1. The Celebration
The festivities on the night of the Narnian victory were brilliant. Vibrant fireworks graced the night sky above the castle, flaring into the darkness and exploding into every colour imaginable as the townspeople pointed and gasped. Unwatered wine flowed freely, bringing colour to human cheeks and making Animal whiskers twitch. Everyone’s laughter was slightly too loud, the dancing a little too frantic.
To Caspian, the shimmering streaks of colour against the black night looked identical to the ones that had celebrated the birth of his cousin. That had heralded the end to everything he knew, and the resurrection of an old world.
The soon-to-be-King sat at the far end of a great wooden table, a grand bonfire having been assembled in the middle of the castle courtyard. The air was filled with a cacophony of noise; the throaty chuckles of dwarfs into deep mugs, the clack of hooves on stone as centaurs cantered about, the clamour of laughter and chatter from humans. King Peter sat on a large set of stone steps, speaking animatedly to a group of human and Animal generals about the duel with Miraz, the thick cloth bandages wrapped around his chest visible at the opening of his shirt. Caspian could hear the words ‘honour’ and ‘valour’ as they drifted across the courtyard. Queen Susan was dancing animatedly around the fire with a young Telmarine boy; he was tall and gangly, and his steps were slightly stilted. Nonetheless, her high, delighted laugh was audible through the din as she gracefully led him around the courtyard. And Queen Lucy, young and bright and brilliant, danced with a cluster of Animals. Surrounded by a dancing Badger, Bear, and Fox, she had never looked more at home. The firelight danced around the unusual group as they flung and tossed themselves wantonly to the music.
King Edmund was nowhere to be seen.
The noise pounded in Caspian’s ears. The wine had put a fierce heat in his cheeks that was beginning to grow uncomfortable; the smoke from the fire made his eyes sting and his throat grow dry.
The outward cheer and frivolity did not make him forget the dark looks so many townsfolk had given the procession as they entered the town, or the quiet mutterings among the Narnian army that afternoon. For every dancing citizen here tonight, there were ten more who were unsatisfied with the way things had turned out. For the compromises to come.
Caspian realized thickly that the Telmarine military officer next to him – General, Captain, he couldn’t seem to remember – had been attempting to strike up a conversation with him about trade relations with Archenland for some considerable length of time.
“I’m so sorry, good man,” said Caspian smoothly, attempting to draw himself up and look apologetic simultaneously. “It has been a long day. I believe I may be ready for rest.”
The officer – a ruddy-faced man with a rounded nose and greying hair – smiled widely and clapped him firmly on the shoulder. His breath smelled of roast beast and mulled mead, thick and cloying. “S’all right, my lad,” he said, giving Caspian’s shoulder a squeeze. “You should go get some rest. Save those troubles for the morning, eh?” He chucked heartily, smiled, and returned to conversation with the man on his other side.
Caspian rose to his feet slowly, wondering if anyone would comment upon his early departure.
No one did.
He reached the tall doors leading to the castle interior undisturbed, prying them open a bit too frantically and walking briskly through the dark hallways. It was cooler inside; a relief after the blistering heat of the fire. He marched purposefully through the hallway, up a flight of stairs, and along another corridor. When he was sure he had escaped unnoticed, Caspian slowed and finally stopped beside a grand stone balcony that looked over the darkened, rolling town. Letting out a long, shaking sigh, the prince leaned bonelessly against the stone entrance to the balcony, head in his hands.
Caspian jumped, hard, heart in his throat and hand flying to his sword before he could identify the voice.
But it was only Edmund, sitting on a large stone bench on the wide balcony and looking at him with veiled amusement on his face. It was dark, but Caspian’s eyes had adjusted. The dark-eyed boy was plainly visible from the prince’s vantage point; he had not seen Edmund simply because he had not been looking.
“Hello,” said Caspian, still breathing heavily as he moved his fingers away from his sword hilt. “I didn’t see you there,” he said, which made him cringe internally. Because, really. Obvious.
Edmund laughed, the sound unexpected on the still night air. “I noticed,” he said warmly, and Caspian noticed an empty plate sitting on the floor of the balcony for the first time.
“You are not enjoying the festivities?” asked Caspian, and Edmund shook his head softly.
“No, not really. It’s no reflection on you, though. I’m not really one for feasts or dances, no matter how much experience I may have in enduring them.” He smiled as he said this, but Caspian was struck afresh by the fact that he was, in fact, speaking to King Edmund the Just. King Edmund, who had played a starring role in all of the stories that Doctor Cornelius used to tell him when he was a boy. Who led battles, and skilfully led on politicians, and ruled this country over a thousand years ago. He was speaking to King Edmund the Just, who looked like a boy but had all the life experience of a full grown man.
When he was younger, Caspian used to imagine that he and the great High King Peter would have been the perfect pair of friends, had they been alive in the same century. Magnificent and glorious and courageous, Cornelius’ tales painted the Peter as an authority above man, a golden boy of honour and duty and bravery. Young Caspian saw himself leading armies into battle with the High King, presiding over grand feasts and posturing to foreign generals side by side.
But now that the characters of his childhood fantasies had actually come to life, Cornelius’ long-ago words giving way to flesh and blood. In reality, Caspian and Peter together were explosive, volatile. Against all his youthful expectations, it was Edmund he had found himself drawn to.
Edmund, who was all quiet contemplation and tactics and strategy, doing what needed to be done with icy determination. So much smaller and younger than Caspian had ever imagined him, Edmund was not overtly belligerent and full of fervour like Peter or Lucy, nor was he quietly civilized and refined like Susan. He was thoughtfulness and necessity – and a deep love for his old kingdom that resonated in everything he did, once you knew where to look. Edmund was understated passion and comprehension and a willingness to do what needed to be done.
Edmund was also dark curls along small ears, and full lips, and light freckles along pale skin. He was smouldering brown eyes and a soft, sweet voice.
But it was better if Caspian did not think about that.
The former King of Narnia was looking at him quizzically now, eyebrows furrowed together. “Are you all right, Caspian? It’s been a long day.”
Oh. Edmund’s voice as it wrapped around his name, his strange Narnian accent twisting around the vowels, was just devastating. Caspian let out a shaky breath.
“I am fine, but...” He searched around, deciding on a true response. “I am worried for my people. For this new Narnia.” The prince moved forward and sat next to Edmund on the stone bench; not to get closer to the boy, of course. To facilitate easier conversation. Caspian expected to have to explain himself, but Edmund was already nodding, a look of comprehension in his eyes.
“Mm,” said the former king, nodding and looking thoughtful as he seemed to carefully select his next words. Now that he was next to him, Caspian could smell the cleanness of Edmund’s skin; he must have bathed upon his arrival at the castle. He smelled of lye soap and clear Narnian water and a subtle hint of Edmund that was unique to him. Caspian breathed in deeply under the guise of deep thought.
Edmund spoke. “You worry that you are to rule over a divided people. You believe that the hatred may run too deep; that Telmarines and Narnians will never be able to reconcile their differences and form a new nation together.”
“There is so much anger and bitterness in all of them,” said Caspian, his voice hollow. “And none of it is unjustified. The Narnians were almost wiped out by the Telmarine invasion and occupation, and they want their home back again.” The prince ran a hand through his long, dark hair as he spoke. “But the Telmarines who live here now have done so for generations. This is the home they have always known, and they don’t want to share it with those they see as outsiders. It’s an awful mess, and no one is right.” Caspian turned to Edmund, and the moonlight was shining off his pale, freckled skin. “How do you unite a country whose citizens have fought and killed each other? How do you live side by side to those who murdered your people, who saw your species as not worth living? And how to do allow yourself to be ruled by one who shares the appearance of those who senselessly slaughtered your people?”
