It was at times like these that Edmund most felt the weight of his 15 extra years: sitting in a classroom in the quiet English countryside, listening to his history professor drone on and on about dates and places and people who should mean something to him... yet didn't. That alone was not so different as it was with his classmates. But in one respect it was very different. It was unworthy of him and he knew it. Once upon a time, these people played vitally important roles in the formation of the society in which he lived. No one understood that better than he, having played a similarly important role in the formation of another world. And it was quite likely that some poor child in Narnia was sitting in a classroom just like this one listening to a professor drone on and on about King Edmund the Just and Queen Lucy the Valiant and thinking the very same things. But somehow... it was still different. Narnia meant something to him... meant everything to him. Admiral Perry and his visit to Japan on the back of a naval killing machine just... didn't.
It had been hard to return to this life after the one he'd lived in Narnia. He had gone to school there, for sure -- Susan had insisted, after all -- but it was different there. His tutors had passion for their subjects. There it was important that he learn all he could to be an effective ruler. Here... he would never amount to anything nearly as important as all that, so why bother to try?
History ended and Edmund gathered his belongings, more than ready to move on to his last class of the day. At least it was one he found bearable. His Literature teacher had a passion for his subject which nearly rivaled that of Edmund's former tutors in Narnia. He seemed particularly fond of early 20th century poetry, a fact that had surprised Edmund. Most of his professors felt that anything learned or written sooner than 50 years ago had no worth. It was awfully refreshing.
Settling into his seat, Edmund listened to the children around him speaking. They chattered more in this class, he noted. Not a sign of disrespect, he decided. Rather, it was a sign of excitement, of inspiration, of enthusiasm. Very few students were able to sit stiff and still in Professor Darling's class. He didn't allow them to. Participation was the key to success in understanding literature, he said. After all, no one learned to understand Shakespeare by reading it quietly to themselves in a library. Truth be told, he was glad to have the bright and forward-thinking teacher for a second year.
A moment later, all the boys rose from their seats, acknowledging the professor's entry into the room. He smiled at them, new faces and old, as he made his way to the front of the room. Edmund had liked the man on sight when he'd met him a year ago. The older man had such a gentle way about him, but there was a lilt to his eyes that hinted at a nature as mischievous as Edmund's own. The man had secrets. Many of them. Edmund liked to think that someday he might ferret a few of them out. But it was more than that. Professor Darling had befriended him at a time when he had no friends, when everyone was his enemy. He had been so cold and bitter then. The loss of his father to the war, the bullying of the older boys, the absence of his older brother -- emotionally if not physically. All had combined to turn him into someone that he was now rather ashamed to have been. Someone capable of betraying his family. Someone capable of putting his own selfish desires over the needs of an entire kingdom. It was hard to believe that he had been that ignoble creature only 3 scant months ago in this world.
The Professor had overlooked all of that. He had seen something in Edmund worth salvaging. What that was, Edmund still wasn't sure he knew, but he was grateful, nonetheless. That faith might not have prevented his actions in Narnia, but it had certainly helped him recognize the road to redemption when he saw it. Edmund wondered if he would ever get a chance to thank him for it.
The boys resumed their seats as their professor placed his belongings on his desk. He smiled that shy, unprepossessing smile that he was famous for as he finally looked up to greet them, "Welcome back, boys! I'm glad to see so many of you have returned this term. And so many new faces, as well! If you haven't learned from your classmates, yet, I'm sure you soon will -- my class is a little different."
Various chuckles erupted around the room and one brave voice called out, "A little?"
Professor Darling ducked his head as his smile widened, "You don't get away with such disrespect in other classes, I'm sure." He looked back up as he continued, "Regardless, I respect such outspoken thinkers. Though I hope, in the future, you will keep such outbursts to outbursts of insight whenever possible, Mr. Coventry."
The singled out boy smiled and bowed his head in acknowledgement, "Yes, Professor."
"Very well," Professor Darling stood and turned to write on the blackboard. As he wrote, he said, "If you will all please look inside your desks, you will find this year's first collection of fine literature that we will be learning."
The boys who had had this professor before groaned, nearly as one voice, as they pulled the afore-mentioned volume of works from their desks. A voice behind and to Edmund's left muttered, "Dr. Darling's obsession rears its ugly head, yet again."
Only a moment's pause in the movement of chalk on the blackboard betrayed that the professor had overheard the comment. However, he chose not to acknowledge it, merely finished his writing, dusted off his hands and turned back to face the class. "Another thing that you will soon learn is that I have interests in literature far exceeding the noble Mr. Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More. While they are very important figures in the history of literature, and it does not do to forget the past, it is also important to learn about those works of literature authored in our own time."
