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THE HIGH KING IN COMMAND
“NOW,” SAID PETER, AS THEY FINISHED their meal, “Aslan and the girls (that’s Queen Susan and Queen Lucy, Caspian) are somewhere close. We don’t know when he will act. In his time, no doubt, not ours. In the meantime he would like us to do what we can on our own. You say, Caspian, we are not strong enough to meet Miraz in pitched battle.” “I’m afraid not, High King,” said Caspian. He was liking Peter very much, but was rather tongue-tied. It was much stranger for him to meet the great Kings out of the old stories than it was for them to meet him.
“Very well, then,” said Peter, “I’ll send him a challenge to single combat.” No one had thought of this before.
“Please,” said Caspian, “could it not be me? I want to avenge my father.”
“You’re wounded,” said Peter. “And anyway, wouldn’t he just laugh at a challenge from you? I mean, we have seen that you are a king and a warrior but he thinks of you as a kid.” “But, Sire,” said the Badger, who sat very close to Peter and never took his eyes off him. “Will he accept a challenge even from you? He knows he has the stronger army.” “Very likely he won’t,” said Peter, “but there’s always the chance. And even if he doesn’t, we shall spend the best part of the day sending heralds to and fro and all that. By then Aslan may have done something. And at least I can inspect the army and strengthen the position. I will send the challenge. In fact I will write it at once. Have you pen and ink, Master Doctor?” “A scholar is never without them, your Majesty,” answered Doctor Cornelius.
“Very well, I will dictate,” said Peter. And while the Doctor spread out a parchment and opened his ink-horn and sharpened his pen, Peter leant back with half-closed eyes and recalled to his mind the language in which he had written such things long ago in Narnia’s golden age.
“Right,” he said at last. “And now, if you are ready, Doctor?”
Doctor Cornelius dipped his pen and waited. Peter dictated as follows:
“Peter, by the gift of Aslan, by election, by prescription, and by conquest, High King over all Kings in Narnia, Emperor of the Lone Islands and Lord of Cair Paravel, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion, to Miraz, Son of Caspian the Eighth, sometime Lord Protector of Narnia and now styling himself King of Narnia, Greeting. Have you got that?” “Narnia, comma, greeting,” muttered the Doctor. “Yes, Sire.”
“Then begin a new paragraph,” said Peter. “For to prevent the effusion of blood, and for the avoiding all other inconveniences likely to grow from the wars now levied in our realm of Narnia, it is our pleasure to adventure our royal person on behalf of our trusty and well-beloved Caspian in clean wager of battle to prove upon your Lordship’s body that the said Caspian is lawful King under us in Narnia both by our gift and by the laws of the Telmarines, and your Lordship twice guilty of treachery both in withholding the dominion of Narnia from the said Caspian and in the most abhominable—don’t forget to spell it with an H, Doctor—bloody, and unnatural murder of your kindly lord and brother King Caspian Ninth of that name. Wherefore we most heartily provoke, challenge, and defy your Lordship to the said combat and monomachy, and have sent these letters by the hand of our well beloved and royal brother Edmund, sometime King under us in Narnia, Duke of Lantern Waste and Count of the Western March, Knight of the Noble Order of the Table, to whom we have given full power of determining with your Lordship all the conditions of the said battle. Given at our lodging in Aslan’s How this XII day of the month Greenroof in the first year of Caspian Tenth of Narnia.
“That ought to do,” said Peter, drawing a deep breath. “And now we must send two others with King Edmund. I think the Giant ought to be one.”
“He’s—he’s not very clever, you know,” said Caspian.
“Of course not,” said Peter. “But any giant looks impressive if only he will keep quiet. And it will cheer him up. But who for the other?”
“Upon my word,” said Trumpkin, “if you want someone who can kill with looks, Reepicheep would be the best.”
“He would indeed, from all I hear,” said Peter with a laugh. “If only he wasn’t so small. They wouldn’t even see him till he was close!”
“Send Glenstorm, Sire,” said Trufflehunter. “No one ever laughed at a Centaur.”
An hour later two great lords in the army of Miraz, the Lord Glozelle and the Lord Sopespian, strolling along their lines and picking their teeth after breakfast, looked up and saw coming down to them from the wood the Centaur and Giant Wimbleweather, whom they had seen before in battle, and between them a figure they could not recognize. Nor indeed would the other boys at Edmund’s school have recognized him if they could have seen him at that moment. For Aslan had breathed on him at their meeting and a kind of greatness hung about him.