Caspian dropped his head into his hands. “I don’t know what to do, Edmund. I just... I don’t know how to make it all okay again.”
There was a long pause as Caspian’s words hung between them, so long that the prince began to wonder if Edmund had nothing to say. And then –
“Do you know what happened when I first came to Narnia?” asked Edmund. Slowly. Carefully.
“What?” Caspian raised his head, and turned to look at the former king again. “When you four came through to the lamp post, and defeated the White Witch, and began your rule in Cair Paravel –?”
“No,” said Edmund, voice quiet but firm. He seemed to be attempting to not look Caspian in the eye. “Not all that. I mean before then. Do... do the histories discuss what happened between the myself and the White Witch?”
Caspian shook his head, baffled. The stories Cornelius told him had largely focused on the depths of the Golden Age –once the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve had taken the throne. The years of plenty; of victorious battles and booming trade and widespread contentment. He knew the story of the White Witch’s defeat, but could not remember a facet of the legend that related solely to Edmund.
The dark-haired boy chuckled softly, sombrely. “I suppose they wanted to remember me in a glorious light,” he murmured. “Not too tarnished.” He took a deep breath.
“Lucy arrived here first,” Edmund spoke slowly, eyes still starting straight ahead. “She came through from our world and discovered a land of ice and snow and magic. She was so young. None of us believed her when she came back and told us of the things she’d seen.” He smiled humourlessly, the soft boyish lines of his face illuminated by moonlight. “I was ten, and so very lonely. I always felt overshadowed by my siblings. I came through the – the portal after her one day, but you know that time between our worlds is different. I arrived alone into the cold and met a beautiful, kind woman who fed me sweets and gave me drink and told me I was special.” He turned his head toward Caspian, and his eyes were full of sadness. “The White Witch.”
“No,” breathed Caspian, horrified. The beginning of every tale Cornelius had ever told him began to play distantly in his mind. Long ago, at the hands of the White Witch, Narnia was a land of ice and snow, of cruelty and darkness and evil.
“Yes,” said Edmund, dully. His head tilted down, eyes trained on the floor between them. “And I believed every word she told me, for a while. I betrayed my siblings, treated them so very badly. I betrayed the world that welcomed me into it for the promise of power and love and being special.” The last word was almost spat out, and ugly disgust curled Edmund’s pretty, soft-looking lips. “I realized my mistake later, of course, but it was too late. I was a traitor. And by the law of Narnia, the blood of traitors was forfeit to the Witch.”
Even though Caspian knew how the story must have ended – with Edmund safe and well and alive – sickly fear still gripped his chest. Edmund had been ten. Young, so very young, when all this came to pass. Young and foolish. The thought of a small, scared, delicate Edmund turned over to the figure Cornelius had always described of as the epitome of evil and manipulation and depravity made his stomach churn and horror choke in his throat.
“But then,” said Edmund, and he was smiling now. A slow tug of amusement or fondness pulling at the corner of his mouth. “Aslan saved me. He forfeited his life for mine, and the Witch sacrificed him on the Stone Table. His blood for mine. The Old Magic brought him back, and together we purged the land of the Witch’s evil.” He caught Caspian’s eyes. “You met the Witch once, while we were here. In Aslan’s How.”
There was a pause, and Caspian had no idea what to say. He remembered the wall of ice, and the beauty of the pale woman inside. Her entrancing, silky smooth voice. They way she saw into his and Peter’s minds, enticed them. Claimed them. And the darkness in Edmund’s eyes when he unhesitatingly stabbed her through. Any possible response seemed empty, insufficient. Edmund was looking thoughtful again, clearly searching for his next words cautiously.
“Peter and Susan and Lucy are all wonderful people, and they made glorious leaders. I don’t want to sound like I’m saying otherwise. But Narnia has always been a safe place in many ways for them. A world of good and evil, right and wrong. They’re good and decent, through and through. Always have been.” He took a deep breath. “Narnia has never been so simple for me. Since I first arrived, it has showed me pain, confusion, evil. The darkness inside myself. I overcame it, but I never forgot it. It’s made me who I am.”
And now Edmund reached out, taking one of Caspian’s thick, strong hands in one of his delicate ones. The former King’s fingers were long and pale, and the touch sent shivers down Caspian’s spine. His eyes were locked with Caspian now, full of conviction and shining slightly.
“The people of Narnia were able to accept me, a traitor, as their King. And Aslan would never put you in charge of a circumstance you could not overcome. Aslan has faith in you, Caspian, like he had faith in me. I have faith in you.”
Caspian was breathing heavily now, unable to look away from the smaller boy’s eyes.
Stars above, he’s beautiful. He’s so, so beautiful. And so very broken.
Slowly, Caspian reached up with his unclasped hand and curled it around the back of Edmund’s neck. The skin there was cool, and smooth, and Edmund licked his lips and shivered at the touch. Caspian leaned in, closer and closer until –
“Edmund! Caspian! What are you doing out here? Come and join the party!”
They jolted away from each other as though from an electric shock, hands retreating back to safety. Caspian looked up – and it was Lucy. Tiny Lucy, flushed and happy and clearly having had more wine than her small frame could handle. She was grinning madly and slightly unsteady on her feet.
“Come on, you two!” she exclaimed, dashing forward and grabbing taking one of their hands in either of hers. “I was playing Hide and Go Find with some of the Beavers, and I must have got turned around. Help me find my way back to the feast, and we can get some jollity in you yet! Ed, I know you hate feasts, but just this once won’t hurt you, I swear.”
As Lucy tugged them out into the hallway and back to the feast, Caspian chanced a glance at Edmund. His cheeks and neck were flushed, lips still wet from where he licked them earlier.
Caspian shivered and followed the young Queen obediently. He did not get another chance to speak to Edmund in private for the rest of the night.
The next day, he and Aslan addressed the massed Telmarines. They laid out their options: live peacefully with the Narnians or be sent to the other world. Fleetingly, Caspian began to feel as though everything could be all right one day. That he could rebuild this divided world.
And then Aslan made it known that the Pevensies were leaving. That Peter and Susan were never coming back.
And no. No no no no, because the last time they left, it had been for hundreds of years. If they – if Edmund ever returned, Caspian would be dead – long gone, long buried. He tried to catch Edmund’s eye, but the young man had stiffened at Aslan’s words. Refusing to look at him. Caspian tried to hold it together – for the crowd of Telmarines and Narnians, for Aslan. For Edmund. But the twin claws of desperation and panic were beginning to claw at his insides.
The four Kings and Queens turned to go, but Caspian caught Edmund by the forearm.
“Edmund,” he said, frantically, clinging to the smaller boy. “Edmund, please.”
He could feel the confused buzz begin to rise around them – from the Pevensies, from the gathered crowd. Edmund looked up – and oh. His mouth was slightly open, breath coming heavier than normal. His eyes were shining, and he was blinking more than usual.
He looked perfect. Beautiful. His.
And then Edmund reached up, grasped Caspian’s hand. Gently, he pulled it away.
“Goodbye. Caspian.” His accent swirled around Caspian’s name, and he sounded slightly choked. And then... Caspian could see the barrier of detachment and acceptance go up in his eyes. The shine disappeared; instead, icy coldness fell over them. The comprehension of necessity.
