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Narnia Votes

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It was terribly hot in the cramped office they’d rented for Peter’s campaign, and all of them were dressed in their best suits, which did a fine job of letting in the heat and keeping in the sweat. At least it was just Peter, Susan, and Edmund today. Last week, Eustace and Lucy and the campaign volunteers had been there too, and they’d all had to stand and sweat and bump elbows. But Lucy was off in Manchester for two weeks, raising awareness and money for war orphans, and Eustace was visiting Jill at her Girl Guides camp. At least the three of them could sit down, although the measly August breeze did almost nothing to abate the heat.

Peter was running for a seat on the Metropolitan Borough of Islington council, and with Susan and Edmund as his primary advisors, he was damn well going to win. At this point in his campaign, Peter was still insisting on formulating all his policies himself, so Susan and Edmund handled the less tasteful side of politics, just as they had in Narnia. Edmund took care of the unimportant press conferences, the donations and the demands that went with them, and the muckraking—although no one had found any muck to rake at Peter and his marks at Cambridge and his shining military service record. Susan managed Peter’s staff and did all his networking, as Peter would much rather chat with the old men outside the pub than with the posh political types at cocktail parties. The former would get Peter elected, but the latter would keep him that way, and Susan had always been the best diplomat out of the four of them. Given the topic of today’s meeting, though, Susan was dreading the next fancy dress something-or-other, because she’d have to talk everyone round to Peter’s (somewhat ironic) support for the Congress of Peoples Against Imperialism.

**************************************

It had taken quite a while to convince Tirian that winning a war for your country’s existence dishonorably was better than losing honorably, and anyway how much honor could the Calormenes claim when they’d snuck into Narnia themselves? But between Eustace’s knowledge of the guerrilla tactics employed by the French Resistance during the war and Jill’s quiet practicality, they’d brought Tirian around and had driven the Calormenes down past Archenland and back into the desert. There were squads of Cheetahs watching the desert’s edge, of course, and the Wolves near Cauldron Pool had taken it upon themselves to patrol the forests, but Narnia was once again free.

Tirian had found rooms for them in Cair Paravel, which was much stranger for Eustace than it was for Jill. The castle had been much changed since his cousins had ruled there, but every time he thought he’d gotten used to it he’d discover some new mural of the High King and remember that Edmund and Lucy and them had really been kings and queens.

“It’s just odd,” Eustace had told Jill on their second night in the castle. “I got used to Caspian calling them Your Majesty, and I heard all the stories, but it’s different when they’re treated like ancient history. I mean, I saw the High King on Friday before I left to visit you!”

“Yes, I can see how that would be odd,” Jill had replied. “It’s easier for me because I’ve never met them, I suppose.”

That had been more than a week ago, and while they were both quite pleased to spend more time in a free and joyful Narnia, neither Eustace nor Jill could figure out what they had left to do before Aslan took them back to Spare Oom. They certainly weren’t meant to rule as the Four had, Narnia already had a Son of Adam on its throne. Eustace had shrugged and said that they’d find out when Aslan meant them to find out, and they might as well enjoy themselves in the meantime.

After a particularly vigorous bout of riding one morning—the Red Dwarf who oversaw training for those with opposable thumbs had decided to teach Jill to shoot on horseback, and Eustace had come along out of solidarity—Tirian called them into a light, airy room in the castle for a meeting over lunch. The king seemed ill at ease, and before they’d managed seconds on their sandwiches, he broke his fidgety silence.

“I am ever so grateful for your assistance in driving out the Calormenes,” Tirian began.

“It was our pleasure,” Eustace replied through a mouthful of egg-and-cress. Jill sighed. Even when eating with a king, Eustace couldn’t manage table manners.

“Yes, of course,” Tirian waved away the reply, “but what I can’t understand is why we all had to ride out to rally the good Birds and Beasts of Narnia to join our gorillas in the first place.”

Eustace opened his mouth, probably to correct the king’s pronunciation of “guerrilla,” but Jill shot him a silencing look. “I’ve been thinking about that, actually,” she said. “And what I’ve been thinking is that maybe not a lot of them knew.”

Tirian furrowed his brow. “But we sent Farsight out with the news, and everyone in the Wood around the stables saw, and the dryads—”

“Yes,” Jill cut him off gently. “I don’t mean they didn’t know about the Calormenes in the woods, I meant that they didn’t know what the Calormenes meant. Narnia has lived in peace for a long time now, and it makes sense that new generations of Beasts and Birds wouldn’t understand the threat.”

