Edmund stood at the railing of the balcony, enjoying the sunrise over the Great Eastern Sea. He could hear the water nymphs singing on the rocks below. The music reminded him of the Golden Age, when he had ruled with his brother and sisters as a King of the Prophecy; a sudden wave of nostalgia hit him, and he was so lost in his thoughts that when a voice sounded from behind him, he jumped slightly.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Izzy joined him, her arms crossed around her middle.
In the early morning light, Edmund thought she looked exhausted. Her eyes were red-rimmed, skin rather pale, and despite the fact that he'd met her less than two weeks ago, he thought she might have lost a good deal of weight recently.
But of course, none of those things surprised him. He'd never met Gwen, but with parents as loving as Fitz and Izzy were, it was no surprise that they were heartbroken over losing her. He remembered the first few weeks after his parents had been killed. He'd lost so much weight that he'd passed out after climbing the stairs to their flat one day, and it had taken a dreadful shouting match to keep Peter from taking him to the hospital.
It was different, still; he didn't lose a child. But it was hard regardless, losing someone you loved, someone you thought would be there much longer than they were. All things considered, Fitz and Izzy were both doing quite well, for only having lost their daughter a little over a month ago. Edmund knew a large part of that was because of Adeline.
She was all they had left now, and she knew it. Constantly, Adeline seemed to be checking on them, making sure they were alright, that they didn't need her for anything. Part of it, Edmund guessed, was because despite however close she was to the royal family, she was still a glorified servant. But most of her concern stemmed from her genuine love for them.
"Edmund, may I discuss a…personal issue with you?" Izzy broke into his thoughts again, and it took him a moment to adjust to the abrupt seriousness.
The queen paused, looking out over the water, then back to his face.
"What is your opinion of Adeline?"
"Adeline?" his mind whirled with the possible ways this conversation could go. "Er, I think she's great. Brave. Loyal. Strong. All those type things."
Izzy didn't seem too satisfied with his answer; her eyes searched his face earnestly as she replied, "Edmund, those are attributes that Adeline possesses, attributes that a simpleton could see without difficulty. I wish to know your opinion of her."
Edmund thought for a moment, still unsure of where this was headed, but mentally shrugged. He'd know Izzy's reasons sooner or later.
"Addie…she is unlike anyone I've ever met." Warming to his topic, Edmund continued, "She refuses to let anything scare her off from doing what is right, what is expected of her. I've seen her kill soldiers effortlessly, but I've also seen her weep over the loss of your daughter, not just for her pain but yours as well. She has a strong will, but a tender heart."
When he finished, Izzy stood looking up at him with a small grin on her face.
"Something you may or may not know about Addie," she said softly, "is that she has never had anyone to take care of her. She is very much used to caring for people, for being the person responsible for the welfare of others. She is not accustomed to someone else doing that for her."
"Well, with her position in Anvard, I'd say that was rather natural." Edmund observed, and Izzy nodded.
"Yes, it's perfectly normal for a bodyguard to think that way. But Addie is not just a bodyguard, Edmund. She is a woman, the only daughter I have left. And a small portion of my heart yearns for a man to show her tenderness, and caring, to take care of her with love and gentility."
Edmund, wondering if perhaps Izzy had been oblivious during the past several days, asked, "Well, is Xaviar not planning on pursuing her?"
Something flashed through Izzy's green eyes, startling Edmund with its intensity. It was a look of fear and anger, anger that Edmund would never have expected from the mild-tempered queen.
It was gone just as quickly, however, and she said evenly, "Xaviar may be planning on pursuit, but pursuing a woman is only effective if she allows herself to be caught. Adeline does not return Xaviar's interest, I can assure you, Edmund."
"Well, she's fooled me, then," Edmund muttered, half to himself. Izzy's eyebrows rose.
"Have you asked for her, Edmund?" The excitement in her voice was impossible to miss.
"No!" The word came out more forcefully than he intended, and Izzy's face fell.
"So, she does not please you? You do not find her appealing?"
"I never said that," he said without thinking, and felt the heat creep up the back of his neck when the grin returned to the queen's face.
"Edmund?" her tone wasn't teasing, but hopeful, and he decided he might as well tell all. It wasn't as though she didn't already know, anyway.
"Adeline is an extremely beautiful woman, Izzy. I've always thought that. We've developed a friendship over the past couple of weeks, a friendship I am grateful to have. But that does not mean she would welcome my suit, if I were so inclined to offer it."
