Disclaimer: wisdom, Solomon tells us, is both a metaphorical person and a gift from God, and not something I claim to own, nor even something I'm acquainted with in large measure. (That is changing very. Very. Slowly.) Oh, and Narnia isn't mine, either - I've at least wisdom enough to claim that.
Beta'd by trustingHim17, I say with relief. I was writing when tired and sick again, and that leads to an increase in mistakes that would try any reader's patience.
WARNING: this does contain some memories of war, and death (hence raising the rating to T). Also, this is not a commentary on war in general; but the World Wars, I do believe, were just ones to fight in, and I've written this conversation with such a belief.
The Professor looked up from the fire. He hadn't been seeing the fireplace, the flames, or even his study with its walls of books. After Edmund had left, the memories had come: vivid, engrossing, from the touch of a friend's hand to the scream of the enemy soldier, in their muddy, crumpled uniforms, and the sound of their guns. He had never quite forgotten the sound of those guns, and what they meant.
But it wasn't the younger King who stood in the doorway. It was the older one. Just as respectful, just as polite. Just as resolved to seek resolution. It was easier for him than for his brother, because he'd lived with the Professor twice, and that second time for much longer after he'd been a King, and a King returned. He was sure of his welcome, and of what wisdom the Professor had to offer.
Still, no harm in making sure. The Professor beckoned, getting up to draw another chair close to the fire. "Your brother's been in to see me," he told Peter quietly. Peter sighed even as he smiled, quickly taking the chair from the Professor with his stronger, younger hands.
"I'm glad he did." He set the chair down and settled into it. The Professor looked over, holding the High King's gaze.
"You've questions of your own now?" Of course the High King would. The young always did.
The older folks, now - they learned to be content learning the answer, rather than immediately knowing it. Though the Pevensies were better about it than most; nothing like ruling, the Professor supposed, to give one a sense of one's own limitations.
"More like worries," Peter admitted quietly. He looked steadily at the Professor. "Have you seen Susan, since she came back?"
"I have not." The Professor pulled his pipe and handkerchief out of his pocket and began cleaning the ashes out. He glanced back up at the High King. "But it has been some time since she's been back, and she has not come to see me. That says much, you know. And I have heard of her too," he added quietly. Polly - dear Polly, as good as ever, and as sharp edged over that goodness as ever too - had invited the two Queens and Jill out for a night. She'd called Digory up after, and ranted. Ranted loud, too, about what society does to Queens. But her rant had softened into grief when she spoke of Lucy and Jill's silence. Whatever they felt, they would not berate the Gentle Queen in public, and what had been meant as a night of fun became a night of restraint and silence. Polly, who had blunted her sharp edges with the grieving, had needed the freedom of an old friend to speak to afterwards.
"She has not been herself, since she came back. I fear she is no longer a friend of Narnia." The grief in Peter's face did not make it weaker; this, the Professor knew, was a burden Peter was determined to bear as the eldest, as her former sovereign. It was his, as High King, and the Professor did not attempt to take it from him. "I cannot save her," and here Peter's voice wavered. But he left it, turning instead to those he still had charge over. "But I'm leaving, now, as Ed said, and I wondered, having left yourself, if you could help me figure out what to say to Ed and Lu. He'll be the oldest now, and Lu's already hurting. She lost her best friend."
"Not her best," the Professor interjected mildly. He caught the pipe ashes in one hand and stretched out towards the fire, dropping the grey flakes into the flames. They quickly vanished. "And it has not dimmed her joy. Not any more than these ashes can put out those flames."
King Peter smiled. "Aslan has always been her closest friend," he remembered.
"And that gives her a joy deeper than any hurt."
Peter was quiet, thinking. "Am I right?" he asked at last. "I know I am. But I would have your judgement. To make me rethink, if I must, or to cause my doubts to flee when I see-" he stopped. "When I see my siblings' brave and hurting faces, or the face of the man I will have killed."
The Professor sighed. "Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war,"* he quoted. "To make this war, or to cause it to cease, is no longer your task, Peter Pevensie. It is only your task to fight in it."
"I would end it before my brother is of age," Peter said grimly, and a half-smile passed over the Professor's face.