Tirian opened his mouth, and shut it again. He sipped his tea, which had gone cold. “Why would that make a difference? Everyone knew there was an invasion, and wouldn’t they all have sprung up to defend Narnia when she was in trouble?” he asked.

There was a long pause. Then Eustace, mouth thankfully free of sandwich, spoke up.

“Talking Beasts aren’t people—well, of course they’re people, but they’re not human, I mean, Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve—so they think in terms of Beast things, right? And to a Beast, if you have shelter, and safety for your Chicks and Foals and Cubs and everyone, and no one’s stealing your food, what else is there to worry about? Beasts don’t understand that humans want things just for the sake of having them.”

“Yes, but that’s the problem, Eustace,” said Jill. “We can’t exactly explain to them what they can’t understand.”

“Then how am I to unify Narnia again!” Tirian exclaimed, throwing up his hands.

Eustace stared at his sandwich for a while, and then looked over at Jill meaningfully. Jill raised an eyebrow at him, and then sighed in realization.

“Eustace, you can’t possibly—” she began.

“But it’s exactly what I’ve been talking about with Edmund! When citizens participate in government, it increases civic engagement, which in turn boosts participation, which gives you a more educated and involved populace, which creates a governmental system that better serves its people—”

“Yes, yes, I know, Eustace, you’ve told me, but Narnia doesn’t need government the way England does. The king has a war council already, and the staff at Cair Paravel deal with visits of states and such, but Narnia doesn’t need, um, public transit or traffic control or an economic ministry. ”

Eustace began speaking again in the slow way that meant he was thinking something over. “You’re right about public transit, I suppose, but does Narnia really not need some sort of economic guidance council? Lucy told me all about the Narnian wine trade with Galma when we were aboard the Dawn Treader, and there’s trade with Archenland and probably Calormen as well, how else would Susan have met Rabadash? Narnia is a political actor in this world, and she should probably have those actions guided by her citizenry, shouldn’t she?”

“You can’t be suggesting that Narnians vote, can you, Eustace?” Jill responded with slight alarm. “Most of them can’t read, or write, or hold a pen! Most of them haven’t even got thumbs!”

“Well, yes, I suppose you’re right, but we could find a way around that!” Eustace was getting excited. “They could mark a paper with a paw, or, or, put a stone in a bucket or something!”

At this point, Tirian cut in, looking bemused. “Pardon my interruption, Lord Eustace, but do you speak of the Queens Susan and Lucy, and the King Edmund? And what is an echo gnomic guiding council?”

Before Eustace could jump in and correct the king’s pronunciation, Jill smiled kindly from across the table. “Eustace is cousins to the Four, if you remember. He’s been spending a lot of time with them this summer because of the High King’s campaign, and he’s got all sorts of ideals about citizens’ place in government from them.”

Immediately, Tirian brightened up. “A campaign! Of course the High King would campaign in Spare Oom as well as Narnia. I welcome any advice you can impart from your time with the High King’s armies, Lord Eustace,” he said.

“Not that sort of campaign, your majesty, sorry. Peter’s running for office and he’s been letting me help, even though I’m not old enough to vote myself,” Eustace replied, as if that cleared everything up.

Jill sighed again. “Eustace, I suppose you had better explain everything, and start from the beginning.”

**************************************

“You were emperor of the Lone Islands, Peter! Don’t you find this sudden anti-imperial charge even the least bit ironic?” Susan threw up her hands. They’d been at it for a while now, and while everyone agreed Britain should let her colonies alone, Susan was making a case for not announcing it for a while longer.

“That’s not the point, Su, and you know we did almost nothing relating to the Islands for all thirty years of our reign,” said Peter. “It’s different here, where British colonial ambitions are actively destroying lives!”

“That’s not the point either! The point is that if you come out for the anti-imperialists, you won’t get elected!” Susan exclaimed.

Now they reached the crux of the argument. Edmund found himself equally understanding of each of his siblings’ positions, which rendered his tiebreaking vote on the subject pretty much useless. Peter, moral bastard that he was, would not hide his beliefs. He refused to trick people into voting for him by bandying about and giving vague answers to questions of policy. Susan, on the other hand, maintained that all of Peter’s lovely morals would be useless unless he got himself into an elected position where he could do something about them. And if that meant dancing around the controversial questions, so be it. It had been the same in Narnia.