"Edmund, you may have two sisters, but I'll think women will surprise you every so often if you're not careful." She replied. "And as for this nonsense of 'if I were so inclined to offer it', well, it's utter rubbish. I see the way you look at her, and so does Xaviar. That's why he doesn't like you, you know. He can't stand to have competition."
Edmund's jaw hung open as he stared at the woman before him. Never in all his life had he been so floored. He recovered and said, "That doesn't mean anything, Izzy. What makes you think I'm planning to pursue a relationship with Addie? What makes you think I want to?"
His voice had gotten rather defensive near the end, but Izzy wasn't budging.
"Can you look me in the eye, Edmund, and truthfully, honestly say that you have no romantic interest, whatsoever, in Adeline?"
He opened his mouth to say, 'yes, absolutely, I do not have any romantic interest in Adeline at all', but the words got stuck in his throat. He stood, looking down at Izzy, whose grin got wider with every passing second, and he felt the blush come to his face as his eyes widened.
"Izzy, what am I to do?" he asked, astonished at his sudden epiphany. "I can't be in love with her already, I haven't known her long enough for that."
Her face softened, looking slightly sorry for him, and she said, "Perhaps you should not make any changes, Edmund. She seems to be content with friendship at the moment. I say start from there, and find little ways to express your interest without making her uncomfortable."
Edmund's head was still spinning, but he knew he'd better ask Izzy now while he had the chance.
"How do I do that? Clearly she's not comfortable with open staring; I can tell she doesn't like Xaviar when he does that."
"You're on the right track, dear, but I'm sure you'll think of something."
With that statement she patted his hand affectionately, and walked back inside, leaving Edmund alone with his muddled thoughts once more.
Peter dearly wished he'd said no. But Adeline had looked at him with those great big ocean-blue eyes, and he'd heard himself agree before he even realized what he was agreeing to.
"It's dreadfully hot, Addie." He complained, earning an eye-roll from the girl walking beside him.
"Amos will have some water for you." She said matter-of-factly. He could tell she was trying not to smile, so he let out an extra loud groan.
"But I want it now." His whining voice would have gotten his ears boxed by his mother if she'd heard it; as it was, Adeline lightly smacked the back of his head, her smile full-grown now.
"You're ridiculous, Pete." She said, laughing slightly. "But we're almost there, come on, it's just down this way."
She led him down a small side street, coming out just across from a large, weathered building. She pulled the doors open and he followed her inside, where he spotted their friend working over some harness at a table.
"Peter!" Amos exclaimed upon seeing him. They shook hands warmly, and the farmer gave Adeline a quick hug before pulling back and grinning warmly.
"What're you two doin' all the way down 'ere? No important business to tend to?"
"Actually, I was hoping you could work on something for me," Adeline broke in. She pulled her small knife out of its strap on her ankle, and held it up for Amos to see. "The blade's all dulled; I can't find my whetstone anywhere. Could you sharpen it for me?"
"Aye, no problem a'tall, lass. Just a moment." He carried the knife over to the table, leaving the two of them to explore a bit. Peter had never been here before, so Adeline pointed out a couple of things to him. He wandered over to the side, where she'd said there was a smaller forge for working with precious metals.
Another worktable stood just before this furnace, scattered with a few small tools. A small, polished wooden box sat in the center, looking rather out of place, and he turned to Amos, who was just handing Adeline her newly sharpened knife.
"Amos, what's this?"
Looking rather uncomfortable, Amos replied, "Oh, that's a bit o'work I'm doin' for Lord Xaviar. Came to see me couple days ago, he did. Haven't gotten 'round to it yet, though."
"What is it?" Adeline wanted to know, and Amos stepped forward to lift the lid of the box. A gold square sat on a velvet cushion, gleaming dully. The square was about three inches across, and looked rather thick. It was carved luxuriously, with a large 'X' dominating the design.
"Lord Xaviar said he used to have two o'these. Wants me to make a copy o'this one."
Peter had been leaning in to study it closely, and turned to ask something else when he noticed Adeline's face.
Her skin was chalk-white, down to her lips, and her eyes were riveted on the gold ornament as though it was a bomb about to go off. She didn't seem to be breathing, but the look on her face was far from expressionless. Peter had never before seen a look of such anger, fear, disbelief, and sorrow all rolled into one.