"He would have ended it ere you were of age," he reminded Peter, and Peter too smiled, the humor bracing against the reality. Both knew the brothers' love for each other. "I would have ended it before both, if I could have."
"You tried your best, sir."
"Our best wasn't enough. Not in my generation or now. It brings its own questions. Already the death toll..." the Professor shook his head. "I'm afraid there's little of humor in me tonight."
"Memories. You've known them from Narnia, King Peter, but they've faded here. They will take you by surprise, I think, if you are not prepared for them. And here you are not fighting Ogre nor Giant nor Werewolf, but man. Man, in all his glory and sickness. You'll fight a being fallen and still with that flickering reflection of his creator." The soldier he'd shot, falling into the muddy trench, was suddenly in front of him, mouth open in shock. His best friend the unit, pain shaking his body as he breathed his last. There had been far too many deaths. He blinked, willing away the memories. He focused on the King before him. A King who might be going to his own death. "There are things you can do before you leave, High King, to help."
"Name them, sir."
The Professor smiled. Resolute and kingly; Edmund had been right to fear lesser men hating this King, but Edmund, too, had forgotten how much men clung to kingliness in the middle of horror. "Seek your brother's advice, before you go. Let him shield you by preparing you as much as he can." Peter nodded; the Professor did not doubt he would have done so anyway. "Perhaps with your sister as well; it will comfort her, and it will give you bright and burning light to cling to, in the mud and blood of war. Write to them, as you can. Letters home will be cherished just as much as their letters to you. Even if you've not much to say - speak and write of Aslan, and you'll find your own courage lifting."
"Anything else, sir?"
The Professor sighed. "I've no advice for Susan, other than leaving her with Aslan. Use your own judgement there. Be just, be gentle, be valiant, for those things are under attack in war just as much as life itself."
"And are not to be sacrificed on the altar of life, for without them life is nothing," Peter finished.
"And survive," the Professor said, smiling crookedly. "You already know when to be gentle and when to be wrath, so I'll say nothing of it. But do not forget what you know."
"I'll write you, and you'll remind me," Peter responded, still smiling.
"As will your siblings," the Professor agreed. "All else I could say has been said better. I'll say to you what was said five years earlier, High King. Be one of those who 'defend our island, whatever the cost may be [...] we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.'** Fight for England as if it was Narnia; not yours to rule, but yours to fight for."
"Like my siblings," Peter said, rising. He nodded down at his mentor. "And like my counselors." He turned towards the door, calling "Good night, Professor," over his shoulder.
"Good night, King Peter," the Professor murmured. He looked back towards the fire. The old memories were there still, vivid and demanding. But next to them was a new memory, a High King in a chair across from him, ready to go to his own war. A memory just as a vivid, and more demanding in its immediate need. "Bring him back to us safely," the Professor prayed. "For the sake of his brother and his sisters; even for the sake of an eccentric fool like me. Please bring him back."
*Earnest Hemmingway; he lived 1899 - 1961, and though his works became famous late in life, I'm pretending the Professor knew them anyway.
**Winston Churchhill, spoken 1940.
Response to Anonymousme: The same to you! And congratulations on guessing all the book references in the Christmas collection correctly. I'm currently reading George MacDonald's Phantastes, as well as Fablehaven for the first time - some fanfiction actually got me interested in the latter. And C.S. Lewis in the former. And I can definitely see why Reep would be anyone's favourite; your Dad chose one of his best lines. For this story, remember, this is the kind of war that MUST be won, regardless of the cost. I wrote this chapter before your review, so hopefully this chapter makes that clear as well. And they were running very low on any soldiers by the end of the war, the time Peter would enlist. Therefore, choosing it above the University would not be the foolish or immature thing to do, but the right one. Peter and Edmund would have both known that. Have you seen the movie Chariots of Fire? The pace of the movie is slower, but it's one of the best I've seen (based on true events); and near the beginning, a Don at the University speaks to the generation who came after those who lost their lives in the war. A lot of students made the same choice, during that time. Hopefully that explains it. But Peter, having survived, came back and went to University; or at least, that's what I can see happening, based on his character.