Chapter 7 - The Knowledge of April: The Trip Home
As they boarded the train, Peter found seats for them, an impressive feat. In these times of war the trains were always full. Once settled in their seats, April sighed. It had been a long week of intense end-term exams. Their meals had been staggered and she hadn’t seen Peter for more than a moment in passing since the night of the dance. He looked at her and smiled. She took his hand and leaned her head against his shoulder. She was so tired. He looked down at her and with a finger traced her delicate brow, the shape of her jaw.
"We are going to have to be careful, you know," Peter murmured. At her confused look he asked, "Do you feel different after that night, after...what we shared?"
She nodded slowly realizing that she did feel different with and towards him.
He said, "Me too. I feel like that kiss awakened something inside of me. When I see you I want to kiss you as I did then. We might be spending quite a bit of time alone together this week and, well, I just want to make sure we don't go too fast."
"I agree, Peter. We need to be smart.”
He kissed her fingers gently then gave them a squeeze. Changing the subject, he said softly, “I am really looking forward to getting to know your family and I can’t wait to look at the books about Narnia.”
"Peter, there is something we should talk about before we get there.” She paused as a look of concern crossed his face. “Oh, everything will be okay. I just wanted to warn you that the subject of Narnia is forbidden in my home.”
“How can that be? I mean with the book, the journal, your grandmother…” Peter trailed off.
“It is my father’s rule and he is very strict about it. He thought my grandmother was half looney and merely tolerated her since she was his mother-in-law. He thinks they are all fanciful stories meant to distract from real life and honest work. If he were to realize, that you not only believed they were real, but claimed to have lived there, well, let’s just say I don’t think you would be welcome back. And that, would break my heart.”
He squeezed her hand. “I am so good at keeping that secret. You don’t have to worry about me talking about it.”
“It is not your talking about it that I am worried about. I know how good you all are at staying quiet. It is what you may see or feel or notice that may take you by surprise and you may inadvertently reveal your true feelings. My dilemma is that I cannot warn you about all of those things. You must experience them for yourself. You must also remember that my mother knows about the stories and your connection to them.”
“I’m sure I will be able to handle anything that comes my way,” he said with a note of pride.
She wondered at that. Pride really could be one of his weaknesses. Well, not much could be helped by worrying about what may come.
She changed the subject to school to get them back onto neutral ground. After speaking of exams and classes and such she was ready to get an answer to an important question on a subject they had not yet talked about.
“Peter, do you believe in Aslan?”
He looked shocked and then thoughtful. He seemed to choose his words carefully and then answered quickly. “Of course, I believe in Aslan. How could I not? He helped us, saved our lives many times. He sacrificed himself for Edmund, and came back from the dead.”
“Yes, but is He real to you?”
Peter thought about that for a moment and said, “Yes, Aslan has helped me in a real way the last few months. It just took a long time for me to ask for help. I do that a lot, feel like I can handle life on my own, not needing help. It usually just makes me miserable, or gets me into trouble.”
"All I know is what was in the book. You met Him, walked and talked with Him. Tell me more, please."
Peter lowered his voice and leaned his head closer to hers so they would not be overheard. "Aslan is The Great Lion who created and is the one true king of Narnia. He protects it with a fierce and constant love. He is the son of the 'Emperor-over-the-sea'. He inspired a reverential fear in all of us, even those who were with the witch. He is both good and terrible at the same time. *
Peter thought for a moment more, then continued, “You know, Lucy has always been the one to see Him, the first to trust Him, and to pursue Him while the rest of us waited for Him come to us. I wonder if we can pursue Him here? What do you think? Do you believe?”
“I think I do. When I thought the stories were just stories I longed for Him to be real. To have a presence like that in this world would be wonderful. Since I know the stories are real now, I have been thinking a lot lately wondering how one finds Him here. How would one get to know Him?”
“I don’t know April. Do you think your Grandmother’s journal will have the answers for us?”
“I do hope so Peter. I have felt different since that night on the stage and I am hoping there will be something in there about it.”
Peter seemed surprised, “You haven’t mentioned that, what is going on?”
“When I was dancing that night, not knowing anyone was watching, I felt something break free inside of me, in a good way. It was like I was so totally free in my movements that I could go anywhere. Where I wanted to go most is where Aslan was. Does that sound completely looney?”
“No,” he said. “There is something I have been wanting to talk with you about too. It is one of the reasons I was so excited when you asked me to come. But, I think that conversation will be best saved for later. I do have the feeling that our questions may be answered on this trip. Speaking of which, I think we are here.”
“Welcome to Sway,” she said. “What do you think?”
“It’s quite nice, like we stepped back in time a bit.” Peter said, carrying their bags.