"Amos…you're…you're quite certain this belongs to Xaviar?" Her voice was even worse, shaking slightly and deathly quiet.
Amos seemed just as perplexed Peter, but he nodded and said, "Aye, lass. It's his."
Her eyes slid shut, and her whole body trembled once, twice, before she snapped her eyes back open and looked at Peter.
"We need to go. Amos, I would like you to come with us please." She reached and took the gold square out of the box, leaving neither of the men room for argument as she spun on her heel and walked out the door.
They followed quickly, having to hurry just to keep up. Her legs were far shorter than either of theirs, but her pace had them all slightly out of breath by the time they reached the palace steps.
When she gained the entrance hall she turned to face them, her eyes nothing but expressionless stones now.
"Peter, please have everyone meet in the dining room. I'll join you shortly."
Peter couldn't find it in himself to question her, so he nodded once and led his friend down the hall, while Adeline took the stairs two at a time.
He glanced over at Amos, and saw his own dread mirrored there.
Whatever this was about, it was safe to say that none of them were prepared for it.
Edmund's morning had not improved since his chat with Izzy. All day long he'd avoided eye contact with Adeline, fearing that his undecided feelings for her would be too obvious if she looked at him. He felt a tad guilty, but he shook it off, telling himself that he could not, would not pursue any sort of romance with her, no matter how badly he wanted to.
He gave himself a mental kick. That's the sort of thinking that gets you in trouble, mate, he thought. You don't want that, not with her.
The library door creaked open, and to his surprise Peter stuck his head in.
"I thought you were going to see Amos with Addie," he stated, and his brother shook his head, looking a bit troubled.
"Adeline wants to see everyone in the dining room. Right away."
More confused than ever, Edmund set his book down and followed Peter down the corridor. His brother didn't speak, taking the stairs quickly and gaining the dining room door, and stood by to let Edmund through first. He saw everyone else gathered around the table already, and Amos stood in the far corner.
"Does anyone know what's going on?" he finally asked, and Xaviar gave a snort.
"Does Lady Adeline not tell you these things?" he said contemptuously. Edmund didn't even have a chance for a decent eye-roll before Adeline appeared in the doorway, looking deathly pale.
She ignored everyone in the room, her eyes zeroing in on Xaviar. She approached him slowly, and Edmund noticed that her knees were trembling almost imperceptibly; when she reached the table, standing across from Xaviar, her hand came up and placed something on the tabletop. Her fingers shook as she withdrew them, revealing a gold square of some sort.
"Is this yours?"
Xaviar glanced carelessly down at the object, then back up to her face. "Yes. I use it to fasten my cloak to my shoulders when I wear my armor."
"Did it once have a twin?"
"Yes. I lost it, I know not where. I've asked your friend Amos to make me another."
Adeline took a deep breath, but her voice still shook. "Have you ever lent these to anyone? Has anyone ever taken them without your knowledge?"
Looking offended by the mere idea, Xaviar replied, "Of course not. This is my family crest."
Adeline's face turned even paler, if possible, and she reached, slowly, and pulled out something that was tucked into her waistband, setting on the table beside the gold piece.
Edmund craned his neck a bit, and when her hand withdrew again he saw that the second object was identical to the first, a lavishly carved square, thick and heavy looking. It was a perfect set.
Xaviar's face broke into a broad smile. "I thought it was gone, Adeline, where did you find this?"
When no reply came immediately he looked up at her; her face looked impossibly white, but her eyes had turned to a deep cobalt color that Edmund recognized as a sign of anger.
"I've had it all this time, Xaviar," she said quietly, and his brow furrowed even as he leaned over the two squares in interest.
"How did you come by it?" he asked.
"I tore it off your robes, the night you murdered Gwen."
Xaviar went utterly still, his eyes slowly travelling upwards till they met Adeline's. He said nothing, and after a moment Adeline's fist clenched where it rested on the table.
"You didn't miss it, did you?" she asked, gesturing to the gold square. "You forgot that when I attacked you that night, minutes after you ran your sword through Gwen's chest, that I ripped this off your robes. I hit you with it, as I recall."
"You can't prove anything." Xaviar snapped, and Adeline drew her dagger, placing the very tip under his chin. Slowly, she forced him to tilt his head back, moving the blade to rest on a faded pink scar on the underside of his jaw.
Adeline's face twisted into a terrifying smirk. "I think that I can, Xaviar."