He narrowed his eyes at the class, "If there are no further objections, I would like to continue." Receiving of chorus of "No, sirs", Professor Darling's face resumed its usual cheer. "Very good. What you should all now hold in your hands is a collection of poetry, all written within the last 40 years. What may surprise you about said collection is the origin of its authors. You will find no Yeats, no D. H. Lawrence in these pages. They have their places, to be sure, and will have their time as well, but it will not be this day. This day, I will introduce you to some new names." His smile widened, very much that of a young child with a shiny new toy, "Frost. Eliot. Hughes. That's right. Americans. They, too, write poetry!"
As the class began to be caught up in the spell of Professor Darling's enthusiasm, Edmund couldn't help a small smile of his own from creeping onto his face. Forget that a moment ago, the same boys were groaning over this very subject. Forget that most of them found Americans a rude, uncouth, irreverent lot. The Professor was enthralled with them and so too would his classes be. It was fascinating to watch. Edmund listened, nearly similarly bound as Professor Darling explained their first assignment. Each would skim the first section of poetry in the book tonight (those by a man named Robert Frost) and select one to analyze. He would approve their choices and point them to resources the next day.
At the end of class, he walked over to Edmund's desk as he was gathering his books, "A moment, if you please, Mr. Pevensie." Startled, Edmund put his books back down and huddled into his chair. What could he possibly want with me? It isn't as though I misbehave in his class.
Several of his mates shot him sympathetic looks on their way out of the classroom. When the last of them had gone, Professor Darling took the seat beside his and offered him a somewhat abashed smile, "My apologies, Edmund. I didn't wish you to think yourself here for a scolding. I merely wanted to see how you were doing. Last year was not treating you very well, as I recall."
Of course. He would want to check on me. Edmund sighed, Well, I can't very well tell him that... or that... or even that. Oh bugger. Eventually he squirmed in his seat and shrugged, "I'm better, I suppose."
The older man frowned, "You suppose."
Quietly, "Yes, sir."
Professor Darling rose and walked to the front of the classroom, "I can't and won't force you to talk to me, Edmund. It's just that I noticed something... different about you, today. You're quieter, for one. And you seem more... well, world-weary, for lack of a better term. I understand that this summer was a difficult one, alone in the country with no word of your parents, but it seems to have changed you a great deal. I hope it was for the better."
Edmund fidgeted, once again, in his seat, unsure how to respond. Common sense and Professor Kirke's advice dictated that he ought not to reveal his adventures through the wardrobe to anyone, least of all his literature professor. But instincts honed from years of being a king in Narnia whispered that Dr. Michael Darling would understand and would not judge. Caught between these two strong forces, Edmund could not make a choice. Eventually, he forced out, "I believe it has been, sir."
"Very well, then. If you change your mind, I am here to listen," was the disappointed reply.
Edmund wasted no time in getting himself out of the classroom and back to his dormitory. That was the last straw. He needed to talk to Peter.
Michael sighed as he watched Edmund scuttle out of the classroom as though he'd lit a fire on the boy's backside. He hadn't meant to scare the child, just wanted him to know that he was there, as he had been the year before. Something about Edmund drew him. There was such depth in him for so young a boy, such innocence. And he had been unable to stand it as he watched the harsh nature of their society and current events began to grind that innocence and passion into the dirt.
Edmund Pevensie, Michael thought, would be the better for a trip to Neverland. For, if ever a boy needed a refreshed childhood, it was him. But Peter hardly visited anymore and only ever came to Wendy when he did. It was a foolish thought, even though he couldn't stop himself thinking it. He sighed. Perhaps tomorrow would bring him new insight into the problem. Obviously something was bothering the child, but he feared that Edmund would have to open up to him in his own time and very little on his part would alter when that time would come.
Peter, Edmund thought, had been very little help. Having joined the high school student parliament and the fencing club, he had very little time to devote to other worries. He had been happy to hear from his brother, happy to reminisce, for however brief a time, about their days in Narnia, but he was distracted. Edmund could tell. He'd gotten to know his brother well over the last 15 years. And so, he'd kept the conversation light and avoided all mention of his temptation to tell Professor Darling about his adventures. It would worry Peter unnecessarily at this point and Peter did not need more to worry about. He always took on too much when Edmund wasn't there to look out for him.
