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It is a Terrible Thing to Be Alone


The second time was in Narnia, a handful of years after the coronation. Edmund was a young man, growing into his position and earning the respect of every person he met.

One of these people was Zuhair el-Tahir, a nobleman from Calormen who often accompanied trade delegations and was close with the Calormene ambassador in Narnia. He had an open, friendly face, an eye for art, and a love of philosophical conversations.

He and Edmund would spend hours walking in the gardens together, discussing a wide range of topics. He was keen in a quiet way, soft words piercing to the core of a topic. Edmund loved the way he spoke, his slight accent curling the familiar sounds into something new.

And, of course, Edmund would practise his Calormene as well. Zuhair was a patient teacher, and when he laughed at an oddly constructed sentence, it was a kind laugh.

One day, Edmund returned from one such walk with Zuhair to the sitting room he and his siblings shared.

“And how is Zuhair today?” Susan asked as he came in.

“He is well,” Edmund said, walking over to where she and Lucy sat on the couch having tea. “He told me the most fascinating thing about –”

“You call everything he says fascinating,” Lucy interrupted. She mimicked Edmund, “You won’t believe what Zuhair told me today. That reminds me of something interesting Zuhair said.

“He’s an interesting person, Lu,” Edmunds said rolling his eyes.

“I swear, you spend more time with him than with us,” Lucy said.

“Are we talking about Zuhair again?” Peter asked, entering the room. “Has he replaced me as your brother yet?”

Edmund rolled his eyes again. “You guys are the absolute worst. The one time I actually have a friend and you won’t leave me alone about it.”

“Of course, we’re happy you have a friend,” Susan said in a gentler tone.

“It is, however, our prerogative as your siblings to tease you about it,” Peter added with a grin.

Although he knew what his siblings said was all in good fun, it sometimes made him remember that first year at school. It felt like such a long time ago, but some memories were still clear in his mind.

And the more he thought about it, the more he realized that perhaps what he had felt for Will was similar to his friendship with Zuhair. In fact, he was quite certain that his feelings for him were at least a mix of platonic and romantic – if not more.

Edmund had tried to avoid romance; he considered it distracting from his duties, and besides, it was not like he was lonely, he had his siblings. There had been interested parties, either fathers on behalf of their daughters, or women themselves. He had turned them all down – as kindly as he could.

He was sure they were all very nice and may have made good wives and queens but had just not thought that was what he wanted. He had not felt for them the way he thought he should about a prospective wife

But Zuhair was different. His vibrant formal clothes and light makeup that Calormen sometimes wore at important events would make Edmund’s knees weak. He looked forward to every opportunity to spend time together. Every touch gave him a secret thrill, just as they had so many years ago. But there were more touches now.

Calormenes tended to be more affectionate, more comfortable with physical touch, even between men. Edmund had learned the common greetings; embraces and kisses on the cheek were common.

While it was nice to be able to interact like this with Zuhair, it also complicated things for Edmund. Actions that he would have associated with more romantic feelings did not mean the same in Calormen. He was not sure of Zuhair’s feelings and was afraid that he might someday misinterpret something and not only ruin their friendship, but also throw a wrench into Narnia and Calormen’s relationship.

But even with all these fears – and the vague memories of the apple-cheeked blond boy from his past – Edmund began to suspect that his feelings were not one-sided.

One evening, as they walked on the parapets of Cair Paravel, he was feeling particularly confident and asked, “So, is there any young lady back home anxiously awaiting your return? You have been here for a long time.”

“Are you growing tired of me, Edmund, that you ask me this?” Zuhair said with a smile.

“Of course not, I am merely curious.”

“My father expects me to marry the Tisroc’s grandniece.” Edmund tried to hide his disappointment, but Zuhair continued. “But I have no plans to do so, so I am afraid your majesty will have to tolerate my presence a while longer.”

“Good,” Edmund said. “I quite enjoy tolerating your presence.” He searched Zuhair’s smiling eyes hopefully.

