When Edmund and Cor returned to the castle, it was time for lunch, so they joined King Lune, Lucy, Corin, Aravis, Peridan, and some of the Archenlandish lords on the terrace. Here Edmund heard, for the first time, the story of Cor rushing a lion—who turned out to be Aslan himself, no less—who had seemed to be attacking Aravis, the telling of which caused no small amount of general amusement. Cor did not look very proud of this report of his courage, and actually seemed to try to sink down beneath the table until someone (either Corin or King Lune, but Edmund never worked out which) kicked him.
But finally they all put their chairs back, or simply sipped chilled wine, or else just gave their attention to conversation rather than food and it was at this point that King Lune finally said, "This morning I spoke with an Arvish Tarkaan, who is one of the tarkaans who surrendered in yesterday's action. He has taken charge of the Calormene prisoners and asks what ransom we wish to set for their safe return home."
"If you will, your majesty," Lord Dar said, "I do not think any of these Calormene prisoners likely to cause trouble in the future. Provided they give us all their solemn word to do no mischief as they leave, I see no cause not to release them freely."
"I agree, my lord," Lune said. "It is my thought to put into their charge the bodies of the Calormene dead, to be transported back to their own people and families."
A nod went around the table. "Father?" said Cor.
"Yes, Cor?" Lune said.
"Aravis will correct me if this is different among the high-born Calormenes, but in Calormen, a dead soldier is usually wrapped in a purple cloth," Cor told him.
When the king looked to her, Aravis nodded. "It is so in all Calormen," she said. "With their sword laid onto their chest."
"It will be seen to," Lune nodded. Then he frowned. "Now, we still have that sorry creature Rabadash on our hands, my friends, and must resolve what to do with him."
Peridan got a disgusted look on his face. "Your majesty would have a perfect right to strike off his head. Such an assault as his these past two days puts him on a level with assassins."
Remembering his anger from the day before, Edmund shook his head, knowing the road that mentality lead down. "That's very true, but even a traitor may mend. I know one who did."
Lucy shot him a kind look from down the table.
"In any case, to kill Rabadash would risk raising war with the Tisroc," Darrin put in.
"A fig for the Tisroc," Lune shot back. "His strength is in numbers and numbers will never cross the desert."
At this pronouncement, Cor and Aravis both looked quite alarmed. Edmund was a bit alarmed himself and resolved to inform Lune about Sallowpad's valley as soon as he might.
"But," Lune went on, "I do not like killing anyone—even traitors—in cold blood. To have cut his throat in battle would have eased my heart a great deal. This is a different thing."
A murmur of agreement went around the table.
"By my counsel," Lucy said thoughtfully, "your majesty should give him another chance. Let him go free on the sincere promise of honest dealings in the future. It may be that he will keep his word."
Edmund snorted at that. "Maybe apes will grow honest, sister. But, by the Lion, if he breaks it again, I hope it is at such a time and place that any of us might take his head off in fair combat."
Lune nodded. "It will be tried." He motioned to an attendant. "Send for the prisoner, friend."
Rabadash was brought in and both Aravis and Cor were gaped openly to see him look as wild as he did. Given how they likely had considered the man until very recently, Edmund couldn't blame them. Rabadash looked half-crazed and thoroughly disgruntled. Edmund knew for a fact that he'd spent the night in complete comfort and luxury, and was rather disgusted at him for presenting himself this way.
King Lune fixed Rabadash with a fierce glare and said, "Your royal highness needs no reminding that by the law of nations, as well as by every possible reason of good policy, we have as good a right to your head as any man ever had against another. However, in consideration of your youth, and the ill nurture, devoid of all gentleness and courtesy, which you have doubtless had in the land of slaves and tyrants—"
Edmund noted here that Aravis' expression was absolutely thunderous at this and suspected that if Lune's office were so much as one rank lower than that of king he would be treated to a rather spectacular lecture following lunch. As things stood, Edmund suspected that Lune would either learn better or find himself one woman short in the Archenlandish court in very short order.
