Three long, excruciating days, and still no word. No letter, no messenger, nothing.
Edmund drummed his fingers against the table in an effort to soothe his temper. He could feel the frustration rising in the back of his throat, fighting to come out in angry bellows that would have sent anyone in the vicinity cowering. He'd tried distraction, he'd tried venting with his sword in the practice courtyard, much like Adeline had done, he'd even tried visiting with Amos, and all to no avail.
"Have we tried instructing the messenger to report it as urgent?" he questioned Trumpkin, and his heart sank just a bit further when the dwarf nodded.
"We've tried everything, Your Majesty, short of sending a caravan bearing gifts. They're either ignoring us, or the messages are being intercepted."
The king huffed, absently brushing his hair out of his eyes – he was long overdue for a cut; his mother would have been horrified to see how long it was – and peering over the map once more.
"If there's still no word by noon tomorrow, send one of the griffins. If they still ignore that, we'll have to make extra preparations for larger forces."
Trumpkin nodded, his mouth set in a grim line before they parted, Edmund headed down to Peter's study and Trumpkin off to locate one of their griffins. The dwarf's footsteps faded off in the otherwise deserted corridor behind him, and Edmund let out a long, slow breath.
He didn't know why his nerves were so frazzled; since Xaviar's letter to Adeline, things had been rather quiet, with no further contact from the Rebellion. Their leader seemed to have taken Adeline's threat seriously, which had amused Edmund, which had in turn irritated Adeline.
"I wasn't trying to be funny, Ed." She'd reprimanded, her eyes rounded in surprise that he would laugh at this.
Seeing she looked a bit hurt, he'd hastened to explain. "Addie, I'm not laughing you; it's just that ever since you dueled Omri, I've been looking forward to the day you put him in his place."
Not even Adeline had been able to hide her smile at that, and the glow of mirth that had lit her face from within had made his breath catch in his chest.
Now, thankful for the unexpected moment of solitude, he closed his eyes, still unable to believe it.
What it was, exactly, that he felt for Adeline, he wasn't sure. But call it what you will, it was stronger, more protective, than the love he had for Susan and Lucy. It scared him witless, to be honest.
Friends, he could handle. For one thing, Adeline was right in between the ages of his sisters, so talking with her was similar enough that he was quite comfortable carrying on a lengthy conversation with her. Secondly, Adeline happened to be one of the few people Edmund had ever met who could keep pace with him in a verbal sparring match. Her sense of humor wasn't nearly as famous as her grit on the battlefield, but it had only taken two occasions of her matching him witticism for witticism, leaving him standing before her, gaping in shock at her quick tongue and merciless teasing, for them all to appreciate her lighter side.
It was easy to see, really, why he would be attracted to her.
What he couldn't understand, was why – and how – it had happened so fast.
His own parents had courted – if you could call it that – during the first Great War. Richard Pevensie had enlisted, packed his bags, and had one foot on the departing train intended for the trenches in southern France, when Margaret had pushed through the crowds, grabbed him by the knot in his tie, and kissed him solidly on the mouth in front of everyone. After three years of letter writing, and a welcome-home not unlike their goodbye, they'd married and settled in quite nicely to their post-war life.
His sisters had always loved their mother to tell that story, but right now it served no purpose to Edmund as it only encouraged relationships that were ignited hurriedly amongst the passion and tumult of war.
Somehow, he thought Adeline deserved better than that, and in any case they didn't exactly have time for him to wander off and pick her an armful of flowers and write her poems.
He gave a snort at that thought; Adeline hardly seemed to be the sort of woman easily wooed by flowers or poetry.
No, it would be better for him to ignore this ball of pent-up discomfort in his chest. Right now they all had more than enough to deal with.
Shaking off his odd mood, he reached his brother's study and knocked once, briefly, before entering.
Caspian sat before the High King's enormous desk, the top of which was covered with stacks of parchment, maps, and a few thick books. Both kings looked up in greeting, but continued their conversation as Edmund took the other chair opposite Peter.
"We can't count on the Isles to send help, though, and in any case there's every chance of the Rebellion attacking them before they can even reach us."
Peter nodded in agreement, before turning his blue eyes to Edmund.
"Any word from Calormen?"
Edmund shook his head. "Nothing. The Tisroc is either ignoring us, or the messages are being intercepted. Trumpkin is trying one of the griffins, but if that doesn't work then we'll have to assume Calormen has allied with Xaviar."
"Until then," broke in Peter, "do you think we should assign an extra guard to Adleine?"
Both the other men gawked at him, but he hastened to explain. "Adeline not only thwarted Xaviar's entire scheme, but she also publicly humiliated him by rejecting his marriage proposal. We've already seen that Xaviar's temper is nothing to laugh at, and I'm rather uneasy thinking of him possibly retaliating."
"You think Xaviar will try to harm Adeline because she won't marry him?" asked Caspian incredulously, but Edmund was already nodding slightly in agreement.
"Strange men do strange things. He might not try to kill her, but kidnapping or at least injuring her severely enough to ensure she wouldn't be able to fight isn't beneath him."
Caspian still looked a tad skeptical, but after a moment he agreed as well, though with a warning.
"You realize this won't be easy, convincing her to allow a guard."
