Evelyn couldn't wrap her head around why Peter was flirting with her at the picnic. She couldn't understand why he would prefer her presence to the noblewomen. All she knew was that she was happy that he was flirting with her. She suddenly understood what forever felt like because it felt like she and the High King had known each other forever, not only two days.
It didn't really make sense that after two days she could be comfortable with him, but it felt right. She knew something would get in the way, probably many things, but she didn't mind. She'd stand beside the High King. That was why she was here.
She had felt the jealous looks when she had ridden beside the High King on the way back to the palace. She'd felt the seething glares of Kathryn and some of the others. And she knew trouble was coming.
And trouble came a little while after the picnic. The High King had taken her around the armory, where she got to meet General Orieus. She was making her way back to her room to change out of her dress when she found herself cornered by Kathryn and two other ladies.
"I told you not to interfere," Kathryn snapped.
"Don't make me laugh, Kathryn," Evelyn replied. "I told you not to make empty threats," she reminded the foreign woman, keeping her voice low and calm.
Kathryn however was not so calm. "You stole the High King from us!" she snarled. Her voice grew louder and the other two women looked around nervously.
"The High King was never yours," Evelyn replied. This was why she preferred to be independent. She hated this kind of behavior, and it usually made her furious.
"He would have been if you didn't get in the way!" Kathryn shrieked. Then she seemed to muster all her anger and slapped Evelyn.
At the feel of it, Evelyn burst out laughing. It felt like a pat on the cheek, nothing like a slap. Kathryn became enraged and slapped Evelyn again, only succeeding in making the blonde girl laugh harder. "Stop laughing!" the Calormen woman snarled.
When Evelyn didn't, the Calormen women flounced away, huffing in offense. Evelyn made to continue on to her room when she had an idea. She hurried up the tower steps until she flung open her door and raced to the desk. Taking a piece of parchment, she picked up a quill and found it to feel comfortable and familiar. Uncapping a bottle of ink, she wrote a quick warning to Queen Susan and the High King.
"To the High King and the Gentle Queen,A few moments passed I was confronted by three Calormen women. One of them, Lady Kathryn, reminded me that she had previously warned me to stay away from His Majesty. That however, I could not do as His Majesty needed my presence. After a few words were exchanged, her lady ship delivered what she believed to be a slap. It was incredibly weak, and I fear I laughed in her face. She attempted to quiet me by slapping me again, which only made me laugh all the harder. She flounced away in her petty rage, and I fear I caused great offense. I hope this does not bring any trouble on Your Majesties, but if it should, I implore you to tell me. They can accuse me all they want, but I will not ask Your Majesties to take it for me.Evelyn."
With that, she called to a hawk flying around her tower. "Could you take this to the Gentle Queen?" she asked, holding up the rolled up note.
"Of course," he replied, landing on her windowsill. He lifted one taloned foot and took it, then flapped his wings and soared away.
She was tying the wrist ties on a light blue shirt when the hawk returned. "The Queen says you are very foolish for thinking they will not stand by you. She also said that you are not at fault. High King Peter seems rather disgusted by this, though I know not why. I suggest you find him before he finds the Calormen woman," he told her.
"Have you any idea where he is?" she asked, suddenly feeling the High King's rage.
"Try the practice courts," he suggested, hoping onto her desk. She grabbed her dagger and knife, shoved one into each boot, and ran out the door. Spirit followed as the hawk spread his wings and soared back out into the sky.
She ran through the palace, letting her sense guide her. She eventually found him, and she was stunned. He was standing in the middle of the courtyard in a pair of pants only. He wore no shirt or shoes, and she realized she felt his rage because it was making him reckless. Calormen knights and noblemen were taking their turn at single combat with the High King, and they wore armor. Looking around, she found Orieus, and saw what was in his hands.
Slipping around the edge of the yard, she moved up beside Orieus. "Milady," he greeted her.
"He's not listening, is he, General?" she asked, taking the High King's shirt and leather armor of a jerkin and bracers from the centaur.
"He refuses to be reasonable. King Edmund was ordered from the courts a few moments ago when he tried to reason with his brother the High King," the General replied.
"I am afraid I must take the blame for this. Perhaps what he needs is a challenge," she told him, looking up at him.
"What do you propose for such a challenge?" he asked, looking down at her.