During their rule, the Four had had this same argument over and over, about all sorts of different things. Edmund recalled a meeting early in their reign, when Peter and Lucy had just returned from their first trip to Archenland. It had been hard enough for Lucy to talk Peter into adding her to the sword-training roster, and she returned to Cair Paravel almost in tears after learning that Archen women were expected to take the same limited, domestic role that women in Spare Oom had taken before the war.

“It’s not fair!” she’d cried when all of them had retreated to the cozy chairs in the library to talk. “Aslan made me a queen, and Father Christmas gave me my dagger, and I’ve seen the Centauresses and the Dryads and the female Beasts all fighting and building and dancing just the same as the males! But in Archenland, at court, they expected me to be a good little girl and sit still and do embroidery, and I don’t want to!”

Susan had gone to soothe her, murmuring gentle assurances that Lucy could wrestle with the wolf pups as much as she liked, and no one would make her learn to darn socks if she didn’t want to. After Lucy had calmed down, Peter had spoken up, and Edmund had been surprised at what he’d heard.

“Lucy’s right,” he’d said. “ Aslan did make her a queen, and Narnia is a land where Birds and Beasts may live as they please. If the Archen court can’t see that, and let Lucy do as she wishes, we should stop treating with them.”

Lucy had beamed, but Susan had furrowed her brow. “We can’t just cut off contact with one of our only allies because they want Lucy to embroider,” she’d said slowly. “We need Archenland to back us against the Witch’s remaining supporters, and I was hoping King Lune could advise you, Peter, about how exactly one goes about being king.”

Susan had picked up the language of diplomacy very easily, Edmund recalled. And she had been right. In the end, they’d sent her to Archenland with a small, all-female guard contingent. She’d sat and embroidered and danced, and gone out to practice her archery in the mornings. Lune had got the message, and the four Pevensies had got their roles in addressing conflict. Lucy fought injustice head-on, Susan worked within unjust systems to achieve just results, and Peter removed himself from unjust situations to pursue justice for those under his care. And Edmund was the swing vote.

While he’d bee reminiscing, Susan and Peter had kept arguing. Edmund knew that a fight would get them nowhere, and it was too hot to be in the office for much longer. He pitched his voice above those of his arguing siblings.

“All of us know how these arguments go,” he started. Susan smiled sheepishly at him, and Peter inclined his head. “And all of us know where the others stand. We don’t really need Lucy here to know her opinion. Honestly, it would be more productive for me to have the whole argument with myself while the two of you worked on other things.”

“Right as ever, Ed,” said Peter. “What d’you think?”

Edmund thought for a minute in silence. Then, “Susan’s right. We can’t announce this yet, the campaign hasn’t picked up enough steam. And Peter, no one will ask you about the colonies, because no one’s really thinking about them, so you don’t have to lie to anyone. I figure I can edit your next couple of speeches to include more denouncing of Nazi imperialism in Europe, which everyone likes to hear, to set the stage for a dialogue about British imperialism elsewhere in the world. You know, talk about freedom from tyranny and uplifting the downtrodden and such. That way, you’ll already have voters agreeing with you before you drop the metaphorical bomb about the Congress of Peoples Against Imperialism.”

Neither Peter nor Susan was overjoyed at his pronouncement, but they both nodded. Edmund left the two of them to make last-minute changes to the itinerary for the campaign dinner that night and, praising Aslan for the electric fan in his flat, went home for a bit to rewrite some speeches.

**************************************

Tirian took to the idea of a Narnian franchise much more quickly than he had to guerrilla warfare. He was eager to hear from his subjects, he explained, and wanted nothing more than to serve them as best as he was able. Jill left Eustace with the king and his chief advisors—Roonwit, Jewel, and Farsight the Eagle—to figure out the details of dividing Narnia into voting districts. They were writing up a list of tasks, which would include taking a census, creating anonymous voting methods for Narnians without hands, and accounting for migrating species for proportional representation.

Wandering throughout the long hallways of the Cair, Jill found herself facing a tapestry of the Four that she and Eustace had found the week before. Jill sympathized with his feeling out-of-sorts about seeing his cousins as kings and queens of old, but her feelings were different. She had yet to actually meet the Pevensies, so she still pictured them as adults in crowns with swords. She tried to imagine the King Peter in the mural sitting in an office in London and reading complaints about potholes, and giggled.

