund knew how to be sneaky in a way Peter did not, and if anyone might have insight into how the rebels were eluding them, it would be Ed.
A deep rumble at Peter's elbow echoed his own frustration. "They're disguising their scent somehow," said Mahon Sweetclaw. "Cowardly." The brown bear looked slightly insulted by this form of trickery. Mahon and several of his clan had come from the north of Narnia to fight for Aslan against the White Witch. Mahon's father had not survived the battle at Beruna, and Mahon himself had spent the latter part of said battle as a statue, but he and his brothers had joined the palace guard saying it was a family responsibility.
"Magic, Mahon" said the faun Phoebus grimly, approaching with the lamassu Rostam from Peter's other side. A message tube dangled from one of the bull-man's horns, looking slightly comical, although the grave face forbade laughter.
"Reports put at least one hag with them," said Rostam. "Wilmot is consulting with the local dryads and hamadryads, but something is clouding their vision, as well."
Peter had not heard of the human-headed cattle folk before Aslan's camp, but both Phoebus and his own subsequent experience had taught him that the lamassu in general and Rostam, in particular, were wise and fierce champions of Narnia and the Lion. After his predecessor's fall at Beruna, neither Peter nor his siblings had hesitated in promoting Rostam to general, despite his lack of hands.
"Cheating," grumbled Mahon. His stumpy tail twitched.
"That's all the more reason we need to put a stop to this group," said Peter. He nodded at the message tube. "Is that from one of our scouts?"
Rostam shook his head. "From Queen Lucy," he said. He tilted his head, lowering the dispatch to within Phoebus's reach.
The elderly faun delicately untied the message tube from Rostam's horn and handed it to Peter with a bow. "Your majesty." In suing for permission to accompany the army - "I must witness events first hand if I am to record them for posterity!" - the court bard had agreed to act as the general's assistant where hooves would be unwieldy and Rostam's other aides were occupied.
Peter read the message through once silently. "She says that the Galman delegation has left without too many problems - too many, Lucy? - and that Susan and Edmund are still in Archenland. They seem to be getting on quite well with King Lune and Queen Avril. That's good to hear."
"Indeed, your majesty," said Rostam. "And I've no doubt the Galmans were charmed by Queen Lucy."
Peter smiled fondly. Who couldn't be? "They've also heard two suits from descendents of the old human families to resettle in Narnia. That's wonderful!" And rather daunting. Jadis had done her best to erase the memories of the oppressed Narnians during her years of tyranny, done it so well that even some who lived before the Winter had begun to think men a myth, but those humans who had escaped the Witch's purge had carried a legacy into exile. Phoebus had told Peter and his siblings of King Frank and Queen Helen, the magnificent first rulers of Narnia. How could they live up to such legends?
"Tales of the Witch's fall and the witness of Queen Susan's gentle heart have no doubt influenced them," said Phoebus. "I'm certain she - and King Edmund - received the petitioners with grace and wisdom. It is a great blessing to see Narnia so restored."
We still have work to do, thought Peter. "Do you wish you were there to see it, Phoebus?" he asked with a slight smile.
The faun stretched to the limits of his small height. "I would be nowhere but where I am, your majesty," said Phoebus with dignity.
Peter re-read the missive once more. "Susan expected them to be riding home within a few days at her last letter to Lucy." It would be good to know that they were all safely home. "Cair Paravel will be better for it, especially if we are out here much longer."
"Will your majesty send for King Edmund to join us, then?" asked Rostam. While some had been skeptical of the younger son of the prophecy, Rostam had been a fierce defender of Peter's brother, despite any doubts he might have harbored,and Edmund's actions at Beruna had won him completely. Still, Edmund was not quite ten years old.
Peter considered this. The wild goose chase (he must remember not to repeat that phrase before Greywing) had led them in so many circles, he hadn't yet had time for his visit to the Stone Table. He frowned; that was strange in itself. "If we don't make progress in the next two days," he said, aloud. "Yes. There will be no point in sending earlier, in any case.
