Chapter Four: In which we learn a bit more about Christopher

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You may remember that this story is about three people. Arnesse and Claralinda are two of themand as you are fairly well acquainted with them it is time to take a closer look at the third person, Christopher.

Christopher was the eldest son of King Perseus and Queen Andromeda of Utrecht. He had two younger brothers, Albertus and Armand, who he loved dearly even if they were hugely annoying almost all the time. It was because he loved his family so much, and because his parents had taught him well to always do the right thing that a great many things in this story come to pass.

Christopher had, like a great many princes, been educated through various tutors hired by his parents to teach him the many things that a Crown Prince ought to know. Not surprisingly, there were some of these tutors that Christopher liked and others that he didn't, but the one he liked best was Professor Atherton. Professor Atheron had a round face and twinkling eyes behind a pair of very large, round spectacles. At first glance he reminded you of someone's jolly uncle, or perhaps what Father Christmas would have looked like when he was younger. But if you started to speak to him, his appearance pushed these thoughts right out of your head and replaced them with the realization that not only was Professor Atherton an academic genius, but he was also in full possession of his faculties when it came to common sense and practicality. He was, as the saying goes, both book smart and street smart.

It was because Professor Atherton was so capable that he was permitted to take Christopher, Albertus and Armand on an educational trip to the forest that formed the border between Utrecht and Villanova. The forest was full of all sorts of interesting and educational things, according to Professor Atherton, and when he said this he was not just referring to the ordinary flora and fauna. The trip to the forest was indeed interesting and educational. Unfortunately it ended up being the unpleasant sort of interesting and educational that most people will go out of their way to avoid. 

It started out all right, these things always do. Professor Atherton and the three young princes set out from the castle accompanied by two guards and a pack horse and made for the forest. There was a great deal of effort made on the part of the guards and the good professor to impress upon the boys the importance of two very key things: one, that they must listen closely to the grown-ups at all times and two, that they must not, under any circumstances, touch anything without permission. But boys will be boys and they were so excited that they did not listen very well, although they did try. But Armand, in particular, was very excited and only eight years old and was really only giving Professor Atherton half of his attention. No one blamed him for what happened, any more than they blamed Professor Atherton, or the guards. Sometimes things just happen. 

"Professor! Professor, is this The Forest? Are we there?" Armand tried to leap up in his stirrups in order to gain a better vantage point as his pony was, in his opinion, far too small. He succeeded only in startling the poor animal.

"Armand, you asked that at every single tree we've passed. Could you be more silly?" Albertus glared at his younger brother in irritation. He had wanted to ask that question but was bent on proving that he was far more grown up than his silly little brother. He looked resolutely away from Armand's rambunctious energy. Christopher rode up beside his youngest brother and caught the pony's bridle so Armand's antics wouldn't send it bolting. The pony was the calm, stolid sort of pony that grown ups give to excitable young children, specifically because they are unlikely to do things like bolt or throw children off their backs. It looked quite relieved that it was no longer being directed by the excitable human on its back.

"No, Armand, this is not the forest, but if you look over there," Professor Atherton pointed down the small, winding road and a bit to their left, "you will see where the last of the fields end and the trees grow more densely and that, my lad, is the forest." 

All three boys turned their eyes along the road (which was swiftly shrinking to the point where "cart track" or "path" would be more applicable than "road") as it wound around the last fields belonging to the nearby farms and approached the forest. Professor Atherton was right. The trees were much denser there, and there was, if one looked very hard, a fence separating the last field and the trees of the forest which there wasn't between the fields and the trees they were riding past. Armand stared in wonder, and Christopher let go of the little pony's bridle correctly guessing that Armand's excitement would be of the less physical variety now that their destination was visible.

They actually entered the forest with an hour or so to spare before nightfall. Albertus and Armand were much more subdued than they had been on the road. There was just something about the forest, an odd feeling that you can't quite explain, that tended to subdue anyone in it. This was part of the reason that so few people lived in it. No one likes to feel like there's something hanging over them all the time when they're at home.

Christopher had been subdued all day. He had a sense of foreboding that he couldn't really understand or describe and so hadn't bothered to try. Professor Atherton had noticed that the eldest prince was quieter than usual and had been keeping an eye on him. But Christopher was unusually mature for being only ten and there were often days when he was quiet and thoughtful in a manner foreign to nearly any child under fifteen. Professor Atherton rather thought this was because Christopher took it very seriously that he was Crown Prince and would someday be king. King Marius was a good man who loved his family very much, but he did not spend nearly as much time with them as anyone would like, and when he did he was often tired or worried. Professor Atherton suspected that the observant Christopher had noticed this and correctly guessed that it was because of the duties of kingship. 

"You've been unusually quiet today," said the Professor gently as he and Christopher worked on gathering dead moss to soften their beds. Christopher merely shrugged. "You know, lad, thinking is all well and good, but if it isn't balanced with talking, well, then things can get overwhelming."

"The forest is dangerous, isn't it." It was not really a question, for all that it was phrased like one. Christopher often asked questions that weren't, questions he didn't need to ask because he already knew the answer.

"It can be, lad. It can be. That's why it's so important you listen to me and don't touch anything. Things aren't always what they seem here. But I know what I'm about. You'll not come to harm as long as you're with me." Professor Atherton watched Christopher's face. The boy nodded.

"It's important for me to understand it. Because I'm going to rule it."

"Yes, lad. A good king must understand his kingdom, else he will not rule it well."

"I will understand. I will be a good king. I must be a good king." Christopher had an odd sort of look on his face, as if he were realizing something he hadn't before. He stood still for a minute or two staring at his hands then he looked up, and when he did his face was set in an expression of determination.

"Being a good king, it means taking care of people, taking care of everything, doesn't it?"

"Well, I'm not a king, lad, but yes, I'd say it does."

"That's why Dad and Mum say the most important thing is to look after your family. It's just learning. Starts there but then it gets bigger."

Professor Atherton looked at Christopher, momentarily lost for words. But Christopher seemed to have finished the conversation. He went back to gathering moss.

But he was right. He would look after his family.