April looked around. It was good to be home. She had missed it more than she realized. She looked up the street. It looked like a photo from a tourism magazine. Two-story tudor style shops were all lined up next to each other. Flower baskets were attached to the windows and hanging from the lamp posts. Bicycles and a few autos were moving slowly up and down the main street. People were calling to each other with friendly greetings. The smell of fresh baked bread wafted down the road.
“I’m afraid it is a bit of a walk. Our home is next to the forest. I’ll tell you some history along the way. Sway is a settlement of Anglo-Saxon origin, and its name, from the Old English name ‘Svieia’, means ‘noisy stream’ talking probably of the Avon Water, the river that flows through Hampshire, our county. It was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 which is a manuscript record of the ‘Great Survey’ of much of England completed by order of King William the Conqueror. We have a long history.”
He looked at her curiously. She laughed, “I know, I sound like a tour guide. Well, I was one. It helped me earn the money to go to Saint Finbar’s."
”There is it, home sweet home.” She pointed to a small cottage at the end of a lane with the forest indeed behind it. The sun was starting to set and the sky was awash with color. It was very quaint and historic looking and she hoped he would not mind the 'historic' features of the cottage too much. She guessed it was different than what he was used to.
She saw Peter studying the house, and wondered what he was thinking. Truly a cottage it was. Almost two stories, it was whitewashed with tiny windows. One might expect to see a thatched roof and smoke from a peat fire streaming out of the chimney. It had been modernized though, the roof was slate and it had central heat at least. The most striking feature was the gardens. Lined with a low solid whitewashed fence, the flower gardens were in full bloom and beautiful. The vegetable garden along the side and back of the house fed them for most of the year. Her father would always say the flower garden was unnecessary. Her mother was quick to remind him that the flowers were carefully chosen and placed to keep the marauding insects away from the vegetables. But, they all knew the gardens were her mother's solace. The thing that gave her purpose and hope.
He stepped up beside her and put a hand lightly on her back. She looked up at him.
"Amazing!" he said. Your home is very beautiful. It suits you. I'm guessing your mother does the gardens?" At April's nod he continued, "She is very talented."
She was about to respond when the door of the cottage flew open and out ran her sister Elisa. Full tilt she came to April for a hug and then shyly turned to Peter and said, “Welcome! Mother says for you to come in, supper is almost on the table.”
April looked at Peter's face. A look of nervousness crossed it and then changed quickly to a look of resolve and his eyes had a steely look in them.
"You look like you are getting ready to do battle," she whispered.
He glanced at her surprised and forced a smile, "Am I?"
"It's going to be fine," she insisted. "Let's go in."
The door frame was very low, April told Peter to watch his head. They entered into a living area. It was dim inside being late afternoon. The electric wiring was old and could not support many outlets, so they relied on candles quite a bit during the evenings. Mirror lined sconces were on every wall and beside the door. The furniture was old and worn, but had been tastefully covered with matching fabrics that coordinated with the small curtains that fluttered in the slight breeze coming in through the open windows. One side of the room was almost completely taken up with a cupboard like bookcase with drawers and openings in odd places. It looked very old and yet was artfully carved and stained with a color to draw out the richness of the wood.
Miranda poked her head around the corner that led to the adjoining kitchen. Wiping her hands on her apron she came rushing to April.
"Oh, I am so glad you are home," Miranda exclaimed giving her a huge hug. She turned to Peter.
"Nice to see you again Mrs. Treed," he said putting out his hand. She grasped his hand with both of hers.
"It is truly a pleasure to have you here," she replied. "April, the light is going quickly. Would you be a dear and light the candles please?"
April walked around the room lighting the beeswax candles. “My mom keeps beehives out back. She makes these candles."
Peter seemed impressed. He was wandering around the small room stopping to look at the bookcase. "This is great craftsmanship."
She smiled, a nervous smile. As she lit the last candle, the room was indeed much brighter. She noticed his attention turn to the two oil paintings on the wall. She watched closely for his reaction. She was not disappointed.
Peter gasped and staggered backwards bumping into the couch and sitting down. His mouth was wide open he was incredulous. "Wh…what! H…How...?" he stammered.
'I'm home," said a booming voice.
April cringed. He father was home! Would Peter recover in time?
Peter jumped off the couch and came over to greet April's father, but the damage had been done. He had seen his reaction to the paintings and was looking critically at Peter.
"What's wrong with you?” he demanded.
Peter was still speechless. April was astounded. Beyond the first day that she met him, he had never been at a loss for words. Suave and comfortable in most situations, especially with adults, this was most disheartening.
Peter recovered somewhat and put out his hand. "Nice to see you again, sir. I was just admiring the paintings, they look very old. We are studying how to determine the age of paintings in my Art History course."
But Mr. Treed was watching him closely. He pressed his lips together tightly, raised his head and said, "Art History? Is that what they are teaching you all in those schools? How on earth is that going to help you in the real world?! Humph!" And he walked into the kitchen.
