falling and flying

Caspian woke gently and slowly. The creaking of the ship’s timbers, the rocking of his hammock as the ship tossed in the mild surge, the laughter and shouting of the men up on deck above all merged into a feeling that was soothing as a lullaby.  He had been woken by the shaft of bright sunlight that had crept stealthily around the edge of the rough cloth which was tacked over the windows, a shaft of light which dimmed and brightened with each pitch of the ship, as the window dipped beneath the rolling waves.

Lifting his head carefully (for too many sore heads when he had first moved to this cabin had taught him well the dangers of sitting up too suddenly when sleeping in a hammock), he surveyed the small, dim room. Edmund still lay in his hammock, snoring the genteel snores of one who shares a bedroom, but the narrow bunk bed was empty, the sheets pulled carefully back into place.

Caspian rolled himself out of the netting, landing lightly with the ease of practise. Two months of life aboard the Dawn Treader had given him sea-legs as steady as any hardened captain. Edmund did not stir as he ducked under the younger boy’s sleeping form, padding cat-soft over the creaking boards to the store chest where he kept his clothes.

He pulled on a fresh doublet over his shirt and leggings, a garment richly embroidered and gay with gold thread, yet comfortable as all Narnian clothes were, and left the fusty darkness of the cabin. He stepped agilely from bench to bench, fastening his top as he went, making his way quickly through the sun-striped darkness of the hold towards the hatch.

The sea air struck him like spray as his head appeared above the level of the deck, and the smile on his lips was instantaneous. There were few things more delicious on a fine sunny morning that the taste of fresh salt breeze after the musky, dust and bacon scented dimness of the lower deck. He drank it down like sweet wine.

“Good morning to you, Sire,” said Drinian in the deep seaman’s burr that Caspian would wager would never fade entirely, no matter what exalted company he might keep. He offered the young king his hand, and Caspian took it as he scrambled up onto deck. “We’ve a fair following wind from the north-west, and she’s doing a steady five knots. No sign of land as yet, but we’re not so far out from Dragon Island that we should be expecting it. The new mast – “

“What time is it?” asked Caspian, cutting across the middle of the Captain’s conscientious report. It didn’t matter much to him what speed they were making, or even on what bearing, so long as they were heading vaguely eastward and the day felt as joyful as today did.

“Past nine o’clock, sire,” said Drinian, patiently translating the nautical language of bells and watches into terms his liege would easily understand. Caspian, in his private view, had the makings of an excellent sailor but not the application for it.

“You should have woken me sooner,” said Caspian, though without recrimination.

“There was no need, sire,” said Drinian. “It’s no job at all to handle the ship in weather like this.”

“Then you should have woken me just for the sake of enjoying this beautiful morning,” Caspian smiled, stretching luxuriantly to work the kinks out of his hammock-shaped spine.

“I’ll be sure to remember that next time, sire,” said Drinian stonily. Caspian laughed.

“Have you seen Lord Eustace this morning?” he asked, glancing around the deck. “Is he already sniffing round the galley for his breakfast?”

“He was up not ten minutes before you,” Drinian answered, craning his neck back and shielding his eyes from the morning sun as he looked up into the rigging around the main mast. “He went aloft, without more than a ‘good morning’ – though he did say that much, which is better than he’d have done before.”

“Getting up at this time of the morning is better than before, too,” observed Caspian, squinting up into the glare. “Maybe he really has turned over a new leaf…”

“He’s been up there a fair long time though,” said Drinian. “And he was none too partial to climbing the rigging when he first came aboard.”

Caspian frowned, cupping his hands around his eyes to protect them from the glare. There was someone standing on the spar, just below the level of the fighting top, standing very still and statue-like, dark against the bright sunshine.

“I think I’ll go up as well,” he said slowly, still looking upwards. “Someone should tell him it’s time for breakfast.”

“Very good, sire,” said Drinian, and Caspian wondered not for the first time whether his captain was only too pleased to get him out from under his feet once in a while. But the morning was too lovely to harbour anything darker than rueful amusement at that, especially when Caspian swung himself up into the ropes, climbing with the ease and grace of an acrobat, stockinged feet finding easy purchase on the cords. The movement of the ship did not alarm him at all, even when it made his make-shift ladder sway out over the rail so that he could looks straight down into the sparkling blue below him. The sun was warm on his back, and the wind plucked teasingly at his fair curls.