“What’s to do?” said the Lord Glozelle. “An attack?”
“A parley, rather,” said Sopespian. “See, they carry green branches. They are coming to surrender most likely.”
“He that is walking between the Centaur and the Giant has no look of surrender in his face,” said Glozelle. “Who can he be? It is not the boy Caspian.” “No indeed,” said Sopespian. “This is a fell warrior, I warrant you, wherever the rebels have got him from. He is (in your Lordship’s private ear) a kinglier man than ever Miraz was. And what mail he wears! None of our smiths can make the like.” “I’ll wager my dappled Pomely he brings a challenge, not a surrender,” said Glozelle.
“How then?” said Sopespian. “We hold the enemy in our fist here. Miraz would never be so hair-brained as to throw away his advantage on a combat.” “He might be brought to it,” said Glozelle in a much lower voice.
“Softly,” said Sopespian. “Step a little aside here out of earshot of those sentries. Now. Have I taken your Lordship’s meaning aright?”
“If the King undertook wager of battle,” whispered Glozelle, “why, either he would kill or be killed.”
“So,” said Sopespian, nodding his head.
“And if he killed we should have won this war.”
“Certainly. And if not?”
“Why, if not, we should be as able to win it without the King’s grace as with him. For I need not tell your Lordship that Miraz is no very great captain. And after that, we should be both victorious and kingless.” “And it is your meaning, my Lord, that you and I could hold this land quite as conveniently without a King as with one?”
Glozelle’s face grew ugly. “Not forgetting,” said he, “that it was we who first put him on the throne. And in all the years that he has enjoyed it, what fruits have come our way? What gratitude has he shown us?” “Say no more,” answered Sopespian. “But look—here comes one to fetch us to the King’s tent.”
When they reached Miraz’s tent they saw Edmund and his two companions seated outside it and being entertained with cakes and wine, having already delivered the challenge, and withdrawn while the King was considering it. When they saw them thus at close quarters the two Telmarine lords thought all three of them very alarming.
Inside, they found Miraz, unarmed and finishing his breakfast. His face was flushed and there was a scowl on his brow.
“There!” he growled. flinging the parchment across the table to them. “See what a pack of nursery tales our jackanapes of a nephew has sent us.”
“By your leave, Sire,” said Glozelle. “If the young warrior whom we have just seen outside is the King Edmund mentioned in the writing, then I would not call him a nursery tale but a very dangerous knight.” “King Edmund, pah!” said Miraz. “Does your Lordship believe those old wives’ fables about Peter and Edmund and the rest?”
“I believe my eyes, your Majesty,” said Glozelle.
“Well, this is to no purpose,” said Miraz, “but as touching the challenge, I suppose there is only one opinion between us?”
“I suppose so, indeed, Sire,” said Glozelle.
“And what is that?” asked the King.
“Most infallibly to refuse it,” said Glozelle. “For though I have never been called a coward, I must plainly say that to meet that young man in battle is more than my heart would serve me for. And if (as is likely) his brother, the High King, is more dangerous than he—why, on your life, my Lord King, have nothing to do with him.” “Plague on you!” cried Miraz. “It was not that sort of counsel I wanted. Do you think I am asking you if I should be afraid to meet this Peter (if there is such a man)? Do you think I fear him? I wanted your counsel on the policy of the matter; whether we, having the advantage, should hazard it on a wager of battle.” “To which I can only answer, your Majesty,” said Glozelle, “that for all reasons the challenge should be refused. There is death in the strange knight’s face.” “There you are again!” said Miraz, now thoroughly angry. “Are you trying to make it appear that I am as great a coward as your Lordship?”
“Your Majesty may say your pleasure,” said Glozelle sulkily.
“You talk like an old woman, Glozelle,” said the King. “What say you, my Lord Sopespian?”
“Do not touch it, Sire,” was the reply. “And what your Majesty says of the policy of the thing comes in very happily. It gives your Majesty excellent grounds for a refusal without any cause for questioning your Majesty’s honor or courage.” “Great Heaven!” exclaimed Miraz, jumping to his feet. “Are you also bewitched today? Do you think I am looking for grounds to refuse it? You might as well call me coward to my face.” The conversation was going exactly as the two lords wished, so they said nothing.