Miranda shot Peter an apologetic look, but Peter didn't see it. He was glaring at the paintings and then at April. Miranda discreetly disappeared.
"These are paintings of…you know where! How could you not tell me about something like this?" he hissed accusing April in the harshest voice she had ever heard him use. "I looked like a complete idiot, no I was a complete idiot! How on earth am I going to repair this impression with your father?"
April got angry too, "I did warn you on the train. This wasn't something I planned. I didn't know he was going to come in at the wrong moment. I thought it would be a great surprise for you."
April's father appeared in the doorway with a disapproving look on this face. "If you two are done arguing, it's time to eat."
The meal was silent and strained. Elisa, oblivious to the tension, chattered on about her friends and her school. As the meal came to a close, Peter cleared his throat.
"Mr. and Mrs. Treed, April, I owe you all an apology. I should not have lost my temper. I'm know my pride ran away with me. I wanted to make a good impression...."
Mr. Treed broke in, "And, how did that work out for you?" he asked sarcastically.
"Daddy!" April exclaimed.
Mr. Treed left the table. "Thanks for the food Miranda."
Miranda apologized, "Peter, you will have to excuse my husband. He works very long hours at a difficult job and he has no tolerance for…" She paused, darting a look at Elisa, “N-things. He is very perceptive and I'm afraid he saw your reaction to the paintings and now knows you are connected to the legends somehow. April, why don’t you and Peter get settled in? The linens to make up the couch for Peter’s bed are upstairs. Elisa and I will take care of things here in the kitchen."
As they entered the living area they noticed their bags sitting on the floor. April asked Peter to bring her bag and they traveled up the narrow enclosed staircase to a second floor of sorts. It could have been an attic, but instead served as the girls’ bedroom. One long room with the ceiling lower in some places, it had two beds, two bookcases and a dressing table. April gathered the linens she needed from a wardrobe and they went back downstairs.
As April worked on the couch, Peter studied the pictures. “These are amazing,” he said. “The views are exactly as I remember them. This one is of the Fords of Beruna where we fought the battles and the other is of the River Rush and the gorge we traveled through. To think, I have been longing to see the Narnian landscape just one more time, and you got to see it every day when you were growing up. It's simply smashing! Any idea how they came to be here?”
He came over and stood near her. April shook her head no and said, “I’m sorry for not warning you about them. I did want them to be a surprise.”
He chuckled, “Well, they certainly were that. I’m the one who is sorry though. I had no cause to speak to you like that. She turned and took his hands.
“If you and I are going to last, we must get used to having spats,” she smiled.
There was a strange sound from outside and before either of them knew what was happening a flash of orange flew in through the open window right above the couch. It ran screeching across their arms and pushed April off balance. She fell over and back onto the couch. Peter, trying to keep his balance while still holding her hands, got tangled in the blankets pooled on the floor and fell over on top of her. By this point they were trying to figure out what had happened and were laughing and saying 'ouch' at the same time. Their arms were all scratched up. Meanwhile the orange flash was really the neighbor’s cat who was trying to catch a mouse that came through their window. With the cat yowling and Peter and April trying to untangle themselves from each other, April’s family appeared in the doorway.
“What is going on here?” demanded her father.
Peter groaned, he knew what it looked like…
April gasped, “Daddy, it is not what you think.”
Elisa cried, “Polly!” and scooped up the cat. They climbed off the couch and showed their scratched arms. Elisa admitted stacking some boxes near the window while playing outside earlier and that is how both cat and mouse got into the house. Miranda asked Elisa to take Polly, who still had the caught mouse in her mouth, home. April’s father, his face like a thundercloud, stomped off with milk pails in his hands.
Peter looked inquisitively at April.
"He’s gone out to the stable. He always does the milking and settles the animals in the evenings."
“I must go and talk with him,” Peter declared. “Do I get out through the kitchen?”
April touched his arm and looked solemnly at him. Her heart was in her throat as she watched Peter go out the back door. She so wanted him to get along well with her father. They both had known that this would be a challenging part of the trip. She was proud that he went to face it head on. He really was one to meet conflict rather than run from it.
Peter walked slowly down the path to the stable going over in his head the right way to approach the situation. He had encountered many hostile persons during his time as High King and learned enough to write a book on negotiations and diplomacy. First, he needed to be calm, so he took a few deep breaths to try to stop his pounding heart. Second, he must put aside his own agenda. Third, think of the issue from Mr. Treed’s perspective. That was a bit harder. He began to imagine what it would be like to have a teenage daughter and her bring a boy home who behaved like an idiot. He chuckled to himself as he though about the day. Now, how to begin on neutral ground? He needed to take the emotion out of the situation. Men just didn’t do well when emotion was part of the conflict.
He opened the door to the stable, it was dim inside but he could see well enough the pens for a pair of dairy cows, two pigs, and a sheep. Some chickens were running around pecking after the seed that had just been thrown to them.