“And you?” Zuhair asked. “I heard the Lord of Muil returned home unsuccessful in obtaining your hand for his daughter. How many is that? Thirty-seven?”

Edmund laughed. “That sounds a bit too high to be correct.”

They stopped at a spot that overlooked the countryside surrounding the castle, all forests and fields and farms.

“Did none of the many, many ladies catch your eye then?” Zuhair asked. “Or were your reasons for refusing political?”

Edmund looked over at him, trying to see if he was asking what he hoped he was. “It was not political,” he said, slowly. “I… I was simply not interested.”

Zuhair nodded, looking at him intently. “It was the same for me back home. Here, as well actually. None of the ladies interested me.”

They were dancing right around it now, and Edmund felt like he could not breathe. He did not want to get his hopes up, but, by the Lion, it seemed quite obvious.

He tried to think of something to say, something charming with a hidden meaning. But his mind was blank, so he quickly cleared his throat. “I should be going. Peter – he uh, wanted to talk to me about… something. I’ll, I’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow.”

And he very nearly ran off, leaving Zuhair standing alone, slightly confused.

Edmund closed his bedroom door behind him, leaning against it. He closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing. But all he saw behind his eyelids was Zuhair looking at him intently, waiting for him to confirm something he had never told anyone, something he had never even said out loud.

He certainly was not ready now, since the mere prospect of telling even his closest friend had sent him running.

Edmund arrived at breakfast the next day to find Zuhair’s chair empty.

Lucy noticed his confused expression. “Zuhair left for Calormen late last night, something urgent apparently. I assumed he’d told you.”

He shook his head. “I suppose he must have been in a hurry.”

“Are you alright, Ed?” Lucy regarded him with concern.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said absently.

“Your Majesty?”

Edmund and Lucy turned to see a pageboy approaching them with an envelope.

“El-Tahir Tarkaan asked me to give this to you at breakfast, King Edmund,” he said.

“Thank you, Leo,” Edmund said, taking the letter. He turned to Lucy. “I had better read this now, my apologies to Peter, Su, and the lords and ladies.”

Lucy nodded and Edmund hurried out of the room. He did not open it until he was safely in his study, with orders to the guards that he remained undisturbed.

Dear Edmund,

I apologize for my hasty departure, but I feared I may have crossed a line with you. I am not normally so frank and straightforward with my feelings. I hope you can forgive me for my lapse in judgment.

I realize that what I implied is not accepted by many, in both of our countries.

If you desire it, we will never see each other again. But I would like to say one last thing: If my assumptions about you were correct, I hope you will be able to someday trust someone with that part of yourself, if not with me then someone else. It is a terrible thing to be alone.

Farewell, my good friend,

Zuhair el-Tahir

Edmund sat back in his chair, tears forming slowly in his eyes. Zuhair’s last sentence had struck him in the core and all that time of hiding, of shame, of loneliness, seemed to suddenly come out into the light. He felt seen in a way he never had before.

He quickly pulled out a piece of paper, a pen, and an inkpot. If he hurried, the letter could catch him before he got to Archenland.

Dear Zuhair,

Please do not apologize for your words. You were correct in your assumption, but I was not quite ready to admit it yet. Perhaps in writing it will be easier.

I want you to be the person I trust this with, so I beg you to please return.

I anxiously await your response, either by letter or in person.

Sincerely yours,

Edmund Pevensie

Letter in hand, he rushed out to find his most trusted messenger. “Go after Zuhair,” he said. “and give him this.” He added, quieter, “I trust your discretion with this message.”

She nodded. “Of course, Your Majesty.” She hurried off toward the stables, nearly running into Peter.

“Ed, there you are!” he exclaimed. “The White Stag has been spotted in Lantern Waste! We’re going out to hunt; the girls are already in the stables!” His eyes shone with excitement.

Edmund nodded. It would probably be good to distract himself from waiting for Zuhair’s response. “Very well, let’s go.”

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