Enraged, he shoved her dagger away and stood to his feet. "This is ridiculous."
"What's ridiculous is that you sent a band of rogue soldiers to hunt me down." Adeline snarled. "They did a shoddy job of it, too, because they didn't catch up until I stopped at Amos's farm. I'd thought I had lost them, but I managed to get all of us out of the house before they set it on fire. The fools probably saw the blankets and pillows I'd put in all the beds and thought we were sleeping."
She paused, face still pale but beginning to flush in her anger, her eyes almost a midnight blue. Xaviar had gone completely white, and his mouth kept opening and closing as though he was trying to answer, but no words came.
Adeline went on, her voice laced with pure venom that made Edmund's blood run cold. "Did you know they almost killed me, Xaviar?"
"I didn't know it was you!" he shouted, and her voice rose to match.
"You didn't have a clue who it bloody was, did you, you just saw someone standing in your way of becoming king! She was your cousin, Xaviar. How could you?"
"Don't you understand?" he bellowed. "I did it for you!"
Adeline froze, what little color that had come with her anger draining out of her face again.
"What?" she choked out.
"Gwen was a fine princess, and would have made a fine queen. But you, Adeline." his eyes ran the length of her body in admiration. Edmund felt his fingernails dig into his palm as he worked to keep hold of his temper.
Xaviar continued, "You were born to rule. You will make the finest, most wondrous queen Archenland has ever known. You have beauty and grace that are unequalled among women. With you by my side, we will be nigh invincible."
The room was silent as the grave. Fitz and Izzy looked numb with shock, and Adeline looked like she might be sick. She swallowed, trying hard to pull herself together.
"Lord Xaviar, I would not marry you if you were the last man to be found in all the world, to Aslan's country and beyond."
She'd hardly finished speaking before she turned and nearly ran out of the room; Edmund caught a glimpse of her face, and it took everything in him to keep from running after her, from drawing her into his arms and telling her it would be alright.
Xaviar had other ideas, and he took a step towards the door, only to be stopped immediately by Caspian. The Seafaring King looked angrier than Edmund had ever seen him, but Xaviar wasn't having any of it.
"I'll go talk to her," he said, and Edmund would have dearly loved to punch him.
"The last thing you deserve," Peter said, stepping forward, "is to talk to her. You don't deserve to even be in her presence. Get out."
Xaviar smirked, refusing to be put off. "I'll leave for now, Your Majesty, but I will return. And the Archenland throne will be mine, even if it takes bloodshed."
"Brave words for a man who has no army," Lucy's voice was ice cold, and the young noble turned to her with a patronizing look.
"My dear little queen, it is folly to underestimate your enemy." He gave a mocking bow to her, pointedly ignored Fitz and Izzy, who still sat as though spellbound, and swept out the door, leaving behind a room of people reeling in shock.
A strange choking sound came out of Fitz, and Izzy crumpled against him. They seemed overcome at the moment; Lucy came forward and gently offered Izzy a handkerchief, but otherwise everyone sat in silence.
"Addie." Fitz managed, and Edmund saw that the king was looking right at him. "Edmund, Addie…please…"
He didn't even finish before Edmund was already out the door, practically running down the steps. His feet moved without him thinking, and he stopped just outside the small garden, Adeline's favorite spot, and cautiously peered through the doorway.
Adeline stood facing away from him, looking over the low garden wall that ran along the opposite side. It looked over the sea, and early evening breeze gently rippled through her hair.
"Come to say I told you so?" her voice was quiet, almost inaudible, but she knew he was there so he took a small step inside.
"No." his tone matched hers, and he wished she would look at him, would give him some indication that she wanted him to be there. He took another tiny step, then another, and kept going until he stood beside her. He kept his gaze out over the water, but he heard a tiny sniff and glanced down at her.
She wasn't crying, but looked like she might want to. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her tiny frame, and as he watched she pressed the back of her hand against her mouth, but her shoulders started to shake despite her efforts.
He reached out, slowly, and grasped her wrist in his hand, stroking his thumb along her soft skin. Almost reflexively, she turned towards him, and he shifted closer, meeting her halfway and wrapping his arms around her as she buried her face in his chest.
Her hands were fisted in his shirt, and she sobbed wretchedly against him. He felt his shirt front grow damp, and hugged her even tighter, stroking her hair and rubbing small circles on her back, all the while wishing there were some way he could make it not hurt as much.