He squeezed Caspian’s hand one last time, then turned and walked through the barrier first.
He left Caspian with a kingdom to unite and a hole in his heart.
2. Dragging Monarchs from Sea
Edmund’s mouth was full of the cloying, salty taste of the sea when he was pulled aboard. He coughed, wiping a hand across his mouth as he took in the scene around him. They were on a great ship in the middle of a wide, unending sea. The one from the painting. Its bow had been carved into the shape of a dragon’s head, proud and regal; Edmund could see the gold adornments along its back spines from where he stood. The ship was solid, a work of art in rigging and sails and detail. It teemed with laughing young men wearing white shirt sleeves, pointing and smiling at the strangers the sea had offered up.
It was a pale imitation of the ships that he and his siblings had sailed in the Golden Age. But God, it was still beautiful.
Eustace was being dragged unwillingly aboard by a strong-looking man, and he could see Lucy ahead with a thick, rough blanket around her shoulders. A man with long, dark hair had his arm around her, and he was speaking conspiratorially into her ear. He was facing away, but his face was turned just far enough to the side that Edmund could see he was smiling. Edmund’s heart caught in his throat.
The King of Narnia turned, and Edmund realized he must have spoken out loud without realizing it. Caspian’s face broke into a wide, ecstatic grin, and Edmund felt a surge of heat that had nothing to do with the bright sun. He’s grown a beard, he thought distractedly, as though that piece of information was of any import. It looked good on him. Edmund had never imagined Caspian as anything except clean-shaven, but oh. With his clothes soaking wet, long pale shirt dragged down by the weight of the sea water, and his lips surrounded by fine dark hair, he looked shockingly handsome.
And overjoyed to see him.
“Edmund,” said Caspian, voice full of delight and disbelief. And something else. Something darker and warmer and remarkably intimate. Caspian darted forward suddenly and wrapped a second blanket around Edmund’s soaking frame. He pulled the smaller boy tight against him easily, gripping Edmund’s shoulder in a firm, inescapable hold. Edmund wrapped an arm around Caspian’s waist, feeling the strong, slender build hiding underneath his soaking shirt. He felt solid beneath Edmund’s fingers. Real. Nothing at all like a dream come to life. “How wonderful it is to have you back in Narnia,” Caspian murmured. His accent was... different. More Narnian. Edmund imagined him cultivating it, practicing it over the years. He remembered their conversation the night of the celebration – how to do allow yourself to be ruled by one who shares the appearance of those who senselessly slaughtered your people? – and smiled.
Caspian was leaning close now, his breath tickling against Edmund’s ear. And Edmund understood. Because Caspian was a King, and Kings had responsibilities and reputations and duties to uphold.
He was waiting to get Edmund in private, in some hidden nook of the ship.
Edmund could wait. Long practice had turned him into an endlessly patient man, even in the most desperate of situations.
Eustace made a fuss, of course, demanding attention and making a scene. Edmund attempted to feel sympathy at his frantic disbelief upon seeing the talking Animals, but his skin was thrumming too persistently to care overmuch. Finally, finally, Caspian put Lucy away in his private chambers with a set of men’s clothes to change into and led Edmund down to the supply hull to rid themselves of their own soaking garments. Caspian descended first. Edmund had only just reached the bottom of the sturdy ladder, having placed one foot on the solid floor when he turned to face his companion.
“Caspian –” he began, but was cut off as the taller boy slammed into him, pulling him into a crushing hug and burying his face in Edmund’s neck.
For a moment Edmund stood stunned in the embrace, gripped tight against Caspian’s sharply rising and falling chest. His hands rested awkwardly at his sides for a long moment before he slowly raised them up and wrapped them, tentatively, around Caspian’s waist.
“You came back.” Caspian’s voice was thick and wavering as he clutched Edmund desperately to his chest, his arms pulled so tightly around Edmund’s torso that it almost hurts. “You came back to me.”
How long has it been for him? Edmund thought vaguely as he held the trembling King in his arms. Years, certainly. But how many? Caspian’s breath was coming hard and fast and hot against Edmund’s cold, wet neck. “I always thought – I thought that when you returned, I would be –”
“I know,” said Edmund, relaxing into Caspian’s embrace. Because he did know. Edmund thought of the long year away at school with Peter after they returned from Caspian’s victory. The loud and raucous boys in uniform who shouted and fought and meant nothing at all. Peter’s worried looks, his fair eyebrows furrowed in confusion as his younger brother made it through every day quiet and darkly contemplative and detached. Supportive claps on the shoulder and murmured words. You can tell me anything, Ed. You know that, right?
He thought of all the nights he bit his lips raw as he took himself in hand in his dormitory, the room full of sleeping boys, trying so hard to be silent. How he allowed himself only then to think of long dark hair and passionate eyes and strong sword-calloused hands, of doubts and uncertainties, of reassurances. Of what had almost happened.
How he would come into his hand with a stifled gasp, sick with the realization that he was fantasizing to thoughts of a dead man. The last time they were gone, they lost over a thousand years; and Edmund had known with utter, nauseating certainty that he would never see Caspian again.
“I know,” he said again. “It’s okay. I’m back now.” His hands tightened in Caspian’s wet tunic.
And the King’s lips began to move along his neck, pressing firmly in a quick succession of almost-kisses along the sensitive skin, making Edmund shudder and his breath quicken.
But then he was being shoved back, almost stumbling over a barrel as Caspian pushed him hard against the storage room wall with his whole body, never giving him an inch. Edmund’s back slammed against it and Caspian was there, clutching at his upper arms and holding them easily against the panelling. His face was buried in Edmund’s neck, teeth sharp and mouth unrelenting as he bit and sucked at the delicate flesh. He must taste of the sea, Edmund through vaguely, before gasping as Caspian pressed their hips together. He could feel the taller boy’s hardness through his sopping trousers, could feel how desperately he wanted this.
Edmund felt his hands spasm and clench at his sides, and he tilted his head to the side to allow Caspian greater access. Caspian groaned and redoubled his efforts, sucking hard enough to leave marks. He ground their hips together, once, twice, and a sharp keen of frantic arousal escaped from Edmund’s throat as they writhed together.
And suddenly, with such certainty it shook him to the core, Edmund knew that this could not happen.
He saw Caspian carrying on without him after he left, getting married and having children and forgetting all about the strange young boy from another world. He saw himself going back to England and living his life and pretending none of it had ever happened, pretending it didn’t matter. Of lying to Susan and Peter, to Lucy. He thought of Caspian old and withered, dead and dying, hair long and grey and hanging limply under a heavy crown. A gravestone that Edmund would never see.
Edmund was strong, and hard, and he could even be cold. But he knew he could not survive leaving this man again if this went any further.
“Caspian,” he choked out, attempting to pull his arms free and his neck out of reach of the hot, frenetic lips. Caspian growled and held firm, lips moving up and pressing hard kisses along Edmund’s jaw, his cheek. “Caspian.” He was unused to being in this small, frail body during such moments of passion, and his inability to wrench away from the grip was frustrating – as well as slightly frightening. Caspian’s lips reached the corner of his mouth. In his most regal, commanding voice he stated:
And that had an effect. Blinking, the long-haired boy pulled away sharply, looking at him with confusion. His eyes were still full of desperation and need. But he released Edmund’s arms, moved away infinitesimally from Edmund’s body.
“What’s wrong?” asked Caspian, still panting, and beginning to look hurt. “Don’t you want – ?”
