It could not be hugging Horses forever, of course. Susan reluctantly released Leffen’s neck and stepped back, curtseying again to make up for her lack of manners. “My apologies again. Herald Soleck, Companion Leffen, you have a mission for us?”
“I do, yes. The first step of that mission is rest, however, and outfits more suitable for Valdemar. You have come from very far away, I believe, but we wish it not appear such to outsiders. Can you stand a short walk? Perhaps a candlemark?”
Susan could hazard a guess at a “candlemark,” but it did not really matter. She nodded at Peter’s raised eyebrow; she would walk all day if she had to, to be out in nature again, and to be on a mission again.
“We can walk that far,” Peter agreed. “As long as the terrain’s not too harsh.”
“We weren’t planning on being called to a strange land quite at this time,” Edmund offered. “Although I suppose we’re never planning on it, not truly.
“‘He’s not a tame lion,’” Lucy whispered. Susan forbore to comment, as she was still allowing herself some skepticism. It might not be Aslan, after all. He’d said they wouldn’t be allowed back into Narnia. And then to have allowed them into this new, strange world…”
“Leffen can carry two with ease,” Soleck offered, “if the younger two would like to ride, and the rest of us can walk.”
“Oh, could we?” Lucy’s eyes lit up, while Edmund grimaced.
“Let Susan ride with Lu. She’ll enjoy it more, and I don’t really need the ride.”
Susan jutted out her chin. “Oh Edmund, don’t be a pill. Ride with Lu, you know it will make her happy. I’m out of practice riding,” she added smoothly, “and it will hurt less to walk, if I’m being honest.” She watched Soleck curiously. He had defaulted to “the younger two” rather than “the two girls.” She found that very telling about him, at least, and perhaps the world.
Meanwhile, Leffen was laughing in their heads and nuzzling Lucy. ::Someone ride me. This saddle on my back isn’t for decoration, you know. And Edmund? Great kings have deigned to ride Companions before, sometimes even with their little sister.::
Edmund flushed angrily. “It’s not that! But why shouldn’t Susan ride with Lu and I walk? I’m not a cripple, you know!”
“Oh, dear.” Soleck coughed. “Leffen, we have stumbled, I believe, into some sort of cultural difference once again. I apologize, my friends.” He bowed to Edmund. “I meant no offense. Certainly we all believe all of us can walk, yes. But in this land of Valdemar, where we are standing right now—”
Susan stepped in. As much as she was fascinated by what this Herald was saying – or at least what he was implying – she could see that Edmund was not in the mood to be placated. “It’s all right, Soleck. If Leffen does not mind, I’ll ride with Lu.”
There was nothing Edmund could say to that without making himself look more the fool, a tantrum-prone child who hadn’t gotten his way, and it was clear he knew that. He forced a smile. “It’ll do good for you to be on a Horse’s back again, Susan,” he offered.
“It will,” Susan agreed. She swung herself up onto Leffen’s back, regretting her choice of an old dress one more time. It was quite unsuitable – but Herald Soleck did not seem to notice nor mind.
Instead, he was clearing his throat. “Ah. The Companions do not like to be confused with horses. They are quite a different creature, you see.”
::It’s all right, Soleck.:: Leffen nosed his Herald. ::They say “horse” but they are thinking “Horse,” which is quite fascinating. And “Cat.”::
Susan shook her head, as if to get dust out from between her ears. Having someone talk inside her mind was still quite strange. “In Narnia, where we…” She had almost said where we are from. “…were for quite a while, there are many, ah, many Beasts who are every bit as thinking people as human beings are. Horses and Cats…”
“Beavers!” Lucy put in.
“And Wolves,” Edmund added darkly.
::Fascinating.:: Leffen settled into a lazy walk which Soleck, Peter, and Edumund could easily keep up with. ::There are some beast-like things here which are sentient, but only Sun-Cats and Companions take the shape of something also found in a non-sentient form..::
“Other sentient animals?” Lucy pulled herself up straight. “Can we meet them?”
“Lu,” Peter scolded, “we’re on a mission, remember? We can’t go haring off to pet the – ah, to meet the other Animals when we were called here for a reason.”
Before Lucy could deflate, Susan intervened. “Perhaps when our mission is over?” she offered. “Or, Herald Soleck, Companion Leffen, I do not know how things are laid out here. Perhaps sometime on our visit, we could meet one of these Animals?”
::It is possible…:: Leffen began slowly, ::that we might encounter a kyree. Most of the others are far too far away for this particular trip, but I will… that is, we will see what we can do..::
“We will,” Soleck agreed, with solemn humor. “If the four of you can succeed where many others have failed, I believe a social visit is the least of what we will owe you.”
“Honestly, Lu—” Edmund began. Susan erred on the side of rudeness and turned to Soleck before Ed could finish.
“This quest, I don’t believe it’s been explained yet. Do you think you could help us out with that?” She left many things unsaid, like at least if you have a believable story, you’re likely not walking us into a trap and I suppose you must know we can help you, as Aslan sent us to your Firelord, but it would be nice to have some reassurance.
The look Soleck shot her suggested that he could guess at all of her unsaid things and hazard a decent assumption about why she’d spoken when she had, too. The smile made her chest do something strange.
And she wanted to hug him – or give him a job in the court she had once had – when he said none of that at all, nor showed it in his voice.
“Certainly, I can tell you about this mission. I apologize; I was too engrossed in getting you to a place of comfort and proper clothing. This mission, you see, is all about our missing Prince.” He had dropped his voice down into a conversational murmur. “But we cannot allow it to be heard around that he is missing, or people will fret, and perhaps political maneuverings will become… tricky.”
“So,” Peter summed up, just as quietly, “you’re looking for someone you can’t admit is missing, so having outsiders who nobody knows to watch out for look for him is an ideal plan.”
“Exactly.” Soleck beamed happily, his smile just as quickly fading. “However, it is still more complicated, as well.”
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