After he ended their phone conversation, Edmund briefly considered calling one of his sisters, but quickly decided against it. Susan was testier than ever since returning from Narnia (not that he could really blame her -- it must have been awfully difficult to go from being the premier and most sought after beauty in the land to being a gawky adolescent girl once again) and Lucy would just talk his ear off with "Do you remember?"s. Not that he didn't enjoy such strolls down memory lane, but it wasn't what he needed to focus on.
With a resigned sigh, Edmund returned to his room to begin his assignments. His roommate, William, was already hard at work on his assignment for Professor Darling. He looked up when Edmund entered the room, "Ed! So glad you're back. I can't make hide nor hair of any of this." He held up the book in exasperation. "You're so cursed good with words... help a fellow out?"
Edmund shook his head in mock consternation. It was old news that Will was hopeless with poetry. Give him something solid like math or geography and he was chomping at the bit to take off with it. But literature... Edmund would likely be doing both their assignments before the week was out. But what were roommates for? He sat down at his desk and grabbed his own book of poetry, "Let's just see what we have, shall we?"
Will patted him on the shoulder and pulled out the mathematics homework. They had already had a year's practice dividing and conquering their workload. It was nice to see that some things hadn't changed. Lulled by the scratching of Will's pencil on paper, Edmund began browsing the title listings. One in particular caught his eye, though it shouldn't have. Pan With Us... probably about gold diggers in California. Still, he couldn't help thumbing open the book to that page and reading the poem.
By the time he reached the end, there were tears in his eyes. He had to close the book. Will eyed him curiously as he swiped quickly at the betraying moisture, but did not comment. He was used to Edmund's strange ways by now.
Edmund rose from his desk, the book still clutched in his hands to stare out the window. He felt a sudden need to reassure himself that there were still fields of green and wild forests beyond the sheltering walls of his school. He sat in the window and opened the book again, the last stanza haunting him as he looked for another poem to read.
"They were pipes of pagan mirth,
Though he knew that in the eyes of many, the old gods were very, very dead on Earth, Bacchus was still alive to him. He'd seen him at a revel in the woods of Cair Paravel not 4 months past! Silently praying that not all the poetry in the book would bite him so viciously, Edmund let it fall open to a random page.
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening read the title of the poem. Well, that sounds innocent enough... And it was. Until the last four lines. Edmund shivered at the quiet menace that seemed to snare him from those words, "The woods are lovely dark and deep..."
Rubbing his finger over the bridge of his nose, Edmund let the pages fall open again. Fire and Ice, is it? Foreboding filled him at those words. But the poem was, at least, short...
"Some say the world will end in fire,
Edmund closed the book, shaking, and stood. He found his voice, strained though it was, and said, "I'm going for a walk."
Before Will had a chance to answer, he was out the door. Heart pounding in his ears, Edmund made a beeline for the out-of-doors. He didn't recall poetry affecting him nearly this much last year. But now... everything he read seemed to bring to mind memories of Narnia -- and not entirely pleasant ones at that. An idle thought wormed its way into his mind -- perhaps this Robert Frost had also visited Narnia. He wrote as though he had.
A softly glowing light halted his headlong flight across the quad. Looking up, Edmund identified the light as coming from Professor Darling's rooms. On a whim, he entered the building and bounded up the stairs. Upon reaching the door to the Professor's rooms, however, his courage failed him. He turned away, about to head back down the stairs, when the door opened. Professor Darling stood framed in the soft light from inside, a worried frown upon his face. When he identified his visitor, he darted a quick glance inside and the frown deepened, "Edmund... now is not the best time for a visit. Perhaps tomorrow?"
A voice called out from inside -- a happy, youthful voice, clearly designed for revelry and play -- forestalling any reply Edmund might have made, "Nonsense, Michael! The more the merrier!"
The Professor's body slumped at the words the boyish voice uttered and he tossed a glance heavenward as though asking for strength. He turned back to answer the voice, "Peter, it really isn't much good trying to keep your visit private if you're going to invite my students in to join us."
Peter? Edmund's eyebrow rose. Surely not his Peter. His Peter had never sounded that young. Even when he'd been that young. But there was something about that voice that was vaguely... familiar...
The soft trill of a set of pipes was the boy's only answer... and the final clue to the puzzle for Edmund. He pushed past Professor Darling with a glad cry, "Bacchus! How-- ?" And then he paused. For this was not Bacchus as he remembered him. He was dressed similarly in a tunic, pants and a cape of brown leaves, played a similar set of pipes and had a matching twinkle in his deep blue eyes... but there the similarities ended. This was a boy, not a youth. This lad's hair was long and the deep brown of rich earth, tied back in a tail, not red as the setting sun and free of any bindings. Finally, his only female accompaniment was a small fairy. Edmund slumped, disappointed beyond easy explanation.