"—we are disposed to set you free, unharmed, on these conditions," Lune continued. "First, that—"
"Curse you for a barbarian dog!" Rabadash snarled. "Do you think I will even hear your conditions? Ha! With all your talk of nurture and I know not what. These things are easy to say to a man in chains. Take off these bonds, give me a sword, and let any of you who dares then debate with me!"
With the exception of Cor and Lune, the entire table, including Lucy and Aravis, rose to their feet.
"Father! Can I box him? Please?" Corin asked.
"Peace!" Lune snapped. "Your majesties! My lords! Have we so little dignity among us that we are overset by the ravings of this peacock?" With the exception of Corin, the everyone sat down. When Corin did not sit, Lune glared at him and said, "Sit down, Corin, or you will leave the table."
Corin, looking very put out, sat.
Lune returned his attention to Rabadash. "I ask your highness again to hear our conditions."
"I hear no conditions from barbarians and sorcerers," Rabadash sneered. "Not one of you even dares touch a hair on my head. Every insult you have heaped on me shall be paid with oceans of Narnian and Archenlandish blood." The prince went on, outright ranting about the horrible fate that was sure to befall them all for having the effrontery not to be conquered by him, and Edmund was almost distantly impressed by how creative an oration it was, even if he had alienated his audience a bit, when Rabadash made the unfortunate mistake of capping off his rant by shouting, "Beware! Beware! Beware! The bolt of Tash falls from above!"
Edmund's lips twitched.
"Does it ever get caught on a hook half-way?" Corin asked.
Lucy, Aravis, Edmund, and Peridan all desperately reached for their drinks to hide their smiles.
"Oh, shame, Corin," Lune answered. "Never taunt a man except when he is stronger than you. Then you may do it as you please."
Edmund did not personally see any especial reason to avoid taunting Rabadash, but decided not to press the point.
"You foolish Rabadash," Lucy sighed, looking like she was about to say something further, but then, quite suddenly, Edmund was on his feet again, standing quite still.
Aslan was there. He was not ten feet away, and Edmund wanted nothing more than to go to him and kneel at his feet, and apologize for his lack of trust. But Aslan looked at him as he paced along the table, and Edmund forced himself to meet his eyes.
And there in Aslan's face, though he didn't deserve it, was the forgiveness Edmund almost couldn't bear. And yet, he found that he could bear it, and was astounded at the whole thing.
Aslan turned to Rabadash and said, "Rabadash. Take heed. Your doom is very near, but you may still avoid it. Forget your pride. What have you to be proud of? And your anger. Who has done you wrong? And accept the mercy of these good kings."
Edmund found himself hoping against hope, no matter how furious he'd been at Rabadash before, that he would do as Aslan said. Just listen and be content.
Instead, the man actually stood there, making faces at Aslan himself. "Demon! Demon! Demon! I know you. You are the foul fiend of Narnia, the enemy of the gods! Learn who I am, you horrible phantasm!"
Edmund couldn't believe what he was hearing. As if any title Rabadash could hold would seem the least bit impressive next to Aslan. From Lucy's expression, she was having similar thoughts.
"I am descended from Tash, the inexorable, the irresistible. The curse of Tash is upon you! Lightning in the shape of scorpions will rain down on you! The mountains of Narnia will be ground into dust! The—"
"Have a care, Rabadash," Aslan said quietly, almost as if Rabadash were not speaking at all. "The doom is nearer now. It is at the door. It has lifted the latch."
"Let the skies fall! Let the earth be torn open! Let fire and blood obliterate the whole world!" Rabadash yelled, spitting in rage. "But I will never stop until I have dragged the barbarian queen back to my palace by her hair, the daughter of dogs, the—"
"The hour has struck."
Aslan's quiet voice drowned out Rabadash's loud shouts, and Edmund immediately forgot his anger at the man for his words about Susan and laughed at him instead. Given that he had been making such an ass of himself, it was supremely fitting—and terribly funny—to see him turned into one right before his eyes. Begging to be turned into a horse instead, no less. There was no hope for it, so Edmund laughed right along with everyone else.