"In the meantime, I'd like to speak to Wilmot. Phoebus, would you fetch him, please?" The faun bowed and departed on his errand. "Mahon, find Trento and Cabal and see what you Bears and the Dogs can smell out. Magic may be covering the rebels' scent, but there may be other signs of their passage they haven't thought to hide, even if it is only the absence of normal activity, or the scents of their victims." Peter prayed it would not be the last - they had seen the aftermath of a few raids, too late to trace where the rebels had gone - but they had to be realistic.
The Bear's eyes lit with renewed confidence, and he inclined his shaggy head. "They're tricky, but we'll find them out, your majesty," he promised and set in search of his brother and the captain of the Hounds.
Having not been ordered elsewhere, Rostam stayed behind. "You wished to speak with me, your majesty?" he asked.
"Yes," said Peter, glad for a general who so easily understood him. "Our reports put them in this area, but we've not yet seen the Stone Table. Every time we begin to turn in that direction, rumor or a call for help or something draws us a different way. Do you believe that is a coincidence?"
The general's face turned grimmer than usual. "Unlikely," he said. "It is a good thought, sire. Though, that they might dare to defile so sacred a place…" Rostam shook his head with disgust.
Peter thought of the Witch. "Evil dares a great deal," he said.
Peter reigned in his horse, not a Talking Horse, but a true-hearted steed, at the bottom of the hill, and left it in the charge of the wood god Wilmot. Perhaps it was sentimental of him to climb the hill on foot, as he had the first time with his sisters and the Beavers by his side and the assembly of Narnians turning to watch their progress, but it felt right. It had been a brilliant spring afternoon without a cloud in the sky, despite the snow that had covered their flight the previous night and taken their footprints only that morning. There, at the top, he had seen Aslan for the first time, surrounded by Narnians rejoicing in the spring and the assurance that the battle was all but won now that the Great Lion was here with them. The swelling of courage and joy that he had felt when Mr. Beaver first whispered the name had filled Peter, along with a similar conviction that it would be well with Edmund, that Aslan would manage all, and that he, Peter, could battle a dragon with the sword he'd never yet wielded, if the Lion told him so.
He missed that feeling. Oh, he trusted Aslan, knew the Lion was working even from whatever distant countries to which he was currently tending, but Aslan would have known what to do, about the raiders, about Edmund, whereas Peter could only try his best and hope.
Not just hope, he thought, as he topped the hill. Here, the Stone Table had stood, a simple illustration of its name, a giant stone slab on four pillars, with markings carved into its edge in letters so old, neither Phoebus, who had survived the fall of the ancient kings, nor Archimedes, the newly installed castle librarian, had been able to identify their language. It was as old as Narnia itself if Peter had understood the conversation between Aslan and the Witch correctly, and he had attended to every word of the discussion of his brother's fate, fearing equally for Edmund and for Narnia as he wondered what Aslan would do. It had looked almost as immovable as the hill on which it stood or the Lion's word.
It was cracked, clean in two, and fallen inward as if an earthquake had touched just this spot and broken both the table and its magic.
Peter felt, rather than heard, a stirring behind him, and whirled, drawing Rhindon as he turned. He was in time to wound his attacker, but claws scraped across his left vambrace, scoring the leather. An injured hyena tumbled to the ground next to him, bleeding from its side, but it scrambled to its feet to attack again. Peter did not give it a chance to draw blood this time, but even as it died, it was replaced by a second attacker, an axe-wielding dwarf that spat curses to give honest Narnians like Thornbut a bad name. The dwarf sliced at Peter's legs. Peter leapt aside and swung downward, but missed as his enemy dodged as well. He reversed the sword's momentum, turning the swing into an upward stroke that clanged against the dwarf's helmet. The previously quiet hill was now alive with the ringing of weapons, the clamor of voices, the flapping of wings, and the thudding of hooves and feet.
The raiders they hunted had found him, moving into position as silently as if by magic. The hag.
Peter dispatched the dwarf and turned, barely avoiding a minotaur barreling towards his back. "For the White Lady!" the creature roaring as he met its eyes. Peter stabbed and was startled as the minotaur fell into his sword rather than away.
