Chapter 1: Friendship

No one would have thought the young man with wind-tousled hair lying on his back in the grass was the king of Narnia. He did not look his twenty-seven years of age with a fresh, youthful face, fair hair and beard, and blue eyes that were fixed on an open book which he rested upon his breast. He had a scar on his left cheek, the remnant, it was said, of a fight with a wyvern, but no one knew for sure. His attire would have befitted one of the lesser nobles and his head was bare. It was a well-known fact among his nobles that Gale hated his crown. A sheathed sword, which its owner knew how to wield skillfully, was laid against a nearby tree, but at present it was being ignored.

Gale shut his eyes and laid the book down, still open, upon his chest. Sighing, he took in the smell of a hot summer day laced with the scent of sea spray from the nearby coast. It was such a day as this when Gale most reveled in being alive and in being king of a land at peace. No rumor of war, even from Calormen, had been heard of for years, for everyone knew of his reputation as a man skilled with a sword and with organizing an army.

A slight rustle from the tree caught Gale's attention, but he did not allow any change to come over his body. Eyes still closed, he let his muscles relax while his ears strained to pick up any further noises.

Without warning, a lithe shape hurled itself from the tree, snarling as it landed on top of Gale. The king's strong arms wrapped around the yellow body, and they rolled over and over in their fierce tussle, leaving flattened grass in their wake. Finally, Gale pinned his opponent to the ground, and, breathing heavily, stared into the dark eyes of a young Leopard.

"Too careless, once again, Darkspot," Gale chided. "If you are ever to catch me off guard, then you must learn to keep your tail still before you pounce so that it does not stir the leaves."

Darkspot bared her fangs in a cat's laugh. "And if Your Majesty had been a fraction of a second slower, it would have been you pinned to the grass."

"Often in battle a fraction of a second is all you have and you must always be ready to use it," Gale answered, rolling to the side to release his friend of many years. She sat on her haunches, seeming to ignore him as she drew a large, velveted paw across her ears, knocking the grass from her fur. When she decided her dignity had been regained, she turned her fierce gaze back to Gale.

"I was sent to seek you, Your Majesty, in case you had forgotten what day it is and that evening is approaching fast."

Gale rubbed a hand across his brow, pushing yellow strands out of his eyes. "Darkspot, it is only upon days like my fifteenth anniversary that you call me 'Your Majesty.' And I can see perfectly well that the sun has another hour before it sinks. Was it Starhorn that sent you?"

A purring chuckle rumbled up from Darkspot's throat. "Of course, but you may remember that his fears have not always been in vain. A centaur who studies the stars may be able to tell more of the future than you think. I am sure he would be willing to remind you of how you missed your own third anniversary feast."

Gale groaned at the memory. "Oh please don't bring that up. It wasn't my fault that my horse threw me and left me in the middle of the woods a mere hour before my feast started."

"Had you been at Cair Paravel getting ready instead of gallivanting through the woods on a hunt, it would not have happened," Darkspot countered.

Gale buckled his sword back onto his belt. "If it stays your fears and the worries of Starhorn, then I'll return right away, although I would much rather go hunting or remain here with my book than go to some ceremony."

Darkspot loped alongside him easily as he started back towards Cair Paravel which could be seen in the distance. "It is the duty of a king to look like a king every once in a while, even if there is little need for it. You will wear your crown, won't you?"

"Yes, I'll wear my crown, Darkspot," Gale sighed. "I'm glad there is peace in Narnia, but I wouldn't mind a bit of adventure every once in a while. No one ever bothers a king about his crown when he is fighting giants or battling minotaurs."

"Do not wish too hastily, Your Majesty, or the Great Lion may send you what you ask."

"If I did not desire it, I would not ask for it."

"Perhaps."

Gale glanced down at the graceful figure walking beside him and shook his head. "What would you ask for, were you given the chance?"

Darkspot's large eyes blinked slowly. "I would wish that a friend of mine does not get himself into serious trouble one day because he seeks too much adventure."

Gale halted indignantly. "Too much adventure? And who was it leaping on me from the top of a tree? I was resting peacefully in the grass."

Tail twitching, Darkspot uttered another throaty purr of a laugh. "I am still young, a mere kitten in Starhorn's words. And I am not the king of Narnia, so I can be excused the playful behavior of my kind. You should be settling down to your duty and finding a female companion who is not a cat."

"And you are the one who will play match-maker for me?" Gale snorted. "No, I think you are too young to be a king's counselor, little kitten."

Back and forth, the two friends teased each other as they meandered towards Cair Paravel. The sound of pounding waves on the strand was mingled with the singing of merpeople, as a Man and a Leopard strolled down the shore towards the castle, enjoying their youth and the pleasure of friendship.