Aslan looked at the donkey before him and said, "Now hear me, Rabadash. Justice shall be mixed with mercy. You shall not always be an ass."
Rabadash the donkey twitched his ears forward, sending everyone into gales of laughter again. Beside Edmund, Corin had given up entirely and had laid his head in his arms on the table, laughing so hard he seemed to be having difficulty breathing.
"You have appealed to Tash, and in the temple of Tash, you shall be healed."
Aslan went on to give Rabadash his instructions, while Edmund managed to get his laughter under control. And when he finished, there was a moment of deep silence.
Then he blinked, suddenly surprised to find himself on his feet, half believing he had dreamed the whole thing. He looked around, and thought for a moment that there had never been so brilliant a day with such warm sunshine and so sweet air as this one. It must not have been a dream. It couldn't have been.
Especially not with Rabadash the donkey still standing there, tail twitching nervously.
Lune smiled at him and said, "Your highness, I am truly sorry that things have come to this extremity. You will remember, of course, that it was none of our doing. And of course we will be happy to provide your highness with transport back to Tashbaan for the…er…treatment which Aslan has prescribed. You will have every comfort which your situation allows: the best of cattle-boats, the freshest carrots and thistles—"
Here one of the guards had to dodge a kick from the transformed prince, who was quickly muzzled and led away, braying in anger.
Aravis and Cor were still laughing, although more quietly.
"What's gotten into the two of you?" Corin asked.
Cor laughed harder, trying not to, of course. Aravis managed to gasp out, "The festival! It's enormous! All of Tashbaan will see him change back into a man!"
"They'll hear about it all the way down to Azim Balda by the next day," Cor agreed.
Edmund shook his head, grinning in spite of himself. "Well, I suppose that's that."
That night, a huge feast was held on the lawn of the castle. The food was amazing, the wine was perfect, and the music was excellent. First there was poetry, and Bree was induced into telling the story of the Battle of Zalindreh, and Aravis was coaxed into telling the story of her adventures with Cor, which she did in the Calormene style, and Edmund found it quite a good style of story. Afterwards, Lucy was pressed into telling the story of how she and her brothers and sister had come into Narnia. And finally King Lune signaled to a crew on one of the adjoining mountains who started up a fireworks show. At this point, Edmund retired to the back of the group with a glass of spiced wine to toe off his shoes and lay on his back to watch the fireworks.
Quite unexpectedly, Cor came wandering back a few moments later. And he wasn't watching the fireworks at all. In fact, he was staring at the woods like he wished to run away. After a brief internal debate, Edmund called out to him.
Cor turned. "Your majesty?" he said.
"Edmund will do for the moment. This is a party, after all," Edmund grinned.
"Ah…right…," Cor said, clearly feeling wrong-footed.
"Sit down." Edmund patted the ground beside him. "You look white as a sheet. What's gotten into you?"
"Father says I'm to be king!" Cor burst out.
Edmund offered him a crooked grin. "You are his eldest son."
"But I can't be king. I'm not like you!"
"Like me how?" Edmund asked, genuinely confused. The fireworks continued, lighting their faces in green, blue, red, and white bursts while they spoke.
"I wasn't born knowing how to do all this!"
"I wasn't either, or didn't you listen when Lucy told our story?" Edmund replied, somewhat amused.
Cor frowned. "But you…you came up today and managed to make Bree feel at ease when Hwin and Aravis and I have been with him for weeks and never once could reassure him about coming back to Narnia. 'Do talking horses roll,' indeed!"
"You'll have to explain that one to me, sometime," Edmund interjected.
"Anyhow, I just know I'll never manage it all. Aravis is going on all the time about how I have no manners, or don't know how to go on, or—"
"Now, stop right there. Whatever you lack in manners you make up for in genuine humility. It is true that you lack polish, but so does Corin, who has been a prince all his life. Or do you think it was very mannerly of him to go running through the streets of Tashbaan, administering beatings to whosoever it suited his fancy to beat?"
Cor quirked a brow, and for the first time, Edmund believed they really were brothers and not just look-alikes. Cor was serious where Corin was playful. Edmund was afraid he'd never see this boy properly relax, but now that he saw this look, he wasn't worried. Obviously, he just needed some time to adjust.
