The Trouble With Ed

All Edmund ever wanted was a place to hide.

After this post.

Even before the war they had played hide and seek. Lucy always discovered the best spots, and whenever Ed thought to trail her they sat conversing silently. Then Peter would use his giving-up voice, stricken with pretend grief and sure they must have died, and Lucy would begin to sob, run out and give the game away — Ed’s fingers folded into fists each time. They hadn’t been in London for the Blitz, but came home to its ruins eventually, and even after everything, there was a horrid beauty to it all, old hiding places gone, new ones waiting to be unearthed.

Drawing: Krizia Amar

Ed’s shoulders sloped too much for his brother, and he had far too little time for sports and scavenging, too much for Greek heroes in books. Long before they put on fur coats they had been told to get along, but at school their mother wasn’t around. Stronger boys were how Ed learnt to negotiate, sometimes in front of Peter, sometimes not, but every so often the spite leaked out sideways, and Lucy couldn’t hide from that. Even long after the hatchet had been declared buried, Peter’s eyes blazed with indignation. Bastard. Backstabber. Judas.

Of course Peter had made high king, Peter who only ever needed to have been born first. (Lucy didn’t crave power, which was how she commanded it, but Ed and Susan would exchange a glance when Peter mocked her dreams of girls in strange, familiar clothes.) Mostly Ed’s good name took care of itself. When necessary he rode at Peter’s side, squashed or more often defused uprisings — bargaining, he was known to say, was all that justice was. Only now and then would a servant leave the room swearing Ed had quietly cursed. ‘Bloody Peter.’ ‘Bloody heroes.’ ‘That bloody lion.’

The witch had gutted him at Beruna, and that would have been that had Lucy been at all like him. How he’d clung on, Ed didn’t know, except that finding the stone knife where its last owner fell satisfied some queer part of him, and he’d held onto it. None of the others could look at the thing, but Susan seemed to have some sense of why he needed it. While Ed was being whipped on Christmas Day, each of them had received something — her horn and quiver, Lucy’s vial, Peter’s sword. It was said children who were bad never got anything, but in the end, Ed got the knife.

Not everyone spent their adult life recounting what they’d done wrong aged ten. How lucky Peter was in that respect. When people asked why Ed carried the blade, he answered like a diplomat: as a reminder of the lion, of what betrayal and sacrifice meant, and as a sign to keep straight and narrow. All this was true, except it wasn’t his skewering the knife brought to mind. It was the lion’s death, which would have been final if not for him. Without a child’s treachery, one quick stab in the side would have been it. No one ever mentioned how Aslan owed Edmund his life.

Whose magic entitled the witch to train her knife on him? How many disloyal ten-year-olds were put to death in the thousand years before the lion intervened? Why could his jaws not crush her before she rose in the north, raised an army and seized the throne — before the boy Ed was had been bound, tortured, all but killed? Aslan was God, and you didn’t pick fights with God, but Aslan acted like a man, and even at the age of ten, Ed knew of men. Men who had boys fight and die in their wars, who tore down worlds because they felt like it. Men who had boys do other things.

Before their final trip, Lucy and Ed hid together again, holed up inside her bedroom at the Scrubbs’, now with no one to draw them out. Their cousin was a hard boy to talk to, and Ed’s childish spite returned in waves, even if it was insincere. He sneered at the Scrubbs partly because his parents had — how strange to have parents again — but mostly out of jealousy, for they were grubby, modern sorts around whom nothing was taboo, and their son’s school never sounded as horrid as his own. Eustace did well at Experiment House. Ed ran away from Hendon at fourteen.

London after the war was a burnt husk, navigable enough to those who traded in favours, and Ed had learnt how do that before he signed treaties. He’d also learnt how to vacate a table quietly, and the knife came in handy after he’d made off with it, but mostly Ed made the right friends — communists who gave him a bed for free, capitalists who cared whether he could pay more than how, friends who weren’t friends but paid for the pretence. Ed never did learn not to take sweets from strangers, Susan had smirked, and that was altogether the trouble with him.

She spoke like Katherine Hepburn now, and dressed like the women she’d dreamt about, clattering across town in shoes they’d all forgotten existed. Neither of them saw more of their brother than they had to, which Susan would come to regret, but Peter eyed her lipstick with distaste, as he did her typewriter and trousers, a resentment he’d first shown when she volunteered. It must be strange, she and Ed thought, to rule a kingdom for an age then understand so little of the world. However old he got, Peter had still to emerge from his own, where grown women were the devil.

Unlike the others, Ed was never sure if he’d grown up. Sometimes a longer life’s ghost haunted him, sometimes no time seemed to have passed since he was nine. Susan fell out of the wardrobe a queen with a girl’s spots, years of experience intact, and it was true their second puberty had been skindeep. (Ed had looked stumped when she asked if you could lose two virginities.) At any age, Lucy was just Lucy, and she was there whenever Ed needed to hide again, though Susan had tasked him with taking care of her. Of all of them, she said, Ed knew how to survive.

He was nineteen when Peter tracked him down, referring to a lion and magic rings and a professor who must be ancient. Once a king, Peter said, always a king. ‘That lion,’ Ed had sighed. ‘That fucking lion.’ How long must it have been in that world now? Peter had frowned the first time Ed said no, unsure how you could know the place and not miss it. In the end, coaxing was all he required. The fight sank out of Ed as soon as Lucy’s name came up, all tension draining from his limbs — Lucy whose sister was no longer there, who knew that all Ed wanted was a place to hide.

He wore large, borrowed tweeds to the station, which would have angered Susan more than Peter’s insistence, a thought that made them bearable. Once more Ed longed to be where Eustace was, to grab Lucy and vanish in the crowd — longed for his sister back, with whom the right thing to say was nothing, and for a chance at long long last to say it properly. His stare would beg her to let him follow on forever, and he would offer in return the best things any hiding place could have: a smooth stone knife, his hand, and the promise of a castle between two hills.


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