“Oomph!” Edmund groaned as he landed with a thump on the hard, wooden floor. He looked to his left and saw his younger sister and cousin flopped on the floor next to him. They both winced slightly as they slowly sat themselves upright.
“We’re back.” Lucy observed, a sad tone rang through her voice.
“Yeah,” Eustace added absentmindedly, looking around the small spare room in his parents’ house.
The three sat in an awed silence for a long moment, simply readjusting to their new surroundings.
“What time is it?” Edmund asked, cautiously standing himself up. He was emotionally and physically exhausted. He hoped it would be close to a bed time, so he could simply crash. However, the sun rays peaking through the curtains of the small bedroom were not giving him very much hope.
“Ten after three,” Lucy replied, glancing at the small alarm clock sitting on the bedside table. She stretched her arms up to her closest brother. Edmund grabbed onto her hands and swiftly pulled her to her feet, causing her to give a little hop as she reached a standing position. Lucy stifled a small giggle and Edmund couldn’t help but smirk at her. Despite just having to had leave their favorite place, for the final time, she still found her smile. She was the most optimistic person in the world.
Edmund stepped past his sister and extended a hand down to Eustace, who just ignored it.
“Come on, mate,” Edmund encouraged gently, his arm still in front of his young cousin. Eustace slowly took Edmund’s hand, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet.
“Are you alright, Eustace?” Lucy asked. Eustace simply shrugged.
“It’s always tough to come back,” Edmund assured, giving him a kind pat on the shoulder.
“No wonder you two always spoke of that place,” Eustace said musingly. Both Edmund and Lucy smiled at their cousin. Happy to have another person who understood.
Edmund stretched his arms up above his head as he slowly ascended the stairs after his sister. Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta made them wash the dishes as well as scrub the kitchen floor clean after dinner that evening. An unfair punishment for Eustace being kind to Edmund and Lucy at the dinner table. The Pevensies’ relationship with their cousin had changed so much during their time in Narnia. Edmund had almost blocked out how tense things used to be. Given that it was only a few hours difference for Uncle Harold and Aunt Alberta, the change seemed sudden and peculiar. They spent the meal time condemning Edmund and Lucy for their bad influence on their, formally perfect, son.
While Edmund and Lucy had grown accustom to the lack of respect and consideration they received during their time in Cambridge, they found the additional chores especially grueling that evening. Not only were they emotionally drained, but they were plumb exhausted. Edmund tried to think back and calculate exactly how long he had been awake now. However, he was having trouble remembering his last sleep.
Once they were at the top of the stairs, Edmund quickly pushed past Lucy to grab his pajamas from his room and get in the bathroom first. Lucy let out a small huff.
“Edmund!” she whined as he shut the bathroom door behind him. Lucy could usually hold her own in any situation. Although when she was very tired, her age showed.
He quickly undressed and hopped in the shower. The warm water felt amazing on his tired skin. He simply stood underneath the tap for a long moment, trying not to think how long it had really been since his last proper bath.
Edmund took these rare, private minutes as he washed, to collect his thoughts and process everything. He felt much more drained from returning this time, he chalked it up to suddenly being the eldest brother. While he had always been older than Lucy, he had always sort of let Peter take charge of caring for all of them. He seemed to enjoy it. However, Edmund now felt the worry, stress, and true responsibility of being the oldest. It took a lot more out of him than he ever could have expected. There was never a moment while they were in Narnia that Edmund wasn’t concerned about keeping Lucy and Eustace safe. It was consuming. But the thought of either of them being seriously injured or taken was excruciating
He suddenly had a lot more respect for his older brother, taking care of them all those years. Edmund even found himself feeling a little guilty for always making Peter’s job more difficult.
Once Edmund was cleaned up and in his pajamas, he exited the steamy bathroom to find Lucy standing outside the door, tapping her foot impatiently.
“Finally,” Lucy said with a groan. Normally Edmund would have responded with a snappy retort, but at that very moment, he found he was still just grateful they were all safe. He reached over and pulled her in for a tight hug, clearly catching his sister off guard.
“Good night, Lu,” Edmund said. After a few seconds, Lucy happily hugged him back.
“Good night, Edmund,” she replied with a content sigh. After a long moment, the two let go and Edmund headed to his room whilst Lucy took her turn in the shower.
Eustace was already showered and changed for bed, sitting cross-legged on his bed. He was holding a framed picture in his lap, smiling down on it.
“What-cha have there?” Edmund asked his cousin curiously, shutting the bedroom door behind him.
“The painting,” Eustace replied, still not looking up. Edmund smiled as he put his clothes in the wash basket before taking a seat on his camp bed.
“You like it now?” Edmund teased, fluffing his pillow before leaning back. He let out a contented sigh as his head hit the pillow.
“Very much so,” Eustace admitted. “I had to bribe Lucy with sweets to let me have it.” He explained. Edmund let out a low chuckle as he gazed up at the ceiling fan above his head.
“Surprised she let you,” Edmund mused.
“She did!” Eustace beamed. “Well, only for tonight. And it cost me five sweets. But, it was worth it.” he explained. Edmund grinned broadly.
“I’m so proud,”
“Thank you!” Eustace replied, thinking the compliment was for him. However, Edmund was far more proud of his sister’s shrewd dealings at the moment. “How long until I return?” Eustace asked anxiously.
Edmund’s grin fell, he felt a sad churn in in the pit of his stomach.
“I don’t know,” Edmund replied with a sigh. “Could be months, could be years. You never really know,”
“Oh,” Eustace said sadly. Edmund glanced over at his cousin, and he looked like he was deep in thought.
