Helena Kingshaw contemplates the trips she’s about to take with Joseph, Charles, and Edmund. Joseph will drive them all in his car. Joseph has told Helena to rest and relax. Helena enjoys “being treated in that way by Mr. Hooper.”
Helena is just as subservient to Joseph as Charles is to Edmund. But whereas Charles struggles with Edmund for control, Helena enjoys her relationship with Joseph, because Joseph showers her with gifts and attention. It’s for this reason that Helena is sometimes not attentive enough to Charles’s needs.
In the car, Charles stares out the window. He, Edmund, Joseph, and Helena are driving to Leydell Castle. Joseph boasts about having packed guidebooks—he has become more confident as a result of having “grown used to having a woman about him again.” The previous evening, he told Helena that he’ll treat Charles as well as he treats his own son.
Joseph has begun to think of Helena and Charles as his own wife and son. Though Joseph claims he’ll treat Charles the same as Edmund, the promise rings hollow in light of how little the adults understand about the boys’ relationship—and how deeply unequal it is.
At the castle, Edmund asks Charles what he’s going to do. Charles says he’s going to climb up the castle, and Edmund tells Charles he’ll fall off and die. After succeeding in climbing to the top, he yells down to Edmund, “I’m king of the castle!” Edmund says that Charles should come down, or else he’ll probably fall and crack his head open. Charles dares Edmund to climb up, but Edmund coolly replies, “I can come up if I want to.” He walks toward a flight of stairs, and Charles loses sight of him. Charles stares down at the surrounding countryside. As he does, he feels strangely depressed. He tries to tell himself that he’s higher than anyone else, but then realizes, “No, that was not true.”
The scene mirrors Edmund and Charles’s earlier interactions in the wood: away from Warings, Charles seems to have more physical power and bravery than Edmund, and yet Edmund remains an intimidating, somewhat sinister presence. The saying, “I’m king of the castle!”, after which Hill’s book is title, seems to refer to a childish game. But, as Hill shows, this “game” reflects a deadly battle of wills between the two boys. Both Charles and Edmund want to be “king,” in the sense that they want to assert their power over each other. However, because Charles is a gentler boy, he tends to feel that he’s losing even when he seems to have bested Edmund (as in this situation).
Edmund appears—he has climbed up to the top of the castle. Charles announces that he’s climbing down. Then, he realizes that Edmund’s face is pale—he’s terrified. Charles says, “You shouldn’t have bloody well come up here,” surprising Edmund, who is usually the one who swears. Forcefully, Charles orders Edmund to take his hands off the wall. Reluctantly, with his eyes closed, Edmund does so, even though he’s frightened of falling. Edmund pees his pants, and it occurs to Charles that he could kill Edmund right now. He tells himself, “I’m the King.” And yet he knows that whatever power he has here is strictly temporary: he’s the King of the Castle, but only for now.
For once, Charles seems to be asserting his power over Edmund. He knows that he’s more powerful here at the top of the castle (as evidenced by Edmund’s obvious fear of heights). And yet Charles’s consuming sense of power is tempered by his realization that, eventually, he’ll have to go back to Warings, where Edmund will bully him. Charles gives up too easily. He lacks Edmund’s reckless confidence and sense of superiority, and that’s why Edmund is able to intimidate him.
Charles decides to guide Edmund back down to the ground. He doesn’t want to frighten Edmund. Charles reaches out his hand; Edmund flinches, steps back, and falls.
Edmund is so frightened—both of falling and of Charles, who is only trying to help—that he flinches and falls. Seemingly, he can’t believe that Charles would want to help him. Here, Hill suggests that for Edmund, just as for Charles, fear itself is the greatest enemy.