“What’s funny?” she heard a voice call from down the corridor. It was Puzzle, who was much happier now that he didn’t have to pretend to be a lion and could just be a Donkey.

“Oh, nothing,” Jill replied. “Where are you going, Puzzle?”

“Just to the lawn outside,” he replied. “The king said I could graze there some, if I didn’t bother the dryads.”

“May I come with you?” Jill asked. “That sounds ever so much nicer than arguing if Naiads should be counted where their headwater are or wherever they flow for districting purposes.”

Puzzle looked, fittingly, puzzled. “Of course you may!” he said. “But I’m not sure I understand, Jill. Why do you need to count the Naiads?”

“Don’t worry about it, Puzzle dear, you won’t have to count anyone,” Jill replied absentmindedly. She could almost hear the Narnian sunshine calling to her. She started down the corridor towards the nearby side door, with Puzzle trotting along behind her.

Once they reached the lawn, Jill and Puzzle settled themselves in the shade of an obliging Oak. Jill lay down on the soft grass, and Puzzle began to munch it contentedly. After a little while, he lifted his head and turned toward her.

“Would you explain about counting the Naiads?” he asked. Puzzle was trying very hard to make up for his time with the Ape, in part by becoming smarter. Jill had told him many times that all was well now, but he persisted.

“If you like,” she said, “but it isn’t that interesting, and it’s a long explanation.”

“It’s a nice day. I’ll graze and you’ll explain and by the time you’re done, it will be time for you to have dinner.”

“All right, Puzzle, but you have to tell me if you get bored or if you don’t understand.” Puzzle nodded, so Jill began a much-simplified explanation of what it meant to vote and why Eustace thought the Narnians should do it. She’d even explained the concept of voting districts, which was why they had to count Naiads, before Puzzle spoke up.

“I see why a vote would be good,” he started. “Roonwit and Jewel and everyone know ever so much about Narnia and her Birds and Beasts. But I don’t. Surely if I had a vote, I would make another mistake, wouldn’t I?”

Jill stood and patted the Donkey’s mane. “Of course not! That’s part of why you vote, to choose who will go and tell King Tirian if you’re confused about something, so he can send someone back to explain. And then once you understand, you can tell him if you have any ideas about what to do.”

“I don’t have many ideas,” said Puzzle, “and so far I haven’t done very well when people try to explain things to me. Are you sure that I should have a vote? Surely everyone would understand if I didn’t want one.”

“Well, you always have the option not to vote if you don’t want to. But I think your ideas would be very valuable! For instance, you could tell everyone if something odd was happening that they needed to watch out for, so Narnia never has any Calormenes invading again. I suppose that’s why Eustace is so excited about all this,” she said. “Narnia needs a better system of communication.”

“Well, if you think so,” said Puzzle, still looking doubtful. “You know more about it than I do, of course.”

“You know what, Puzzle? I think you should come along when we explain about voting to everyone. A lot of Good Beasts don’t understand why something in a forest far away should matter to them in their meadow, and I think you can teach them why they should pay attention.”

**************************************

Susan collapsed onto a chair on the side of the ballroom. Her eyes were bright, her hair and makeup impeccable, and her dress the height of fashion. Still, Edmund knew his sister and could tell she was tired. She’d been planning this dinner for weeks, and as Peter’s first time hosting a campaign event, it had to be perfect. As far as Edmund could tell, it was. The food was good but not overpriced, the wine was plentiful but low in alcohol, and the seating effortlessly blended posh political types with the people who would actually be Peter’s constituents. In Narnia, Susan had had a housekeeper and a whole team of staff to deal with the little details like fresh flowers while she ensured that no feuding foreign nobles were seated close enough to start a war, but this event she’d organized all by herself.

“It turned out perfectly, Su,” said Edmund. “And Peter stuck to the speech rewrites and didn’t mention this morning’s lead balloon of a policy decision.”

Susan let out a sound that, in a less ladylike person, might have been called a snort. “Can you believe that I actually miss Eustace? For all the trouble he makes knocking things over and having no manners, he really believes in democracy and none of the career politicians have the heart to tell him otherwise. Usually I can send him to run unwitting interference so I can actually do my job. But with him gone until Monday, I’ve had to speak with the polished snobs myself.”

“Su! You should have told me! No one should have to do that alone, I’m happy to take on the slimy political types myself so you can sit down for a bit.”

“Thank you, Ed, but I don’t want them scared off, just delayed.”

“Are you saying I can’t do that?”