He soon pulled himself up to sit on the spar, and looked down briefly over the full-bellied curve of the purple sail which hung suspended from it. The deck seemed a long way away, over which the sailors scurried like mice on the grain-room floor.

Eustace – for Caspian could see now for certain that it was him – stood just on the far-side of the mast from where Caspian sat. He was standing as motionless as was possible, his feet on the spar and his hands holding onto the guide rope which ran parallel to it, a support for the sailors when they had to work on the sails in rougher weather. No real seaman would need to use it in weather as balmy as this, but Eustace was certainly no real seaman.

Caspian leaned forward to look more closely, and frowned. He couldn’t see the younger boy’s face, but his hands were clenched so tight around the rope that the knuckles were bloodless. What on earth was he doing just standing up here?

Caspian pulled himself carefully to his feet, and walked delicately across the spar, one hand on the rope to balance himself.

“Eustace?” he called above the whistling wind, which seemed to be trying to pluck the words out of his very mouth. “Are you quite well?”

“I’m fine,” came the snapped reply as he edged around the masthead. “Leave me alone.”

Caspian was a touch taken aback. That prickly reception was rather too much like the old, pre-dragon Eustace for comfort. “What are you doing up here?” he pressed.

“Minding my own business,” said Eustace waspishly. Caspian was almost beginning to feel a little annoyed – what right had this boy to speak so to a king of Narnia, especially one who was only trying to help him? – when he noticed quite how strained the boy’s voice sounded. There was something high-pitched and childish about it that smelled of fear.

He noticed again how rigidly Eustace’s arms were locked into their place, and now for the first time he was close enough to see his eyes, wide and staring straight downwards, to where alternately the deck and the waves dropped away below their feet.

Eustace jumped like a shot rabbit when Caspian’s hand closed warm over his own, which was chilled and clenched rigid over the rope. His eyes snapped up from the depths below him and met Caspian’s sympathetic gaze. They were unnaturally wide, with whites showing almost all round the iris and the pupil the smallest pinpoint of black in the centre. He looked very pale, and his lips were bloodless.

“Come on,” said Caspian, able to speak much more softly now that he was closer. “Let’s get back down to the deck.”

Eustace stared at him blankly for a second, then glanced back downwards. If anything, he went even paler.

Caspian had heard King Edmund and Queen Lucy use the phrase ‘a blue funk’ before, but now he suddenly felt that he understood what they meant.

“Come on, Eustace,” he said, as quietly as he could over the breeze which whipped around then. He rather got the feeling that Eustace would have flinched away if he hadn’t been frozen into stillness. Caspian edged very slowly towards the younger boy, making no sudden movements, as if trying to steal up on a nervous colt that hadn’t been broken to the bridle yet. The voice was his horse-coaxing voice too, all honey-smooth tones and gentled consonants. “Just hold on to my hand, and I’ll call Drinian – “

“No!” Eustace gasped, fixing Caspian with wild eyes. “Don’t.”

“All right, I won’t,” Caspian soothed. “Just – let me help you down to the deck.”

“No,” said Eustace. “Not down.”

“I – “

“I want to go up to the top,” said Eustace, and Caspian could hear a hint of his usual stubbornness even behind the quavering of his voice, could see it even in the terrible paleness of his face.

“Eustace, why – “

“Please!”

Caspian blinked, and then looked up at the fighting top, a few feet above their heads. The Dawn Treader was such a small boat that the fighting top was set only a little higher than the mainsail. It wasn’t a difficult climb for Caspian himself, but it would be rather more difficult trying to negotiate his friend over the swaying ropes.

Still, it would probably prove easier than getting him down to the deck immediately, and at least getting him up to the narrow platform would give him space to sit Eustace down safely and calm him down…

And better that than have him fall off the spar, Caspian reflected.

“All right,” he agreed. “Now look at me, Eustace. Just look at me.”

“I am looking,” Eustace snapped, but his eyes were too fearful for Caspian to take any offence.

“Then just move a little towards me…”

Slowly, painstakingly, inch by inch, Caspian guided Eustace along the spar to the main-mast, and then up onto the rope ladder which ran up the last feet of the mast. He kept the steadying clasp on the boy’s hand as long as he could, and the moment Eustace was forced to relinquish his death-grip on the guide rope he clutched at Caspian’s hand with clammy fingers.