Uncaring of Professor Darling's movements behind him, he fixed his eyes on the boy in the window -- Peter, his mind supplied. The boy leapt lightly down and walked over to peer into his eyes, "Now, what's this? So sad? Edmund, that just isn't like you..."
Edmund jerked back, shocked. Behind him, Professor Darling scolded, "Peter! That's enough. Stop playing games. Can't you see he's upset?"
Peter looked over Edmund's shoulder and shook his head, a somber light in his blue eyes, "Michael, Michael, Michael... I'm not blind. I can see as well as you can. Better, sometimes. And why is he upset, do you think?" He cocked his head to the side and tapped a finger to his chin as though thinking deeply, "I believe I know. Edmund thinks he has mistaken me for someone who was, not so very long ago, a dear friend. Am I wrong, Edmund?"
Edmund, caught between two pairs of concerned blue eyes, was forced to answer honestly, "No. You're not. But how do you know me?"
The boy smiled as he patted Edmund's cheek, "He visits Neverland, too, you know. The Lion. Word spreads between worlds that he has touched. And perhaps you have not mistaken me as you thought, hmm?" Those blue eyes twinkled merrily, "Different forms for different needs, Your Majesty. This world so rarely has need of me these days and so I rarely visit. The land I call my own is one of deeper innocence than you can imagine and so I am a child. Your land was in the flower of its first spring in so very long... what else could I be but a youth?"
Put that way, it made so very much sense, it was a wonder Edmund hadn't seen it at first. He was just beginning to nod in agreement when his mind crashed to a screeching halt. "Wait a minute!" He whipped around to stare at Professor Darling. Professor Michael Darling. And then at his child-like Pan, named Peter. Turning back to the Professor he spluttered out, "But that's just a story!"
Peter laughed, "Coming from you, I think that's a bit much." He settled back down in the window.
Edmund blushed, "That isn't what I meant. I meant that there's a book written about you. A story. A play. I didn't think it was true..."
Professor Darling sat down in the chair he'd been occupying before Edmund's interruption. With a slightly bitter edge to his voice, he explained, "It's true enough. Our Mr. James M. Barrie was, once upon a time, not so gentle a character. That story was originally meant as a way to get revenge upon the only one who ever escaped him. And by using that one, to thus to gain his own immortality." Peter snorted. Professor Darling covered his answering smile with his tea cup, "But he has mellowed out remarkably since returning from Neverland to a time not his own. Wendy and the Lost Boys have been a tremendous help to him in that respect. I hear that he and John get on famously these days."
Peter snorted again, "That would figure."
Professor Darling laughed, "You can't blame him, Peter. They both have a passion for music, the written word and the proper stiff attitude for a gentleman. They suit each other better than they suit anyone else."
Peter sighed, "I know. And I don't begrudge him what happiness he has found in this time. Still... Neverland is awfully boring without him." On that note, Peter seemed to recollect his responsibilities, "But, boring or not, I should return. The hour is late and I must collect Wendy for the spring cleaning before I go." He smiled at Michael, "I should have made this visit long ago, Michael. I'm sorry it took Edmund's presence to force me to it."
Michael smiled, standing to accept a hug from the smaller boy, "I understand, Peter. Better than you think. And I am grateful for the visit, nonetheless. Please give Wendy my regards."
Peter smiled and nodded, before enfolding Edmund in a gentle embrace, "There, now you don't need to worry about whether or not you can share your experiences with him. Michael's a good lad and you'll be better for each other than you know. You both need someone to talk to."
Holding on tightly to this unexpected piece of Narnia come to roost upon his doorstep, Edmund whispered, "Will I see you, again?"
Peter smiled as he stepped back, "I swear it, Your Majesty. You will. In Narnia."
Then, after saying his final goodbye's to the Professor, the boy leapt from the windowsill into the cool night air.
Silence reigned for several minutes after the boy's departure. Michael was eventually the one to break it, "Your Majesty, is it? Must have been quite a summer..."
Edmund was startled into laughter, a tension draining out of him that he'd been unaware of carrying until that last, "You don't know the half of it, Professor."
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
Full text of Robert Frost's poems used in this fic can be found at http://www.ketzle.com/frost/, background on the poet and commentary on some of his poetry here. What can I say? I'm a Frost fanatic. ^_^ *unabashed grin* Really wanted to use a Wendell Berry poem, The Peace of Wild Things... but it was written in like, 1985 or something. *twitch*
Questions, comments, coconuts?