“I do. God, I do. So much. But...” Edmund hesitated, unable to look the taller boy in the eye. He was still leaning against the wall, still hard. He felt incredibly exposed. He swallowed. “But we can’t do this.”
“What?” asked Caspian, no comprehension in his voice. “What are you talking about? There’s no one here, it’s –”
“No,” said Edmund, and there was a choking feeling in his throat, a stinging in his eyes. “I can’t do this. Not with you. It – it’s going to hurt too much, don’t you see?” Edmund blinked the stringing in his eyes away. “Caspian... Aslan is going to take me away. He’ll make me return to my world, and last time he only let us stay here for a month. We just... we can’t.”
And Caspian looked angry now, disbelief and pain and vindictive anger twisting his handsome features into an ugly mockery of beauty.
“No,” he said, quickly, harshly. Edmund stared determinedly at the floor. “No, you can’t do this to me, Edmund. You can’t.” His voice was growing louder. “You can’t just – just show up here in my life after I tried so hard to let you go, after I knew I was never going to see you again. You can’t just offer me everything I want and then take it away, I won’t let you.” He grabbed Edmund’s chin in strong fingers and forced his face roughly up. “Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
Edmund wrenched his face from Caspian’s grip, throwing out an arm to bat the King’s hand away. “Or what?” he asked. His voice was cold and hard to his own ears, icy and bitter. “What will you do, Caspian? Because I am not your subject. I remain a King of Narnia as well, and you can’t make me do anything.”
The words were designed to hurt, to sting and bite and stab. It worked; Caspian took a shocked step backward, not looking angry anymore. Just... hurt and upset and betrayed.
The fury seeped out of Edmund at the look on Caspian’s face. He took a deep, shaking breath – and reached out a hand to clasp Caspian’s forearm.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – it’s just –” Hi whole body shook, and he bit down firmly on his lower lip. “It’s just that – I don’t think I can survive leaving you again. Caspian, I want this. I want this so bloody much. But –” Edmund heard his own voiced catch and shake. He paused for a moment, tried to calm himself. “But the last time I left you, it nearly killed me – and I barely even knew you. If we do this, and I have to leave again, I don’t – I don’t think I can take it.”
The expression on Caspian’s face was unreadable. And then –
And then all the fight left the King’s body. He slumped, pulling Edmund into a much gentler embrace. The smaller boy tucked his face into Caspian’s chest, breathing slowly. In and out. In and out.
“It’s not fair,” said Caspian dully, arms wrapped around Edmund, holding him close. “It’s just not fair.”
“I know,” said Edmund, voice muffled. One of Caspian’s hands came up and began stroking through his hair softly, comfortingly, and Edmund had to clamp his lips together to stop himself from crying out in pleasure. “It isn’t fair at all.”
They stayed like that for a long time, holding each other and breathing. And breathing. And breathing.
“What now?” asked Caspian eventually, fingers still absently twined in Edmund’s curly dark hair.
Edmund shuddered, stopping himself from leaning into the touch. “We stay friends, stay close. Spend time with each other before –” He cut himself off again as Caspian made an involuntary noise at the back of his throat. Edmund pulled away, taking a step back to prevent himself doing something he would regret.
“The Lion wills what the Lion wills,” Edmund said, neutrally. The words sounded empty. Caspian nodded slowly, reluctantly. There was a long pause.
“Now let’s get rid of these wet clothes, eh?” Edmund said, finally, attempting to fill his words with some kind of cheer. “We’re both going to catch our death, and everyone will be wondering where we’ve got to.”
Caspian nodded. They changed into the dry clothes in silence, unspoken words hanging heavily between them.
3. All That Glitters
The sun hung high in the sky above the dry island, heating the rock and the ash and creating an air of oppressiveness as the boats came ashore. Caspian’s thick leather coat clung unpleasantly to his arms and back as he helped drag one of the boats up onto the beach; his hair felt matted with sweat and grime.
“Do you really think that one of the lords could have stopped here?” asked Edmund quietly, a thin sheen of perspiration over his face, as he helped the crewmen transfer the empty baskets and crates from the row boats to the shore. The sun’s scorching heat combined with the dusty volcanic earth to make the island’s air seem heavier, thicker. Uninviting.
“Not particularly,” said Caspian. “Not unless he fancied a dip in the magma.”
At that, Edmund threw his head back and let out a loud, unexpected laugh. The sound was clear and youthful on the foreboding air, and Caspian could not stop himself smiling broadly. For a moment, the pale length of Edmund’s sweat-dampened neck was clearly visible, and Caspian guiltily sorted the image away in his mind for further contemplation later. After only a moment of mirth, Edmund regained control and dutifully reigned himself in. He caught Caspian’s eyes, and a small, private smile remained determinedly on his face amid the gaggle of noisy sailors.
The young King could not help himself: Edmund simply had a way of making him happy. The boy had so many hidden talents and abilities, interests and angles. He was a wonderful chess player; a good winner but a quietly poor loser, staring at the board long after the game was complete in an attempt to determine where he had gone wrong. He had a dry, sardonic sense of humour that made Caspian snort and choke on his wine at dinner while Edmund continued on with his meal as though he hadn’t just said something absurd and inappropriate and hilarious. He loved his sister with all his heart and would challenge heaven and hell to keep her safe.
He had a beautiful smile.
Caspian had tried – unsuccessfully – to remain petulant toward Edmund after the conversation in the brig. Thinking about having Edmund against that wall – the noises he had made, the delicious friction between them – made Caspian’s palms itch and heat smoulder low in his stomach. Made him balk internally at how unfair it was, how ridiculous that he could see Edmund, and talk to him, and laugh with him, but not have him. That Edmund could so easily deny him the thing he wanted above all else.
More than anything, it angered him that Edmund was right. Losing Edmund once – when he had barely known the boy, when they had exchanged words and intense looks only a few times during their brief acquaintance – had been bad enough. If Aslan had taken Edmund away after Caspian had the chance to know his body, his mind. To hold Edmund close and commit beautiful, unimaginable acts of pleasure...
He wasn’t sure his love for the golden Lion could weather his fury.
Edmund was protecting both of them. From heartbreak, from disillusionment. And as much as Caspian would like to use their time together to the fullest, to love while they had the chance, he knew now that it would be the end of Edmund. Because the smaller boy was beautiful and forever strong, but also heat-wrenchingly fragile. He protected himself, built walls and barriers, out of necessity. Caspian could shatter Edmund like spun glass, and that was too dangerous not to respect.
If all Edmund could give him was friendship, he would covet that just as greedily as he would the boy’s body.
And Edmund was so guarded, hid so much of himself. Every laugh and smile and touch Caspian could wring out of the smaller boy was a victory beyond measure. Something to be savoured and poured over. A brush of hands as Edmund passed him a goblet, Edmund’s jubilant smile as they practiced swordplay together. When the slave trader had brutally backhanded Edmund on Felimath, rage had boiled in Caspian’s blood. He still sometimes guiltily fantasized of going back to the island – of finding the burly, gruff man and making him pay. Of showing him a king’s wrath at those who would dare to damage something so precious.
That said, Edmund could also be ferociously maddening. They were technically equals, yes – and God, was that thrilling in its own way – but Edmund had years more experience ruling than Caspian did despite his deceptively young form. Giving orders and commands came naturally to him. It made for awkward moments that made Dirian stiffen and emphasize the ship’s chain of command. It meant using Edmund’s good ideas, but making it clear that they were only to be enacted on Caspian’s command. Edmund could be stormy, and disagreeable, and icy in turns.
It made Caspian want to kiss him even more.