“What do you want?” asked Mr. Treed gruffly.
“I came to see if I could help, sir.” Peter said respectfully.
“I don’t suppose you can you milk a cow?” nodding to the milk stool next to the nearest cow.
Peter was relieved to be able to answer, “Yes. Three summers ago, at the beginning of the war, my parents began their war work assignments and we lived with some distant cousins who had a farm.” While he spoke, Peter greeted the cow, ran a hand over her side then deftly grabbed some fresh straw and rubbed her udder clean. Taking a seat, he began to milk the cow with a practiced hand.
Mr. Treed nodded and went to the other cow. Neutral ground achieved. They worked in silence for a moment then Peter ventured to say. “I’ve properly bodged things up today.”
Mr. Treed chuckled and said, “Yes. You have stepped in more manure this evening than we have in this entire stable.”
Peter had to laugh at that and it broke the tension. “I want you to know sir, that I meant you or your family no disrespect. I care very deeply for your daughter and I know we are both very young. So, it is important to me that I get on well with her family. I would like to finish this visit. But, I will understand if you would rather me leave.”
Peter checked off the rest of his mental list, apology complete, humble stance taken, and request presented. Now, it was up to April’s father to accept him or ship him back to London. His heart racing in the ensuing silence, he had the thought that Aslan’s help would be really handy right now.
Mr. Treed was looking carefully at him. “Apology accepted, and you can stay, on one condition. You will guarantee me that you will respect my daughter in every way possible, especially physically.”
Pretty good terms, Peter thought. “Sir, everything that you saw today was completely out of character for me. Respect for April is one of my top priorities.” He breathed a sigh of relief and was about to congratulate himself when he heard the next thing Mr. Treed said. He nearly fell off the milking stool.
Mr. Treed had gotten up to come and stand near him. “Now, that we have taken care of all that business. Why don’t you tell me who you really are!”
Peter was astounded. What on earth did he mean? His face must have shown his question and confusion, for Mr. Treed continued.
“How old are you son, fifteen?” Peter nodded. “You talk and act more like a thirty year old. No teenage boy I know would have the nerve to come out here after the rough treatment I gave you and apologize, much less use diplomacy skills like that. I may work with my hands in a stone mill but, I have been a supervisor of men for the last fifteen years. I have seen and worked through all sorts of conflicts. I know the types of men there are. You don’t fit any type, boy or man that I have met. So, I ask you again…who are you?”
Peter was at a complete loss, he started talking about being the eldest, taking care of his siblings during the war, being in boarding school since the age of nine. Mr. Treed merely tolerated his speech.
“That takes care of about half the answer. I know what those paintings are and where they came from. I have barely tolerated them hanging on our walls. They are there only because my wife likes them. What I want to know is how do you know? And, are you really here for my daughter or do you have another motive?!” As Peter opened his mouth to respond he heard Mr. Treed say, “Don’t you dare lie to me.”
Peter was stuck. Could he keep the pact with his siblings and yet not lie? Did the secrecy pact even apply in this situation since the Treed’s already knew about Narnia? He would have to try the truth. But, first he had to defuse the man’s temper.
“Sir, as I mentioned before, April is my first priority. She asked me that same question, so you have nothing to worry about. Although I am curious about....things, I am here to spend time with April. And…you’re right sir. Those paintings are familiar to me and my art history comment from earlier was inane at best. I also agree with you. Art history really has no value in a working man's world.”
Peter took a deep breath and continued, “I know those paintings because I have been there. I fought battles at and near those places, the first was two years ago as a Prince of Narnia after which I reigned as High King for fifteen years. The second one was a year later where I was called in to help the current prince regain the throne of Narnia. You may not believe me sir, but I am telling you the truth. Time in Narnia exists apart from time here. When you come back it is as if you have never left. Also, I am very secretive about this. My own parents don’t even know. In fact, you are now one of eight people who do know about my time in Narnia.”
Peter paused for a moment to see what affect his words were having. Mr. Treed looked puzzled and unsure.
He asked, “And April believes all of this?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Peter.
Mr. Treed swore under his breath. “I have always thought this Narnian stuff was nonsense, and it may still be. However, the way you act, proves you have been through things that would mature you way past your age, and battles would be the thing to do it. Let’s just leave it at this, I believe that you believe. I still don’t want Elisa to hear any of this and it is not to be spoken of in my presence nor out in the town. I have to protect my family!”
Peter nodded in agreement. He breathed deep in relief. Knowing how Mr. Treed felt and that he already knew about Narnia, Peter felt sure he would keep the secret. Peter also had, on purpose, not mentioned his siblings.
Picking up the milk pails, Mr. Treed said, “Now, let’s get back to the house before my daughter accuses me of feeding you to the livestock.”