"Me," she said, grinning as she studied Peter's fighting style. The lord he was fighting was driven back by a flurry of blows until he called out in surrender. Thinking quickly, she pulled on the King's bracers, and then called out, "Your Majesty!"
Instantly, he turned and found her with his eyes. Sheathing his sword, he strode over and gripped her shoulders in his hands. "How could you think I'd not stand beside you if something were to happen? Did I not just tell you in the armory that you are one of very few people I can really talk to? Did I not tell you I preferred you to the noblewomen who make their lives about dresses and parties and jewelry and material things? I thought you understood that," he growled in her ear.
"I do understand. But I'll not let you take the blame for this," she replied, keeping her head down so she didn't have to look at him.
"Damn it, Evelyn, that's my job as the High King. I stand behind every one of my family and friends when something like this happens. And you, Evelyn, are one of my friends," he hissed. She could feel and feel his rage, but she knew it wasn't aimed at her. No, it was aimed at the Calormen party. The men were trying to undermine him, the women were trying to ensnare him, and he had to put up with it with a smile.
"You need a real fight," she whispered, lifting her head so that she was looking straight ahead, which happened to be his collarbone.
"Why do you think I've been out here? I ordered Edmund away for a reason. I don't want him to see me like this and think he needs to step in and take it," he muttered, his breath tickling her ear.
"Well, I can take it, and there's nothing you can say to stop me," she whispered calmly.
"Is that why you're wearing my bracers?" he asked, lifting her chin in one hand so he could look into her eyes.
"Yes. And that's why you're going to put on your shirt, your shoes, and your practice armor. Then you're going to go stand on the other side of the court," she told him matter-of-factly. "And you are not going to hold back," she added.
He laughed and nodded and then he brushed his lips across her cheek. Her only response was to hand him his shirt, but he noticed the color spring up in her face. He did as he was told, and when the Calormen men saw him draw his sword, one moved forward. "I'm sorry, Sir Alcoa, but I've already got a challenger," he told him, nodding to where Evelyn was being forced to stretch out by Orieus.
"You're going to fight a lady?" the knight asked, his voice growing louder with his surprise.
"She is quite capable of handling herself," the High King replied, and the knight stepped back, looking both offended and abashed. When Evelyn stepped onto the clay court, she felt all the men and even the creatures in the yard watching.
"To surrender?" she asked, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet.
"To surrender," he confirmed, looking to Orieus. The General glanced at Evelyn, who nodded and focused on Peter.
"You may…start!" Orieus cried, and his voice rang around the courtyard. Instead of either of them instantly going on attack, they began to circle one another, edging forward until Peter swung at her in a deadly arc. She would have been sliced in half if she hadn't dived forward under the blade and rolled to her feet behind the King. He whirled, slashing as he did, and she dropped into a crouch to avoid the blade. As the blade was passing over her head, she swept one leg out and knocked the King down. She rolled away as he came down, effectively evading the sword. The King rolled on his side and to his feet as she did the same.
They returned to circling each other, each having seen the speed and skill the other possessed. They carried on trading short attacks that always returned them to the circle. Orieus watched as Evelyn landed several kicks and punches over the course of the fight, and he knew the High King would have at least two good sized bruises. But Evelyn wouldn't come away unscathed. The High King had drawn a line of blood along her upper arm, and her blue shirt displayed the lengthening blood stain well.
At one point, the High King caught Evelyn's foot in a sweep, sending her sprawling. She did not however, actual sprawl on the ground. She tucked in her head and flipped as she fell so she rolled to a crouch, though she balanced herself with one leg extended sideways. The High King paused to catch his breath, and they watched as Evelyn reached into her boots and drew a knife from each. She grinned in a feral way, and tensed to leap forward.
But she was stopped by a shout of "High King Peter!" They both turned to see the eldest of the Calormen nobles, a duke by the name of Jonas. He strode out onto the court with several of the noblewomen behind him. One bore a light rapier, and Evelyn realized it was Kathryn. The duke bowed to the High King, and then turned to Evelyn, who had straightened from her crouch and returned her knives to their sheaths.
"Your Majesty, Lady Kathryn has issued a challenge on the bias of an offense committed against her," Jonas announced. Then he added, "A challenge against Lady Evelyn."