“We should still have a look around, though,” said Caspian, putting down the last of the crates. “Edmund, Lucy – are you ready to go?”
“Of course!” said Lucy, her smile radiant.
The small, shared smile remained on Edmund’s face as they began to climb the dusty ridge.
The cavern was dark, and dank, and the pool turned all it touched to gold. The lord encased in gold – made of gold, turned to gold, hardening and sharpening and searing as flesh gave way to wicked alloy – glinted subtly in the water. Did it hurt, Caspian wondered vaguely, his head foggy and spinning and why it was so hard to concentrate? Did it hurt to have bone and sinew and skin turn against you, betray you, become priceless beyond imagination and yet entirely contrary to their purpose?
He felt as though he was breathing something thicker than air, cloying and sickly sweet. His hands tingled strangely, but none of that was important.
Edmund was acting strangely. He was trembling, and staring at the golden shell, and there was an ugly look on his face that Caspian had never seen there before.
“Lucy,” said Edmund, looking intensely and unblinkingly at his sister. His voice was full of conviction and anger and something else, God, why couldn’t Caspian focus? “We’d be so rich. No one could tell us what to do, or who to live with.”
And that registered. That solidified in Caspian’s addled mind. Because how presumptuous, how offensive, how so very Edmund. Thinking he could do as he pleased, do as he wanted with no consideration to who was in command, of whose word was law. That he could do as he wish, and deny Caspian everything.
Thinking he could take and take and take and never give.
“You can’t take anything out of Narnia, Edmund,” said Caspian, quiet and calmer than he felt. Inside, he was boiling.
“Says who,” spat Edmund contemptuously, bitterly, not even deigning to look at his King.
Look at me when I’m talking to you, thought Caspian angrily, before quietly articulating: “I do.”
And Edmund was rising now, and talking, and doubting him and dishonouring him and he had a sword in his hand. His words blended together in the dark, a litany of slander that Caspian felt but could no longer hear. He felt himself talking, still calm and composed.
And how dare he. Edmund, who had only returned to Narnia last time because Caspian had called him, because Caspian was to take the throne and rule. Aslan had supported Caspian – ensured his victory, promised him a kingdom – where had sent those children home. Who was this – this boy to challenge him?
This wasn’t Edmund’s world anymore.
“You’re a child,” he heard himself spit out.
“And you’re a spineless sap!” The words rung sharply off the cavern walls, echoing in Caspian’s ears. Spineless. Spineless. Spineless.
And Caspian would show him. Teach this child a lesson.
He’s just a boy, said a voice in his head, heady and sultry and feminine. Cold as ice. He’s just a boy, now. You can defeat him, take him. You can make him yours, no matter what he wants.
Draw your sword, King of Narnia. Show this insolent babe who he belongs to.
The clang of swords rang painfully in Caspian’s ears, and all at once they were fighting, hard and desperate and deadly. Edmund’s face was a picture of righteous fury as they fought, all scowling lips and darkened eyes. Fierce and furious.
Their weapons and words clashed in the air.
And Caspian saw it play out in his mind’s eye. Edmund had skill, but this small body made him weak. He would disarm the boy, make his sword clatter to the ground. Pin him against the stone wall and make him care, forcing their mouths together, a frantic meeting of lips and teeth. He’d bite Edmund hard, claim him, make his lips bleed and his neck bruise. Caspian would pull his blade across Edmund’s soft underarms, breathing in his gasps and cries as the blood trickled down. Shocking red on the tender skin. Caspian would scar and bruise and batter him so badly that no one would ever want him again – not in either of their worlds.
He would force his way inside that beautiful body and break Edmund, shatter him. Break down all those careful walls. Fuck Edmund hard against the jagged cave wall, hard and fast with no preparation as the smaller boy wailed and sobbed and gave him everything. Blood would trickle down pale thighs, and Edmund would cling to him, in the end. Beg for him to stop, please, Caspian, oh God it hurts. Caspian would come, shouting, inside Edmund’s battered body -- then hold him close as salty tears ran down his face, stroke his hair and tell him that no one could ever take him away, not ever.
Narnia was his kingdom, and Edmund belonged to him. He’d keep him here forever, in the dark, and deny anyone – even Aslan – who tried to take him away. He’d—
“Stop it!” shrieked Lucy, running between the two of them. Caspian jolted out of the frantic images, staying his sword in surprise. He had forgotten the girl was even there. “Both of you!”
She spoke furiously of temptation, of bewitchment, of leaving this place. And slowly – so slowly – the fog began to lift from his mind. He could see the worst of the anger in Edmund’s eyes turn to confusion as Lucy spoke, as she turned to climb the rope back out again.
And the weight of his fantasy – hallucination, dream? – struck him straight in the gut. Caspian turned away as bile rose in his throat. Disgust thrummed along his skin, along with – oh, God, he was so aroused it hurt, and what that meant made him feel physically ill. He began waking quicker, knowing he had to getoutgetoutgetout of here right now.
He heard a splash behind him – Edmund throwing the golden shell into the deadly water, no doubt – but did not turn as he fled.
Back above ground, the three of them walked a short distance from the cave and before dropping down onto the rocky ground. All three were silent. Lucy looked shaken, face pale as she sat cross-legged and appeared to force herself to breathe calmly, evenly. Caspian knelt down next to her, placing a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him and smiled unsteadily, and Caspian knew that she could feel it, too. The haze lifting from their minds.
She was stronger than she looked, Caspian realized anew. The cave had brought out such evil in his own mind, poisoned pure things. Made them dirty and contaminated, shameful to look at. But Lucy had remained calm, in control. The cave had not gone to her head.
Lucy would be fine.
And Edmund –
Edmund sat slightly off to the side on a large, flat rock. He held his head in his hands. His entire body looked wilted, limp. All the ferocity and anger drained out of him.
Caspian stood and walked the few paces to Edmund’s side, then sat down on the rocks next to him. Edmund remained unmoving. Caspian said nothing. After several long minutes, the smaller boy inhaled deeply and let out a long, hard sigh. He lifted his head from his hands.
“I’m so sorry,” said Edmund, and oh, his voice. He sounded defeated. Broken and resigned. “The things I said – the things I thought – they were terrible.” He looked up, and it was as though all of his carefully constructed barriers had been shattered. But it wasn’t beautiful, like Caspian had so often imagined it would be. There was pain and hurt and so, so much self-hatred. “Lu – I’m so sorry. I never wanted to be that person again.”
“It’s all right, Edmund,” said Lucy, crawling across the ground toward her brother. Her hands must have hurt as she dragged them across the sharper rocks, but she didn’t seem to notice. She reached Edmund and laid her head on his thigh. “It’s all right,” she insisted again, so quietly that Caspian had to strain to hear her words. Edmund made a choking sound and wrapped an arm around her small shoulders.
For a moment, Caspian felt profoundly awkward. It was ridiculous to feel discomfort about a hug between siblings after the horror of the cavern, but... this seemed private. Personal. A family matter. He didn’t know where to look, what to say.
Edmund turned to look at him.
“Caspian, I – the things I thought. You have no idea.” He looked desperately sad, and slightly sick. “I’m so sorry.”
Absurdly, it was relief that hit Caspian square in the chest.
Thank the Lion, it wasn’t only me. I didn’t think those sick, awful things on my own. There isn’t a part of me that wants to... to...
“I do know,” said Caspian, and his voice sounded raw to his own ears. “For the same thoughts ran through my own mind. I am also sorry, Edmund. Lucy.” Edmund wrapped his other arm around Caspian’s shoulders.