“No, I’m saying I do it better,” Susan said primly.

Edmund conceded with a half-smile. “Still, I feel as though I should be helping more,” he said.

“I’ll do my job and you’ll do yours,” Susan replied.

“And Peter shall stand about looking pretty.” This was an old joke between them. When Narnia met with foreign powers, Peter was generally the one invited to shake hands and bow and look regal. Edmund and Lucy had little patience for the trappings of royalty, and Susan dealt with other countries’ intentional snubbing of her power by demonstrating it within whatever women’s sphere she was relegated to for the diplomatic visit. It wasn’t a perfect distribution of responsibility, but it had worked in Narnia and was working in Spare Oom as well.

“When I really need them scared off, I’ll just invite Lucy to one of these formal dinners,” Susan said. “She enjoys that sort of thing, running around barefoot and talking to everyone about everything, especially when she gets to take bigots down a notch.”

“I figure once Peter’s come out against imperialism, she’ll have her day.”

“Quite.”

**************************************

The tour around Narnia to introduce the franchise to the country’s varied residents had, so far, seen mixed results. The Dwarves, both Red and Black, already operated democratically within their clans. The Fauns had a bit more trouble, since if one of them disagreed with the others, he simply went his own way and left the others alone to their decisions. The Herds and Packs would have to be watched, to ensure they didn’t just vote however their leaders did, but they generally understood the idea of voicing their opinions and following the group’s decision.

The solitary animals were more of a problem. Some, like the big Cats and Bears, seemed happy enough to vote on issues they cared about and abstain from all other political participation. This got to Eustace, who believed that everyone should care about every issue because everything impacted everything else. Jill had convinced him to settle for what he could get, because they had a lot of ground to cover and no idea how much time they had to cover it. She’d been right, because the burrowing Beasts, who tended to be more taciturn, were proving stubborn. They were going to drive Eustace mad.

“But no one else will be in your business!” Eustace almost wailed at a mother Shrew. “You get to say what choice you think is best, and so does everyone else, and then whichever choice gets picked by the most Beasts is the one that the king will go with!”

“I’d say it’s my business, if other Birds and Beasts get to choose what things I have to do. No one else gets a say in which seeds I gather or where I make my nest, and I won’t tell them what to do either,” the Shrew grumbled.

“No, no, no one will be telling you what to eat, voting is only for important things like trade decisions and treaties—”

“So my nest isn’t important? It’s not important where I get my food?” the Shrew asked indignantly, her nose quivering. “Well, you can take your ‘lection’ far away from me! I don’t want a lection!”

Eustace opened his mouth, thought better of it, and took in a deep breath. He grimaced—Shrews smelled quite strongly. Jill looked around the clearing for help, and finding none, spoke up.

“Look, friend Shrew, you don’t have to vote for anything if you don’t want to. But if you do, all you’re doing is telling the king and his advisors what you think is best for Narnia. Everyone else gets to tell the king what they think is best too, and then the king will decide what to do,” Jill said in a placating tone. At this point, she just wanted to get Eustace back to the meadow where they were camping with Puzzle and Farsight’s contingent of census-takers.

The Shrew thought for a moment. “Well, if that’s all it is, I’m sure the king will benefit from my instructions,” she said, mollified. “Is there anything else, or can I bring my seeds back my nest now?”

“That’s not exactly what—” Eustace started, but the Shrew was already wandering away.

“Leave it, Eustace,” said Jill. “We’ll take what we can get.”

**************************************

When Eustace and Jill got back from Narnia, they spent the weekend together as originally planned. Eustace took Jill with him to meet the Pevensies, and Jill—with Susan’s guidance—began a highly successful campaign that increased voter participation across Islington. Peter won his seat even after announcing, a bit prematurely by Edmund’s standards, that he supported the Congress of Peoples Against Imperialism.

In the years after the Lord Eustace and the Lady Jill were called back to Spare Oom from Narnia, local elections gained popularity. Poles, as small district councils were called, heard from so many Narnians that the Council of the King’s Vote began to set up regional organizations, called Scrubbs, to do the actual work around organizing and running elections. “Going to the Poles” became a common phrase, used to tell someone to stop complaining and do something about whatever problem they had. As more and more Narnians “went to the Poles,” the country gained a reputation for slow but sharp trade decisions and nuanced policymaking. The reign of King Tirian was long and peaceful, and the Voting Age that began under him was spoken about with the same awe as the Golden Age of the Four.

And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live.