“Sorry, mate,” Edmund told him. “There is no rhyme or reason to it; it just happens when it happens.” He explained.
“But, it could be only days, perhaps?” Eustace mused hopefully.
“Yeah, maybe,” Edmund said with a small smile. There was a long, comfortable silence between the boys; both deep in their own thoughts. After a few minutes, Eustace broke the quiet.
“What was the best part of being a king?” Eustace asked curiously.
“Hmmm, that’s a tough one,” Edmund replied quietly.
“I cannot imagine having that kind of power,” Eustace sighed, setting down the painting and crawling into bed.
“It was very strange at first. And it wasn’t really power, it was this great responsibility.” Edmund explained, his heart rate picked up slightly with the memories.
“Responsible for what?” Eustace questioned, rolling onto his side to face Edmund on his camp bed.
“The kingdom,” Edmund said, turning his head to look back at Eustace. “The safety of Narnia, the welfare of its citizens.”
“Wow,” Eustace breathed.
“But, you have to remember, it wasn’t my responsibility alone. Peter, Susan, and Lucy were all there, we all had our roles. We ruled together.” Edmund told him, a small smile creeping across his face.
“Do you think I could ever be king?” Eustace asked excitedly. Edmund shrugged.
“I can’t tell you that. Only Aslan knows.” Edmund explained.
“Not that I want to usurp Caspian, he’s brilliant!” Eustace interjected quickly, fearing he may have said something terrible offensive. Edmund couldn’t help but chuckle slightly.
“He is,” Edmund agreed, thinking of his dear friend.
“I am looking forward to seeing him again,” Eustace said happily.
“I hope you do,” Edmund replied.
“Hope?” Eustace asked.
“Time for us is different compared to time for them,” Edmund explained.
“How different?” Eustace questioned, looking concerned.
“It’s difficult to explain. After our first visit, we were only in England for a year, but when we returned, over a thousand years had passed in Narnia.” Edmund let out a sad sigh. “Another year in England passed, and this time, it was only five years in Narnia.”
“So, even if I get to go back tomorrow, it could be sixty years later there?” Eustace asked, eyes wide.
“I’m afraid so,” Edmund told him seriously. Eustace’s face fell.
“But I’d love to see everyone once more,” Eustace said, rolling and flopping on to his back, emitting a loud sigh.
“I would, too.” Edmund agreed. He watched his cousin for a few long moments, sure he would have more questions about their recent adventure, but Eustace didn’t say a word. As a matter of fact, within five minutes, Edmund heard quiet snoring coming from his cousin’s bed. Edmund stood up and shut off the light, engulfing the room in darkness. Edmund was surprised at what a tremendous peace he felt as he lie in the dark, Cambridge bedroom. Before he could think about it in much more detail, the exhaustion took him, and Edmund fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Edmund was awoken with a jolt as the bedroom door crashed against the adjacent wall. Both Edmund and Eustace sat straight up. Frantically looking to the doorway as they rubbed their eyes.
“Ugh! Lucy,” Edmund groaned irritably after seeing it was his sister who had startled them. He immediately flopped back down on the camp bed and rolled over, hoping she’d go away if he ignored her.
“Alright, Eustace. Time’s up. I want my painting back.” Lucy said sternly, marching into her cousin’s bedroom.
“We had a deal. I paid you five sweets!” Eustace argued. Edmund bit his tongue to keep from laughing.
“The deal was you got to keep it until morning. It’s morning, I’d like it back. It completes my room.” Lucy pointed out.
“It’s barely morning.” Eustace protested. Lucy came to stand in between his bed and her brother on his camp bed, blocking any escape attempt for her cousin.
“The sun is up; and I already started the kettle downstairs. It’s morning.” Lucy contended. Edmund sighed, realizing he was going to have to intercede sooner than later.
“I get it until after breakfast.” Eustace countered.
“That is a ridiculous amendment,” Lucy argued. Edmund rolled over and sat himself up. He sometimes forgot how stubborn his younger sister could get.
“You requesting it back before breakfast is ridiculous.” Eustace protested.
“This argument is ridiculous.” Edmund interjected as he stood in between them. Both Eustace and Lucy looked at him for a long moment before they both started to explain their side. “No, no, no, too early,” Edmund said, shaking his head, pushing past the two to get to the door.
“Edmund,” Lucy called, tilting her head to the side. Edmund looked back at Lucy and Eustace, both of whom were looking back at him with wide eyes. He felt his heart give a weird thump. There was this feeling of love and pride as he looked back at the two. He couldn’t explain it, even to himself. Edmund was now the eldest brother. It wasn’t something he felt lightly, either. He wanted this role.
“Eustace, give the painting back to Lucy,” Edmund instructed.
“What?” Eustace gasped loudly at his cousin, while a very satisfied grin spread across Lucy’s face.
“We’ll put it back in Lucy’s room, then we can all sit in there today,” Edmund decreed.
“What for?” Lucy asked curiously.
“Talking about Narnia, I assumed.” Edmund replied with a smile.
“Yes!” Lucy gasped happily. “I miss it so, already,”
“Perfect. Harold and Alberta would not like to overhear any of that; and I have many more questions.” Eustace told them.
“We’ll answer all we can, after breakfast.” Edmund said. Lucy immediately pushed past him and raced downstairs to start preparing breakfast. Edmund made his way to the bathroom and splashed some water on his face. He sighed happily to himself as he blotted his face dry with a towel. Perhaps their stay in Cambridge wouldn’t be bad after all.