And by all rights, this should feel strange and uncomfortable. Wrong. As though he was intruding unforgivably upon the Pevensies’ private moment.
After his father’s death, Caspian had never truly had a loving family. Family meant expectations, duties. Disappointment from his uncle, aloofness from his aunt. He had never possessed that certainty he had seen in the Pevensies’ eyes; the knowledge that no matter what happened, there were people who would love them nevertheless.
He let Edmund hold him in place for a long time.
Eventually, Lucy broke the silence.
“Come on, you two,” she said, voice steady. She offered a hand to Edmund, and pulled him to his feet. The sight of such a tiny, delicate girl acting out such an adult gesture was jarring, but appropriate. Caspian stood. “Let’s head back to the boats.”
They walked away from the cavern and back to the shore together.
4. The Fallen Star
Ramandu’s Island was indeed beautiful, but also it was also intimidating. Eerie. Creeping vines twisted around the ancient statuary, and the trees grew tall and thin and gnarled. Strange bird sounds pierced the quiet of the night. It was dark, wild, abandoned. Until she came.
When the star came down from heaven and took human form, Edmund could not help but stare. The woman – Lilliandil, she called herself, Ramandu’s daughter – was beautiful. Slightly translucent, a pale blue light emanated from her form and lit up the darkened, overgrown hall. In all his years in this world, Edmund had never seen a living star before. There was something profoundly otherworldly about her; her skin was clear like the finest porcelain, and her fair hair fell down her back in stunning waves.
And as she explained the sleeping lords – their madness, their violence, the spell to make them sleep – Edmund could not help but notice that Caspian was staring at her, as well.
Half-listening to the tale, Edmund watched as the Caspian gazed at Lilliandil. His eyes followed her delicate lips as she spoke, occasionally glancing down to take in her thin waist, her gentle curves. Her delicate arms, held neatly at her sides. There was a subtle heat in Caspian’s eyes that Edmund recognized; desire, and intrigue, and fascination.
Edmund made the decision even before it consciously occurred to him.
While Caspian, Lucy, and the men ate their fill of fruit from the grand stone table’s golden platters, he approached the woman, who was standing silently off to the side of the hall.
“My lady,” began Edmund, unsure of the proper protocol of addressing a star but certain that would be at least acceptable. She turned and met his gaze. “May I speak to you in private for a moment?”
“Of course, King Edmund,” said the star, gentle and good-spirited as she turned and led him just outside the hall. Out of the corner of his eye Edmund thought he saw Caspian watching him suspiciously. He ignored it.
“How might I help you?” asked Lilliandil once they were out of hearing distance of the rest of the party. “I sense there is great strife inside your soul.”
He ignored her comment and plunged ahead.
“I do not wish to speak to you for my own sake, but on behalf of the young King Caspian,” he said, stately and calm. And this was good. This was familiar.
During their reign, he had parleyed with countless officials and representatives and lords just like this. Peter and Lucy were great leaders, but they were too passionate for this. Full of grand ideals and honour and pride, both were poorly suited to the careful words and hidden meanings of negotiation. It was Edmund and Susan who had always been best suited to the subtle gestures of politics. And in Narnia, brokering and discussing the conditions of marriage was an extremely important political arrangement.
“Ah,” said the star, and Edmund tried not to see the sympathy lurking in her eyes.
“Caspian is a fine young man, and an honourable King. In his short reign, he has rebuilt Narnia to be a land of peace and strength once more.” The words were automatic. Easy. “But ruling such a land alone is unwise, as you well know. Caspian is in need of a companion to rule by his side, to lend him support and provide an example of light and hope to the new Narnia.”
“I see,” said Lilliandil, voice subdued.
“I cannot imagine a better alliance than one between Narnia and the heavens,” said Edmund, finally. “A union of such –”
“Why do you seek to orchestrate this, King Edmund?” she interjected gently, her sweet voice stopping him mid-sentence. He paused.
“My lady –”
“Do not tell me it is for the sake of Narnia, or for the peace of the world. I can feel the break in your heart. I see the sadness in your soul. Now, tell me; why do you seek to organize this marriage?”
Edmund hesitated, feeling wrong-footed and unsure. His stately, tall posture began to sag as her eyes seemed to cut into his skin. The nuanced, subtle words on the tip of his tongue faded. He looked away.
Because the answer – the real, honest answer to that question was...
It was everything.
He licked his lips. And, finally, he answered.
“Because I love him,” he said, slowly. His voice sounded strained. “And I have to leave him.” Edmund looked up and defiantly met Lilliandil’s eyes. “And I want him to be happy.”
There was a long moment where Edmund had no idea what she would say. Her face was soft, and beautiful. She looked remarkably sad, pitying. And then –
“Very well, King Edmund,” she said, softly. Hope as well as terribly pain filled his chest. “In one year, I will visit the young King Caspian in his court. And we will see what he wants then. Is that to your satisfaction?”
No, he thought, heart aching.
“Yes,” he said aloud. “Thank you, my lady.”
Lilliandil smiled forlornly, then reached forward to touch him comfortingly on the shoulder. Edmund had to restrain himself from shouting in surprise. Her touch... shimmered. Her hand was not intangible, nor was it solid. Even over clothed skin, the touch of her fingers felt like almost-imperceptible electric shocks.
“Perhaps this will work out better than you anticipate,” she said, and before Edmund could ponder her words, she continued. “Now, come. I still have much to tell you and your companions about the nature of your final challenge.”
After Lilliandil had told them of Dark Island, the others began to set up camp while he returned to the stone table and gathered an armful of food for Eustace. His torch lit the way back to the shore, where the golden dragon was curled protectively on the sand in front of the Dawn Treader. After waking Eustace carefully, not particularly wanting a face full of fire, he made certain his cousin ate his fill. The ‘gentle’ nudge that almost sent him to the ground suggested that Eustace knew there was something afoot, and Edmund could feel the dragon’s intense stare until he was once again hidden by the overgrowth along the path.
By the time Edmund had returned to the camp, no one was left awake. The sleeping forms of sailors littered the clearing, chests rising and falling peacefully. They deserved their rest; there was no guarantee that any of them would make it back alive tomorrow. Edmund picked his way carefully to his blanket, which he assumed that Lucy had been the one to set up between herself and Caspian. He removed his boots and lay down as quietly as possible.
On his back, Edmund stared at the night sky and wondered which pinprick of light against the blue-black sea was Lilliandil. It was impossible to say. Regardless, the stars were a work of art above him, their constellations so different from the ones back home.
“I know what you’re trying to do.”
Edmund gasped and started at the unexpected noise, hand instinctively twitching for his sword. The words came from immediately beside him, low and hushed.
“Caspian,” Edmund breathed, relaxing, and turned his head to face the King. Caspian was curled on his side, looking for all the world as though deep in sleep – except for his open, staring eyes. “You startled me; I thought you were sleeping.” Caspian looked stiff, uncomfortable. Realization dawned. “Wait. How long have you been awake?”
“I wasn’t asleep. And don’t change the subject.” Caspian’s voice sounded hollow, dull. “I know what you talked to Lilliandil about.”
Edmund frowned. “She told you.”
Caspian’s voice remained at a whisper, but his words grew sharper. “Skies above, Edmund, she didn’t have to. It was obvious to anyone with a set of eyes what you were doing when you snuck off into the woods with her.”
“It’s for the best.”
“It’s not,” Caspian hissed. Even through the darkness, Edmund could see that Caspian looked pained. “I can decide perfectly well what is best for myself, Edmund.”