The king coaxed Eustace up onto the ladder ahead of him, reassuring him with a nod and a smile when Eustace cast him a last terrified look. He kept close at Eustace’s heels as he climbed snail-slow up the unstable path, calling encouragements up to him and hoping fervently that he wouldn’t miss his footing on the rigging and come tumbling down on top of him.  

After several minutes that seemed to stretch tensely for several hours, they both pulled themselves up through the gap that let the ladder run up and gave access to the crow’s nest. Caspian leaned over the edge of the rail, catching his breath and calming his heartbeat. He glanced over at Eustace, who was sitting with his back to the mast, eyes closed and knees drawn up protectively. His face was an unpleasant greyish colour and his breath was coming in gasping pants.

Caspian turned away again, tactfully.

“Seasickness is hateful,” he said diffidently, a few minutes later.

He heard a slightly shaky laugh behind him, and looked round. Eustace had regained a little colour, but wasn’t showing any sign of standing up. “Do you know, I’d forgotten I ever got seasick. That cordial of Lucy’s may taste horrid, but it seems to work.”

“Then – what *is* the matter?”

Eustace looked down at his hands, clasped about his knees, and then looked up to meet Caspian’s eyes with an odd sort of fierceness. “Do you promise you won’t tell the others – I mean, Edmund and Lucy in particular?”

“If that’s what you want,” said Caspian, taken aback. He hadn’t thought that the younger boy was much given to confidences, especially to sharing them with him.

Eustace’s eyes dropped to his clenched hands again. He was knotting his fingers together. “I – I’m scared of heights. I always have been.” He laughed, shortly and shrilly. “I don’t even like sleeping on the top bunk in school. Silly, isn’t it?”

Caspian smiled with the ease of someone who had never suffered from a phobia in his life. He had feared it was something serious. “But Eustace, that’s nothing to be ashamed of – “

“Isn’t it?” Eustace broke in. “The others all think I’m enough of a coward already.”

“I’m sure they don’t,” the King reassured him. “And fear of heights isn’t like – like running away in a battle. It’s not something you can do anything about. They wouldn’t think any the worse of you for it.”

Though of course, he could hardly give proof of that as far as most of the crew were concerned. Eustace had displayed no conspicuous valour in arms or bravery against the elements on board ship. He had distinguished himself largely by complaining, and the memory of the theft of their precious drinking water would rankle in the men’s minds for a long time. Though Caspian and the other two young monarchs had come to realise just how much he had changed in the last week, it would not be so obvious to the ordinary seamen, who spent no time with the boy.

“Maybe they wouldn’t think any worse of *you*,” said Eustace a trifle bitterly, as if following Caspian’s train of thought. “But I know I was pretty awful when I got here.” He ducked his head. “I – I’ve really been trying to change. I have. But I’m sure Edmund and Lucy would still tease me about it.” Another of those short, nervous laughs as he looked up again. “It’s such a silly thing to be afraid of anyway.”

“Why do you think that?” asked Caspian, curiously.

“I – when I was little, I used to be scared of lots of things.” Eustace spoke awkwardly, as though he was telling a story but wasn’t used to telling them “I was afraid of the dark, and I was afraid of water (which is why I’m such a hopeless swimmer, if you were wondering), and I was afraid of doing sports in school. And Alberta – that’s my mother, you know – she didn’t try to tell me off for it or anything. She said being afraid of the dark was a perfectly healthy reflection of not wanting to be attacked by criminals, and that being afraid of water was a perfectly natural reaction to not wanting to drown, and that being afraid of sports was a very sensible defence against all these rough team games that schools will insist on teaching us.”

“I see.” Privately, Caspian didn’t really see, as he had always loved walks in the dark, and swimming in rivers, and though he’d never played team games he had rather enjoyed learning to ride and to fight. Still, he was starting to see how Eustace could have ended up as unpleasant as he had been at the start of the voyage.

“But when she found out I was afraid of heights – well, that was different, somehow. She couldn’t understand how anyone could be afraid of heights.” Eustace’s eyes, Caspian noticed, never looked out to the ship beyond the tiny circle of the crow’s nest. He stared down at the boards, and hardly seemed to notice Caspian gazing at him as he leaned back against the rail. “She always said that if someone took sensible enough precautions there was no real chance of falling, and in which case what was the point of being afraid? I couldn’t explain that it didn’t matter how many precautions I took, I still *knew* I was going to fall – “ Eustace broke off, and Caspian noticed he was getting the same pale, pinched look as he had on the rigging.  He smiled, shakily. “Which makes it rather funny, that I’m not really afraid of the other things any more, but I’m still scared of heights. I’ve tried to hide it, but…”

“But – Aslan’s mane, Eustace!” exclaimed Caspian softly, crouching down so he was closer to the other boy. “If that’s the case, what were you doing up on the rigging in the first place?”