Rostam stepped back from the minotaur's body with bloodied horns and spat a set of reins from his mouth. "Your majesty," he said. The tether he'd brought belonged to a snorting stallion Peter had last seen at the base of the hill. Strapped to the horse's saddle was Peter's silver shield. Rostam raised his voice and bellowed, "To the king!"
At the bull-man's shout, Mahon and his brother Trento fought through a pack of wolves to join them, roaring defiance and tearing with teeth and claws and giving Peter time and space to mount. "Thank you," he said, viewing the battle. "Have you identified the leader?"
"Our Eagles and griffins are searching from above," said Rostam. "But the rebels have harpies and dwarven archers with them."
Briefly, Peter regretted Thornbut's absence. Susan's aim would have been a boon as well, but he'd seen her gray-faced after Beruna, though she'd waited until all could be done to comfort the troops before falling apart. While Lucy deplored their late arrival, Susan had been adamant about preferring straw targets to flesh and blood.
"We've archers of our own, though," said Peter, turning his steed to face the woods. He trusted Rostam at his back, and he could guard the general's as well. The two Bears took up positions at their flanks, creating a circle Peter defied anyone to break.
It was several moments before Rostam replied, and the sound of grunting and thud of hooves meeting flesh made it clear he was occupied. "True, but they must be wary of friendly fire. The enemy has less care if they hit their own in targeting our folk."
Peter fought back a Wolf. It survived a stroke from Rhindon only to retreat into range of Trento's claws. The Bear made short work of it. "They don't even care for each other?"
"That is why we'll win, sire," replied the general. "They've no knowledge of true leadership."
"Or honor," growled Mahon in agreement.
"Or loyalty," said his brother.
He knew there was such evil, back beyond the wardrobe as well as here, had read the reports his father wrote on the war there, but to hear of it still angered Peter. He turned the anger against his next attacker, and Rhindon sheared a misshapen limb from an equally grotesque form of which he hadn't seen the like before Beruna. Narnia might have all the wonder of a storybook back in England, but it had all the horrors, as well.
And Aslan had commissioned him to fight for its goodness.
"Then we'd better teach them, hadn't we?" Defeating the creature, a Toadstool he thought they were called, served to eliminate the last of their immediate attackers. The remaining raiders seemed more wary to approach the force at the top of the hill, while their archers redirected their aim, leaving the four of them a small breathing space. Peter saw a brown and gold shape circling overhead and raised his arm. Aquila the Golden Eagle dove towards them, then pulled up to land at the last minute, talons closing around Peter's leather-clad forearm. Aquila was too careful to injure a friend, but the close view of those claws still left Peter grateful for the leather vambraces. "What is the news?" he asked the raptor.
"We've found them, your majesty!" said Aquila triumphantly. "Hidden at the edge of the woods on the northern slope. A hag and a hobgoblin. They seem to be directing the others. There is a guard of trolls around them."
"Well done!" Peter felt his first smile since attack had begun. "Being wary of arrows, can you point us there?"
"It is done, your majesty!" With a boost from Peter, the Eagle launched himself back into the air until he was a golden point far above them and then shot off northward, dodging arrows, and the winged bird women known as harpies to wheel back and trace the path he meant them to follow. Aquila seemed to take such joy, even in battle that Peter almost echoed the Eagle's screech of defiance. He supposed that if he could fly, he would enjoy every moment of it, danger or no.
"Shall we, cousins?" said Peter. The common terms from England for addressing a group (boys, girls, men, women, fellows, gentleman and ladies) did not suit the varied folk of Narnia, and Susan in her anxiety to put all their subjects and friends at ease had discovered this one after consulting Phoebus and Archimedes. It had both a Shakespearean romance and a familial warmth to it that had appealed to her, and she'd been drilling the three of them on that and other forms of etiquette between other duties.
"At your word, sire," said Rostam. An arrow bounced off Peter's shield, and the lamassu's eyes narrowed on a goblin that had begun to approach warily. "Quickly, I would say," the general added. "They begin to overcome their fear."
Mahon snorted. "Let's put an end to this!"
Peter raised Rhindon. Here, in this place, the Narnian war cry meant all the more. "The Lion!"