“I saw the way you were looking at –”
“Oh, please,” snapped Caspian, and the crewman on Caspian’s other side made a confused, drowsy noise. They both froze, waiting – but after a moment the man rolled over and went back to sleep. Caspian continued at a whisper. “It’s not important how I was looking at her. I want you, not Lilliandil.”
“That doesn’t matter!” Edmund hissed, and Caspian looked taken aback. Edmund felt a great swell of frustration. He wished they could have this conversation somewhere else, somewhere more private. “Caspian... once we get all seven swords, do you think Aslan will keep Lucy, Eustace and I around for the cleanup? He’ll send me away, and I need—” His throat caught, slightly, but he continued. “I need to make sure you’ll be happy.”
“How can I be happy when –?”
“And Narnia will need a Queen one day,” Edmund continued, voice calmer and more rational than he felt. “You need to ensure the succession. We didn’t, and look how that turned out: the kingdom degenerated into chaos for over a thousand years. You need to guarantee yourself an heir. Just... just think of it logically. Ramandu’s daughter would be perfect; an alliance with the might of the heavens would be an enormous boon to Narnia. Caspian... Caspian, you have to think about Narnia.”
Edmund expected more fire, more protests; lashing out and harsh words. But instead, Caspian looked defeated. Beaten.
And terribly, terribly sad.
“Caspian, I –”
“Can you just,” interrupted Caspian, blinking fiercely. “Can you just... come here? Just for a minute.”
Edmund nodded. Ignoring the tightening in his chest, he crawled silently onto Caspian’s blanket and into his arms, tucking his head into the crook of the King’s shoulder.
It felt... nice. The steady rhythm of Caspian’s heart was comforting. Reassuring. Caspian held him tightly, and he was so much bigger than Edmund was in this child’s body. It still felt wrong, being in Narnia and being young at the same time. Like a puzzle piece that didn’t fit. At home, it was easier; he was expected to act the way he looked. Here... it felt as though Caspian was encompassing all of him, holding every part of Edmund close and safe and warm.
Edmund ignored Caspian’s quick breathing. His hands clenching in Edmund’s short curls. The desperation with which he clung to the smaller boy.
It would hurt too much, otherwise.
After a few minutes, the King’s breathing slowed. Edmund raised his head off Caspian’s chest and looked into his face, propping himself up on one arm. Caspian was biting his lip, and there was a slight amount of wetness around his eyes. His hair looked impossibly soft.
He looks so beautiful.
Guilt twisted in Edmund’s stomach, ugly and sickening. Because it had been his choice to cut their relationship short, incomplete. Unconsummated. His decision to deny Caspian even that small degree of physical comfort. He had believed his reasoning to be sound, but now...
Edmund hadn’t wanted a physical relationship with Caspian so that the two of them would not become too deeply involved, too invested with each other. But it had happened, regardless.
It can’t hurt now, can it? Edmund thought, eyes drawn to Caspian’s lips. It’s too late for us, anyways.
Edmund placed his free hand on Caspian’s cheek, the King’s eyes widening slightly at the touch. He closed his eyes, began to lean in...
And felt a strong, sure hand force him gently back onto Caspian’s chest. Apparently, at the end of all things, Caspian had decided that Edmund’s idea had merit after all.
Edmund forced down the feelings of disappointment, of being cheated. Serves you right, he thought, bitterly. Caspian’s hand remained firm on Edmund’s back, keeping him in place. As though he could not trust himself to do otherwise. The two men clung to each other in the darkness.
After half an hour, Caspian’s grip loosened. His breathing evened off. Edmund waited for a few minutes, then carefully extracted himself from the larger boy’s grip and rolled back onto his own blanket.
Caspian remained soundly asleep.
Edmund looked up at the stars and waited for tomorrow.
5. At the Edge of the World
In this distance, the deep blue of the ocean and the paler, brighter sky seemed to meld together in an unending blur. The sun had emerged once more, and the joyous cries of the people in the boats below made it impossible for Edmund to stop grinning.
“Aslan’s Country,” murmured Caspian, voice full of reverence. “It must be close.”
“Well,” Edmund said mischievously. “We’ve come this far.”
At once, Caspian sprung into full-blown King mode.
“Dirian,” he shouted. “Find a way to lash the rowboats to the ship. All those people won’t fit aboard, and we need to get them to Ramandu’s Island for food and rest. Be sure to take aboard any injured, young, or elderly. Get Eustace and Reepicheep up on deck. And prepare a one of the lifeboats; a small expedition is leaving to investigate Aslan’s Country.”
“Aye, your Majesty,” said the burly captain, hurrying off to enact the commands.
“Edmund,” said Caspian. “Come with me to my cabin; we must rid ourselves of this armour before we sail.”
They walked quickly to the cabin, and Caspian pulled the doors closed behind them. As soon as they were alone, they immediately began to remove the armour efficiently, undoing buckles and straps and placing shoulder covers and chest pieces carefully atop the table. Once the last of it was removed, the two men turned to face each other.
They stood awkwardly for a moment, the distance of several feet between them.
“Thank you,” said Edmund, eventually. “For saving my life.” The image of the monstrous serpent, reeling toward him, sprung into his mind. The absolute certainty he had felt that he could not move out of its way in time. The look on Caspian’s face as he ran to push Edmund out of the way.
Caspian frowned. “Of course,” he said, as though it was to be expected. Which, Edmund supposed, it was. Caspian took a breath and continued. “I just wanted... I wanted to say goodbye to you before we assembled with the others.”
Edmund laughed softly, without humour. “You feel it too?”
“It’s like... something is pulling us there, commanding us to the edge of the world.” Caspian’s dark brown eyes grew distant, as though thinking of something far away.
“Aslan,” said Edmund. The name was full of reverence and love, but also reticence. Anxiety. “Caspian... thank you. For everything. And... I’m sorry. I wish he would let me stay.”
“Would you?” Caspian asked, a little too quickly. “If you could. If he let you, I mean. Would you stay?”
Edmund felt his entire body tense. In an instant, he thought of Cambridge; his distant uncle, face almost always hidden behind a newspaper. Who saw no point in conversing with children. His aunt, shrill and unloving, always quick to defend Eustace’s rudeness –always complaining about what a burden he and Lucy were.
He thought of the boarding school he and Peter had attended, full of unpleasant little faces and cruel little minds. The boys who had thought he was weird and girly; too quiet, too delicate, too pretty. Hateful and grubby, quick to judge anyone different from themselves. The names he’d heard them use for people like him.
He thought of his parents, so distant and faraway in America. Never writing enough. Never trying enough. How almost all of the letters across the Atlantic came from his sister instead of them. He probably wouldn’t even be able to remember their faces if it weren’t for the photos he and Lucy had brought with them.
He thought of Peter and Susan, both so far away. Both independent and proud and capable. They didn’t need him to live their lives.
He thought of the war raging across Europe, slogging and hard and not going well. The German push into the Soviet Union, North Africa. The fall of Greece last year. Defeat after defeat and the troops are bally well home every Sunday, aren’t they, my boy?
He thought of the whisperings, just rumours, of something incomprehensibly dark and wrong and unthinkable occurring in Eastern Europe.
It only took him an instant to decide.
“Of course I would,” Edmund answered honestly. “Narnia is my country, you know that. And... and I would want to remain with you. No matter what I had to leave behind.”
“Good,” said Caspian. He looked awkward, backpedalling. “I know it’s not... but... I would want you here. No matter what.”