Eustace’s gaze flickered briefly up from the planks, caught a glimpse of the distant ocean, and snapped across quickly to seize on Caspian’s face. “Do you remember when I was a dragon, and I was trying to write what had happened in the sand, and making a pretty rotten job of it too?”

Caspian nodded. “I remember.”

“I couldn’t write properly because dragons aren’t designed for writing. Their bodies just don’t work like that.” Eustace paused for a second, and the tail end of a smile caught his lips. “I know what dragons were designed for. Because when I was flying – I wasn’t afraid of heights any more. I knew there was no way I could possibly fall. It was easier than walking – certainly easier than walking as a dragon, and probably easier than walking as a human too. It just felt *right*. And when you look down, and the sea and the land are spread out underneath you like the biggest most beautiful map ever drawn – “ Eustace stopped for breath. There had been a passion and a joy in his voice that Caspian wasn’t certain he’d ever heard there before.

Then his gaze dropped back to his hands, as though, embarrassed, he had noticed his own unguarded enthusiasm. “I – I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been trying to change recently – since I was a dragon. I just realised what an idiot I’d been, and that all I really wanted was to be back with you and Edmund and the others and have a second chance. I just wondered – I thought that if I could climb all the way up here, it’d be proof of how much I’d changed.” He huffed a breath that was trying to be a laugh, and the smile on his lips wasn’t joyful any more. “I suppose I haven’t changed as much as I thought.”

“Eustace…” said Caspian, then paused, at a loss. Of all the silly ideas… “You didn’t need to climb all the way up here to prove to anyone that you’ve changed. You could have asked your cousins, or Drinian, or Reep - they’ve all noticed.” Very lightly, he touched Eustace’s shirtsleeve, making him look up again. He smiled. “You could have asked me.”

Eustace’s eyes widened a fraction. “Really?” he said, slightly disbelieving – not that he could have asked Caspian or the others, but that they were so very certain of his transformation.

“Really,” Caspian reassured him. “Even if you are still afraid of heights – in everything that matters, you’ve changed a lot.”

Eustace stared at him, as though trying to judge his truthfulness from his face. Caspian met his gaze squarely, willing the younger boy to believe him.

Then Eustace gave an awkward, lop-sided smile. “Thanks, Caspian.”

Caspian returned the smile, and rose to his feet. The hand that had rested against Eustace’s sleeve was held out in invitation. “Do you think you can come and stand here with me for a moment?”

“I – “ For a second, the grey fear was back in Eustace’s eyes, but Caspian saw him swallow firmly and the stubborn set return to his jaw. “Yes.”

Eustace’s hand was still very cold as he clasped Caspian’s and allowed him to pull him to his feet, but his grip was firm. It was the matter only of half a step to bring him to the rail.

“Don’t look down,” said Caspian quickly, as Eustace stood close at his side against the small circuit of the guardrail and glanced downwards, just once, at the deck as it swung away from beneath their feet. He went rather pale again, but followed Caspian’s command. “Just look out. Just smell the sunshine and feel the wind.”

The crow’s nest swayed more than any other part of the ship, even in this calm weather, but if one allowed oneself to become accustomed to its movement it became as comfortable as the rise and fall of a horse’s back as one cantered through grassy meadows. Here, every scrap of breeze seemed to be magnified, every ray of sunlight brighter and warmer.

Eustace pressed close against his side, needing the solidity of the human contact, but his face was turned to the morning sun and the breeze, and the wind whipped his fair hair about his forehead.

“Well?” said Caspian, leaning close with a smile. “Does this feel a bit like flying?”

Eustace turned to him, with a smile that echoed remembered joy. “A bit.”

They stood up on the ship’s top for a good time, under their cheeks were stung red with the breeze and their eyes watered, and they could neither of them stop smiling. But at last, Caspian sighed with resignation, and pushed himself more upright, taking Eustace’s arm and steering him towards the mainmast.

Eustace cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at him

“Well, if we want any breakfast at all, we shall have to get down to the galley before your royal cousins wolf the lot,” said Caspian.