“I see what it is,” said Miraz, after staring at them as if his eyes would start out of his head, “you are as lily-livered as hares yourselves and have the effrontery to imagine my heart after the likeness of yours! Grounds for a refusal, indeed! Excuses for not fighting! Are you soldiers? Are you Telmarines? Are you men? And if I do refuse it (as all good reasons of captaincy and martial policy urge me to do) you will think, and teach others to think, I was afraid. Is it not so?” “No man of your Majesty’s age,” said Glozelle, “would be called coward by any wise soldier for refusing the combat with a great warrior in the flower of his youth.” “So I’m to be a dotard with one foot in the grave, as well as a dastard,” roared Miraz. “I’ll tell you what it is, my Lords. With your womanish counsels (ever shying from the true point, which is one of policy) you have done the very opposite of your intent. I had meant to refuse it. But I’ll accept it. Do you hear, accept it! I’ll not be shamed because some witchcraft or treason has frozen both your bloods.” “We beseech your Majesty—” said Glozelle, but Miraz had flung out of the tent and they could hear him bawling out his acceptance to Edmund.
The two lords looked at one another and chuckled quietly.
“I knew he’d do it if he were properly chafed,” said Glozelle. “But I’ll not forget he called me coward. It shall be paid for.”
There was a great stirring at Aslan’s How when the news came back and was communicated to the various creatures. Edmund, with one of Miraz’s captains, had already marked out the place for the combat, and ropes and stakes had been put round it. Two Telmarines were to stand at two of the corners, and one in the middle of one side, as marshals of the lists. Three marshals for the other two corners and the other side were to be furnished by the High King. Peter was just explaining to Caspian that he could not be one, because his right to the throne was what they were fighting about, when suddenly a thick, sleepy voice said, “Your Majesty, please.” Peter turned and there stood the eldest of the Bulgy Bears. “If you please, your Majesty,” he said, “I’m a bear, I am.” “To be sure, so you are, and a good bear too, I don’t doubt,” said Peter.
“Yes,” said the Bear. “But it was always a right of the bears to supply one marshal of the lists.”
“Don’t let him,” whispered Trumpkin to Peter. “He’s a good creature, but he’ll shame us all. He’ll go to sleep and he will suck his paws. In front of the enemy too.” “I can’t help that,” said Peter. “Because he’s quite right. The Bears had that privilege. I can’t imagine how it has been remembered all these years, when so many other things have been forgotten.” “Please, your Majesty,” said the Bear.
“It is your right,” said Peter. “And you shall be one of the marshals. But you must remember not to suck your paws.”
“Of course not,” said the Bear in a very shocked voice.
“Why, you’re doing it this minute!” bellowed Trumpkin.
The Bear whipped his paw out of his mouth and pretended he hadn’t heard.
“Sire!” came a shrill voice from near the ground.
“Ah—Reepicheep!” said Peter after looking up and down and round as people usually did when addressed by the Mouse.
“Sire,” said Reepicheep. “My life is ever at your command, but my honor is my own. Sire, I have among my people the only trumpeter in your Majesty’s army. I had thought, perhaps, we might have been sent with the challenge. Sire, my people are grieved. Perhaps if it were your pleasure that I should be a marshal of the lists, it would content them.” A noise not unlike thunder broke out from somewhere overhead at this point, as Giant Wimbleweather burst into one of those not very intelligent laughs to which the nicer sorts of Giant are so liable. He checked himself at once and looked as grave as a turnip by the time Reepicheep discovered where the noise came from.
“I am afraid it would not do,” said Peter very gravely. “Some humans are afraid of mice—”
“I had observed it, Sire,” said Reepicheep.
“And it would not be quite fair to Miraz,” Peter continued, “to have in sight anything that might abate the edge of his courage.”
“Your Majesty is the mirror of honor,” said the Mouse with one of his admirable bows. “And on this matter we have but a single mind…. I thought I heard someone laughing just now. If anyone present wishes to make me the subject of his wit, I am very much at his service—with my sword—whenever he has leisure.”
An awful silence followed this remark, which was broken by Peter saying, “Giant Wimbleweather and the Bear and the Centaur Glenstorm shall be our marshals. The combat will be at two hours after noon. Dinner at noon precisely.” “I say,” said Edmund as they walked away, “I suppose it is all right. I mean, I suppose you can beat him?”
“That’s what I’m fighting him to find out,” said Peter.
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