They charged down the hill, a wedge with Peter at its point, the two Bears shouldering aside (briefly) startled rebels and Rostam acting as rearguard. Their small force did not stay so for long. More Narnians fell into their wake as they passed, and while the enemy's surprise was equally short-lived, they fought their way through to the trees. Wilmot had rallied the local Trees into a wall forbidding escape north, and the rebel leaders did not survive the assault.
There were holdouts among the enemy after that, and Peter had no doubt but that some had fled in other directions. Still, the counter-ambush had been successful. Not only that, but enough had been left behind, either dead on the hill or defeated by his forces, to believe that this group of rebels, at least, would not threaten Narnia again.
Peter breathed deeply, as his heart rate began to slow and his blood to cool. Perhaps he understood Aquila better than he'd supposed. It might not be flight, but battle was a rush of its own. He supposed that was why so many songs were written about it, and so few about this.
"You have the list, Vlasos?" he asked as Rostam approached, accompanied by Phoebus and a middle-aged faun.
"Yes, your majesty," said Vlasos, handing him a scroll. "The most grievously injured are at the top. We will need time to tend them, but if your majesty intends to march tomorrow, all should be ready."
Peter nodded. He took a breath, trying not to look at Rostam for support, but grateful for the general's presence all the same. He'd done this before, after Beruna, but he'd had Aslan and Edmund and the girls, then. "And the-" He ought to be able to say the word. "The dead?'
Vlasos handed him a much shorter list. Only two names. Aquila the Eagle had been shot out of the sky by a dwarven archer, but had taken a harpy with him in his fall, and the Dog Cabal had been killed by wolves.
Peter swallowed. "We will honor them tonight and carry them home tomorrow," he said, his voice stronger than he felt it ought to be. "And the injured - I would like to see those who are well enough for it, if it will not interfere with the healers' work."
"Of course, your majesty," said Vlasos. "Now, or will your majesty rest first?"
He hadn't thought about resting, but now his arms and legs felt all the weight of a full suit of plate armor, although he'd fought in the less constricting leather and chainmail he wore for riding. He wished Vlasos hadn't mentioned it or he might not have remembered how tired he was. "I'll see them now," said Peter. "And then the prisoners. After that I'll rest."
"The prisoners hardly need such favor, your majesty," said Rostam. "Let them wait in suspense."
It was tempting, particularly as Peter thought of Aquila falling from his skyward flight and Cabal torn to pieces, but he shook his head. "I promised to teach them what leadership is," he said wearily. "I ought to start now."
There was blood on the Stone Table. Peter was not certain how much of it was from the recent battle and how much, if any, had survived the weeks since Aslan's death. The Sweetclaws might be able to tell him, but he didn't ask. He shook off the morbid thoughts. He had chosen to address the prisoners here for a reason. Mahon had suggested the march up the hill would do the rebels good, but Peter had not selected the ground merely to inconvenience the enemy. They would face what they had done, both this day and in the preceding weeks, but they were no longer combatants.
He faced the prisoners on horseback. It was the only way he could be sure all of them could see him, and Rostam had advised it for effect, as well. "Rebellious Narnians," he began.
A screech from a harpy interrupted him. "Well, usurper!" she said. "What do you plan to do with us? Kill us all as you killed the White Lady?"
There was a fanatical devotion in her voice that gave Peter chills. "Aslan defeated the Witch," he said coolly. A shiver moved the crowd, whether at the Lion's name or at Peter's description of Jadis. "In honorable combat. As you surrendered yourselves to our judgment, I assume you do not wish the same fate."
"Threats from a cub in clothes too big for him!" shouted a werewolf. "You bandy words instead of acting. You spared our lives instead of taking your victory. You will never match the White Queen's power! She who killed-"
Trento cuffed the werewolf into silence with one huge paw. "Speak fairly or not at all," said the younger Sweetclaw. Peter was torn between being grateful that the beast had been prevented from continuing his rant and disapproval of this manner of dealing with a prisoner.
"That is not our way," he said aloud, catching Trento's eye and then the werewolf's. "Do you think it is rule to crush enemy and friend alike without care? Do you know what happened here?" He waited, leaving time for all to consider his words.
The werewolf gave Trento a wary glance, then turned a toothy grin on Peter. "Aye, cub. Do you?"