"Second, whatever you lack in knowledge, you can learn," Edmund continued.
Cor made a face. "All right."
"Next," Edmund continued, hiding his laugh at Cor's low opinion of education, "none of us who are kings or queens do everything on our own. Cair Paravel and Anvard are both full to the brim with some of the smartest people in Narnia and Archenland all to help us find our way."
"So you can ask for help, then?"
"No. You must ask for help. Frequently."
Cor nodded seriously.
"Last, and most importantly, your father is not likely to make you king any time soon. You will have time to learn what you need."
"Then you don't think I'll make a very good king, either," Cor said, tearing up the grass around them by its roots.
Edmund frowned. "If you were made king tomorrow, I think you would find the task much harder than you will find it when you are made king one day. You clearly are not ready now. That does not mean you never will be."
"For now, Cor, just listen to your father and take your schooling seriously," Edmund said, patting his shoulder. "That will be a good start."
"And for right now," Edmund said, "watch the fireworks."
Corin nodded and looked up. "They are pretty."
Edmund did not see him the next morning, when he, Lucy, Peridan, Bree, Hwin, and the Narnian army returned to Narnia. With them were Kerrow's body, which would be buried near Cair Paravel, and Lord Dirian's, which would be buried near the Cauldron Pool. When they arrived on the Dancing Lawn, Edmund officially disbanded the army, and thanked them for their service. He and Lucy then went on towards Cair Paravel, with their escort, alone.
They did not arrive until late that night, so Edmund was surprised when Susan came flying out of the castle and into the courtyard as they were climbing down from their horses. He was absolutely astonished though when Peter came running behind her.
Peter seized Lucy up into an enormous hug and swung her around in a circle before turning to Edmund and giving him the same treatment—or trying to, much to the amusement of their sisters.
They all went to bed afterwards, of course, and so didn't catch up until the next morning. Peter had apparently won a solid victory against the giants of Harfang and had returned the previous afternoon. Susan and Tumnus had everything at Cair Paravel running with such uncommon smoothness that they would likely have everything in order before the Summer Festival after all, and Edmund and Lucy brought with them Cor's promise to come for the celebration.
Peter would hear of nothing but that he and Susan would go down the next week with the first shipment of supplies from Narnia to helping repairs to Anvard, claiming that it was high time he met Prince Cor, and good-naturedly grumbling about missing all the fun whilst being stuck in a swamp with Marsh-Wiggles surrounding him and telling him he was sure to be drowned at any moment.
Then, of course, came the more serious tasks. Kerrow was buried with all four sovereigns in attendance, along with most of the court. The leopard had been a great favorite to everyone, and no one even tried to hide their tears. And since Lord Dirian had had no wife or children, a new lord had to be appointed in his place, an appointment Edmund found himself loathe to make.
However, once it was finally made, at last, they were free of trouble from Rabadash. Bree and Hwin quickly worked out how talking horses in Narnia did get on after all, although Bree was still nervous on the subject of rolling. But Edmund finally found himself with little to do, aside from his regular duties, excepting, of course, to enjoy spending time with his brother and sisters, play chess with Haldring, and to eat Rosebiter's excellent sweetrolls.
And, naturally, to look forward to seeing Cor and Corin over the Summer Festival.
Author's Notes: Book dialogue for this chapter runs from "Now, we still have that sorry creature, Rabadash…" until "…the freshest carrots and thistles—"
And… Yay! It is finished and posted and completed and hooray! Whoo-hoo!
My thanks to all my readers and reviewers. Particular thanks to FelipeMarcusThomas who has faithfully reviewed every chapter and been both kind and thoughtful in his comments.
So…there, that's it, I'm done. Sequels for this story are unlikely, and I'm afraid that my next project is likely to be in a different fandom altogether, but if you are interested, I have written two other Narnia stories, by the name of "Desperate Charge" and "A Meeting in a Foreign Land," both one-shots, which can be found on my profile. Thanks everybody! :)