“I know,” said Edmund.
There was a pause, and then they were in each other’s arms, all salt and sweat and blood from the battle and crushing arms and eyes squeezed shut. After a long moment, Edmund took a deep breath and pulled away. The innumerable threads of what-might-have-beens seemed to hang between them, a million lost chances and wasted potential. A romance that was never going to be told.
Their lips were so close. Edmund could step closer – take hold of Caspian’s neck, pull him down. Give them something to remember for the rest of their lives, even if they lived them separated by worlds.
He took a step backward instead.
“Goodbye,” Edmund said, finally.
“Goodbye,” echoed Caspian.
And Edmund knew that this was it. There would be no real farewell at the edge of the world, because there was no more. He would walk through whatever portal Aslan created and not look back. There was nothing more to say, or do, or think.
There was only regret, and the edge of the world.
6. And One Time...
The pale sands were unending where the sky and ocean met, stretching off to the left and right far beyond what the eye could see. The sun was hot on Caspian’s face, but the strong salty breeze more than made up for it. As they walked toward the towering wave, he wondered what lay beyond it. A sprawling town? Magnificent woods? His father, ready to welcome him home? It was impossible to tell.
Somehow, it seemed less important than he always thought it would be.
“Aslan,” said Eustace softy, and Caspian turned to look.
And there was the great Lion, proud and regal and shining in the sun. The certainty he had felt, the utter knowledge that Edmund was going to leave him and never come back, crashed into him anew.
Here was the lord of the world himself, come to take the man he loved away from him. It made Caspian angry at the Lion, but in a distant way. It was impossible to truly hate Aslan when he stood in front of you, majestic and powerful and all-loving.
“Welcome, children,” said the Lion, as he walked across the golden sand. His voice was strong, but warm. “You have done well. Very well indeed.” He walked until he stood in front of them, then stopped. “You have come far,” he said, green-eyed gaze sweeping across the four of them. “But now it is time to make a choice.”
Something twinged in Caspian’s mind, something he could not identify. A feeling. He shook it away, listened as Aslan explained that his Country lay beyond the curtain of waves. At this point Aslan’s eyes rested on him for slightly too long, but they moved on to Edmund after Caspian remained silent. Edmund, too, said nothing, lips pressed together in a tight line.
Caspian looked on as Reepicheep came forward, as he declared his desire to see Aslan’s Country with his own eyes. He smiled as Aslan accepted, and as they all said goodbye. There was nowhere to be found a more deserving soul. All four of them waved farewell as the Mouse – brave and honourable and daring to the end – sailed away over the mountainous wave into Aslan’s Country, never to be seen again. Following his dream wherever it took him. Tears trickled silently down Eustace’s face.
Once Reepicheep was no longer visible, Aslan turned to face him.
“You have come so far in the past years. You have grown from a boy into a man; you have made Narnia strong.” Caspian felt his throat grow tight, and he nodded as the great Lion looked at him. “It was necessary for you to be the one to rebuild this once-torn and divided kingdom; to whether through the fires of doubt and anger. You stand before me today a proven man.”
Aslan’s gaze drifted to Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace beside him. “There would no longer be any shame in asking for help if you so desire it.”
“What?” asked Caspian, incredulity and doubt warring within his mind. He didn’t dare believe. “You mean...?”
The towering Lion turned to the children. “Lucy. Edmund. Eustace. You can help strengthen this kingdom, to make certain it never again falls into such a time of darkness. But of course, the choice will always be yours to make. You must each decide whether you wish to live out the rest of your lives here, or do so in your own world.”
A tide of emotion was growing inside of Caspian – shock, disbelief, incomprehension. Because this simply could not be happening. It could not be real. There was no way that Aslan could be offering him this; no way he could ever deserve it.
Barely believing the Lion’s words, Caspian dared a look at Edmund. The younger boy was shining as bright as the sun, the smile on his face unparalleled for all of Caspian’s memories of him.
“Here,” said Edmund, and joy and gratitude and elation erupted within the King with such force he was barely able to remain standing. A ragged, relieved gasp escaped him, and Edmund grinned all the wider. “I wish to remain here, Aslan.”
“Love is precious, and should be encouraged wherever it is found,” agreed the Lion, eyes warm and affectionate. “Lucy?”
“I... I want to stay.” Tears had escaped from Lucy’s eyes, and they trickled down her pretty face. “I’ll miss Peter and Susan. And our parents, of course, but... this is all I ever wanted.” She was sobbing now, face crumpling in joy and pain. “It’s all I ever wanted, Aslan. Thank you. Thank you.”
“My dear one,” murmured Aslan, and Caspian thought that the Lion’s love for her was unmistakable in this moment. Edmund wrapped an arm around his little sister, and she collapsed into his shoulder.
“Eustace? You have spent the least amount of time in Narnia. What do you decide?”
There was a long pause. Eustace seemed to be choosing his words carefully. He glanced up at the towering wave, the one that had taken Reepicheep away. He took a deep breath.
“I have spent so little time here, Aslan, but... I want to remain as well. I’ve made so many mistakes, treated so many people badly.” He glanced down at the sand, a hint of sorrow in his eyes. “But... I think I can make up for my misdeeds better here than I ever could back home.” He tilted his head back up again and looked the great Lion in eyes. “I want to stay here with my cousins, Aslan.”
“Oh, Eustace,” said Lucy, and her eyes were still dark with tears, though they shined with happiness. She had pulled away from Edmund by now, and was standing with her hand over her mouth.
“Very well,” said Aslan. “You must return to the ship. You have a long journey home ahead of you yet, and long lives to live after that. There are innocents to return home, affairs to be set in order.” His whiskers twitched, and he gazed fondly over the assembled children. “I will always be watching over you.”
He roared, deep and loud into the air, and was gone.
There was a long moment as each of the four of them stood silently upon the endless sand.
Caspian was trembling. He waited a long minute to give the others time – a chance to come to terms with what just happened, to compose themselves, to think – but quickly found he could wait no longer. He turned to face the dark-haired boy. The boy who had sat next to him in the dark, all those years ago, and told him his most awful secret in an attempt to give him some comfort. To make him ready to rule. The boy he had thought of every night while his kingdom was forged and restored and rebuilt. The boy who made him laugh, and cry, and who he wanted so badly it ached.
The boy he loved.
“Edmund –” he began, but Edmund was already striding towards him. One step, two, three, and Caspian had him in his arms. Edmund’s lips were on his, warm and soft and staying, and he had never felt anything more perfect in his life. Edmund’s arms wrapped around his neck, the smaller boy already having to stand slightly on tiptoe in order to reach, pulling him down. He wound his arms around Edmund’s slender waist and held him close. The other two were probably watching, but Caspian could not bring himself to care. The sun shone down on the two of them, and the breeze was cool against their necks.
It was everything Caspian had wanted all these years.
Finally, after an endless, perfect moment, Edmund broke away. The grin was back in full force, arms still twined around Caspian’s neck.
“I love you,” murmured Edmund, eyes shining brilliantly. Caspian groaned.
“Oh, I love you, too,” said Caspian, laughing slightly frenetically. “God, I love you so much, you crazy, ridiculous man.”
Caspian chanced a glance over at the other two. Eustace looked halfway between ‘positively scandalized’ and ‘heart-wrenchingly happy’, and Lucy... Lucy had the tiniest twist of a smile on her face. Amusement, joy, utter contentment. It was as though she had been waiting for this for a long time.
“Come on, you lot,” said Lucy fondly. “It’s time to go home.”