Peter felt a grim smile of his own, though he didn't know where it came from. "I do. And you imagine that a dead witch has more power than the son of the Emperor-over-sea? A true king is one who gives his life for his people. Even those who disappoint him."
He expected another jibe, whether from the werewolf or from another of the prisoners, but there was silence for several moments. When one of the rebels, a Bobcat this time, did finally speak, there was less conviction in his voice. "Your lion isn't here."
This time Peter's smile was genuine. "Isn't he?" He might have regretted Aslan's absence hours earlier, but now he could imagine the Lion were right beside him, giving him words. "You have been taken in rebellion, and victims of your predations dot this part of Narnia. Each one will be repaid. You will return with us to Cair Paravel and there, in the name of Aslan, true king over all kings of Narnia, you will have a just trial. Those who desire to make amends may sue for mercy, and it will be given to those willing to seek it and willing to work for it, but it will not be easy."
He nodded to the Bears. "Mahon, Trento, you have charge of their guard. See them fed and rested, but watch them carefully."
"Your majesty." The guards, under the direction of the Sweetclaw brothers, led the prisoners away.
Peter dismounted and handed the reins of his horse to Wilmot. "Will you make sure he's fed?" he asked quietly. "I'll come see him shortly."
The wood god bowed. "Of course, your majesty."
"Your majesty," said Phoebus. The old faun's eyes were shining, and he looked rather like Lucy when she was kept inside on a clear day, bursting with eagerness to run outside. "If neither you, nor the general is in need of me, I will retire to my tent and attempt to record this day's events."
"Thank you, Phoebus," said Peter. "Please, take your rest."
"I"ve no need for hands now," said the lamassu. "Try not to write too much nonsense," he added. Phoebus huffed indignantly, and Rostam smiled faintly.
Peter turned back to the Table. As he had before, the general waited for a few moments before interrupting his thoughts. "There have been whispers among the prisoners, sire," said Rostam, his voice quiet despite his massive size. "And among Wilmot's people." Peter looked at him, but the lamassu's eyes were fixed on the broken table. "Rumors. And that werewolf." He did not ask directly, but the question hung in the air.
"Rumors," Peter repeated. "Not everyone has heard them, yet." Subterfuge was not his strong suit. "My brother has not."
Rostam's head bowed. "You do not wish him to?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Peter. "I thought being here might tell me." He thought of his own words to the werewolf. "I don't want him to hear rumors."
"You are high king," said Rostam. "If it is your order, he will not know from me."
Peter nodded. "Thank you," he said. The golden fire he had felt in battle and while addressing the prisoners had faded into a quiet warmth, and words did not come so easily.
There is no need to speak of what is past.
Rostam nodded gravely and withdrew partway down the hill, then turned his back as if standing guard. There would be no second ambush tonight.
Peter knelt beside the broken Table. When he had wondered and worried here before, this kind of sacrifice had never crossed his mind, and yet by it, Aslan had saved both of Peter's treasures - his family and Narnia. "I suppose they're You're treasures, as well," he said aloud, confident that the Lion would hear him from whatever country. "Thank you, Aslan."
They rode out the next day. Phoebus was already threatening to write a song about the incident, full of excitement about it and muttering about 'legends in the making,' despite Rostam's teasing about 'nonsense.' It was a two day journey in the best of times, and the injured and the prisoners slowed them, but as the light lingered at this time of year, and all were eager to see their families and their beds, they marched into Cair Paravel an hour after sunset.
The castle was alight with candles and torches, and it was well after midnight before everyone was settled into place. Peter's reunions with his sisters had been brief, although he'd received a relieved hug from Susan and an exceptionally sleepy one from Lucy before she was carried off to bed (he was impressed that she'd managed to stay awake so long). He was preparing to knock on Edmund's door when Paulus met him in the corridor accompanied by one of the night guards, a Raccoon named Brighteyes.
"King Edmund is waking," said the faun.
It would be very easy to seek his own bed then, but even if he did, Peter knew he wouldn't sleep without checking on his brother.
Edmund was sitting by the hearth in the Great Hall. The great doors to the east were open, and the cry of gulls mixed with the midnight song of the merfolk off the coast. There was a slight chill, despite the time of year and the low fire in the hearth, but Peter could understand why Edmund preferred to be able to hear the night sounds of Narnia. It made an ethereal harmony, soothing and yet wild, very different from the thunder and roar of bombs falling over London or even of the country sounds at the Professor's house in Combe Halt.
His brother's voice, when Edmund spoke, was less reflective. "It's about time," Edmund said. "I was ready to ride out and join you."
Peter crossed the hall to join him. "I was about to send for you," he admitted. "But there was no need. We got them."
"Next time, I'm coming along," said Edmund. There was a mulish tone to his voice that indicated he did not mean it to be up for negotiation.
"If there is a next time," said Peter, sitting on the edge of the hearth next to a large book that Edmund had spread open in front of himself.
Even in the firelight, the expression Edmund gave him, all eyebrows and skepticism, was speaking.
Peter conceded. "There will probably be a next time."
Edmund snorted. "The girls are preparing the victory feast for tomorrow," said Edmund. "And Phoebus is already planning to sing your praises. I can't have you hogging all the glory."
"It's not about glory," said Peter mildly frustrated, but rather than snap back at him, Edmund only shrugged and looked down at his book. Peter looked at it more closely, lifting the cover to read the title. "Does Archimedes know you took this from the library?"
Edmund shrugged again, which was probably a 'no.' Granted, they were technically few to do what they wished with any volume in the castle library, but Archimedes had been rather tetchy about having his charges carried about the castle when he was still in the middle of cataloguing them. "I've been researching," said his brother.
Peter raised his eyebrows. "Law books?"
The firelight gave everything a reddish tint. "I heard you were bringing prisoners," Edmund said, almost defensively. "We'll have to have a trial and we need to know more about the laws here than execution for treachery."
He hadn't meant to criticize his brother. "It's a good thought, Ed." Peter shifted to face the eastern doors. "I put out the word, as we traveled, for witnesses to come here. They should face the ones they hurt."
"Glad you weren't planning on just letting them all go," said Edmund. Peter looked at him in surprise. "They've been talking about your speech from here to Stormness Head."
'They' must have been far off from the truth, thought Peter. His disappointment must have shown on his face, as a flush appeared on younger brother's cheeks. Edmund lifted his chin. "Aslan gave me a job to do. I thought, the ones that want to make things right should get the same chance."
It was the logical conclusion of his own thoughts at the Stone Table, but not what Peter had expected from Edmund. "And the ones that don't?" he asked, curious to see what his brother would say.
Edmund looked down at the open book. "Even if they don't want to make things right," he said in a low voice. "They probably don't want to die."
There were moments, thought Peter, when it was both very difficult and very easy to remember that Edmund was only nine years old. He looked down, as well. "I suppose not," he said. Some of them probably would, as little as he liked to think of that. The heat of battle and necessity of defense was one thing. Execution was another. "But how do we know which are willing to change and which are only pretending?"
As quietly as before, Edmund said. "Aslan would know."
He would. And Peter knew from very recent experience that the Great Lion did not leave them entirely alone. "But," he admitted aloud. "Sometimes I wish He'd tell us."
Edmund looked at the fire. "I think He might wait for us to be ready to ask."
Peter sat up straight, struck. Then he said thoughtfully, "We really ought to go to bed." He looked pointedly at his brother. "Both of us." Then he grinned. "Especially, if we don't want to be nodding off during Susan's feast. She'll have our heads."
A mischief more familiar than the night's gravity lit Edmund's face. "Lion forbid! I'll just be a few more minutes. I have to sneak this book back into library before Archimedes notices it's gone and eats his scarf."
Peter chuckled and stood. "See that you do."
Edmund stood, as well, giving an exaggerated bow. "Yes, high king." Then briefly, unexpectedly serious, he added. "I will, Peter."
Two months ago, back in England, Peter would have watched his brother like a hawk to see that he obeyed - and mostly likely ended up in the middle of a row when Edmund did not. They were neither of them the same. "Good night, Ed."
"Good night, Peter."
A low whisper reached his ears as he was leaving. "When he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."
The next morning he told the girls to leave the matter be.