"No, it won't be," Peter conceded, "but hopefully she respects us enough to allow it. If she's stubborn I can always write to Fitz and ask him to order her into agreeing. But I rather hope it doesn't come to that."
Edmund had to fight a grin at the image; Fitz and Isabella had left swiftly the day after Xaviar's message had arrived. They'd decided to leave Adeline at Cair Paravel, to help with the impeding war efforts, but their own castle at Anvard was virtually unprotected. But there was no doubt that Fitz would cooperate if they needed him to.
A soft knock brought the three of them out of their thoughts; it was a faun informing them that dinner was ready, and the queens and Lady Adeline were waiting for them. The door had no sooner closed behind the servant when Caspian suddenly turned to Peter and Edmund, his look unexpectedly serious.
"Might I ask you two something?"
For some reason, he sounded nervous, but Peter nodded encouragingly, and he pushed on bravely.
"I wish to wed Susan."
Several long, stunned moments went by, and Edmund glanced at Peter to see a knowing smirk on his face.
"Got tired of waiting, did you?"
Caspian let out a relieved bark of laughter. "Yes, I'm afraid we have. It's already been so long for us both, Peter; we were rather hoping for a small affair, something we could do quickly before the fighting starts."
The two brothers exchanged a glance; normally they would have to sit down and have a several-hours-long-interview to ensure the man's intentions, but they'd witnessed Caspian around their sister for almost a month now. Together, they faced Caspian and said, "Yes."
The grin on that man's face was enormous, and he further surprised both of them by giving them a quick, brotherly embrace before bolting for the door.
Peter chuckled, while Edmund braced himself for the girly squeals and hugs once they reached the dining room; Lucy was sure to have fits in her excitement, and would no doubt enlist her brothers in helping with wedding plans.
Sure enough, giggles and exclamations could be heard ten feet away from the door. Edmund crossed the threshold, warily, several steps behind Peter, and he had just enough time to spot the head of glossy chestnut hair before Lucy collided with his midriff, knocking the air out of him.
"Eddy! They're getting married, Ed, oh isn't it wonderful! Peter will hand her off, of course, and you'll have to do the officiating, and –"
She would have kept babbling, but her words suddenly registered and he cut her off.
"I'm doing what?"
Blinking as she tried to get her bearings after her tirade, she responded breezily, "Oh, the officiating. You know, since Aslan's not present, you're the obvious choice, Eddy."
"I am?" he asked stupidly, and he heard a soft laugh to his left. He glanced over and spotted Adeline, dressed in a sleeveless blue gown that made her hair look like molten gold. It took him a moment to realize Lucy was talking again.
"Of course you are. You're the Just King, Aslan's elected ruler of the courts and judges of Narnia. Peter's authority lies in warfare and diplomacy, but this is right up your alley, Eddy."
It was his turn to blink in surprise, and he made the mistake of looking at Adeline again. She grinned at him, and right as he felt himself grinning back she said, "Come now, Eddy, say you'll do it for your sister."
He rolled his eyes, but knew he was already sunk.
"Alright, I'll be the official-whatever-it's-called. But I'm not wearing flowers anywhere on my person, Lu. Understood?"
She looked a bit dejected, but nodded in agreement before rushing across the room to discuss wedding gowns with Susan.
"I'm guessing you've not done a wedding before," came the soft voice at his elbow.
He snorted. "Not hardly. And if I had a choice I would rather not my first wedding be my sister's. It's bizarre enough as it is."
"I'm sure you'll do fine, Eddy," Adeline reassured him quietly, but a moment later he turned to her indignantly.
"What'd you get roped into doing, then?"
She tilted her chin to face him, the stance familiar to them both by now.
"My task is easy; Lucy's having me bear the rings."
"What?" Edmund exclaimed. "That is completely unfair; you ought to be Susan's attendant or something equally terrible."
"She did try for that," Adeline admitted, "but I managed to beg my way out of it, claiming it was more proper for someone in my position to bear the rings instead."
"You know, in our other world, the ring-bearer is usually a boy," teased Edmund, and Adeline's face flushed even as she laughed.
"Are you saying I look like a boy?" she threw back at him, and at that point Edmund's mouth decided to part company with his brain; he felt words come out before he'd processed them.
"Quite to the contrary, m'lady. There is none in this palace who could hope to rival you in terms of beauty."
There was moment of heart-thudding silence –thank the stars no-one else had been listening – and Edmund felt his collar grow distinctly warm. Adeline had immediately stiffened, avoiding his gaze (not that he was trying to catch it to begin with).
"Thank you." She said quietly, and Edmund's heart sank at the note of hurt lacing the words.
She had already started to move away from him, murmuring something about congratulating Caspian, and he knew he ought to have stopped her, ought to have said something to make it right again, but words failed him and she slipped away, leaving him alone with his very confused thoughts.
Adeline's feet wearily climbed the steps to her bedroom, anxious for the day to be over. The plans for the looming war were heavy on everyone's minds; still, it had been nice to forget all that for a few hours and bask in the joy of Caspian and Susan's betrothal. They had all sat round the supper table long after they'd finished eating, talking and laughing at Lucy's excitement over the wedding plans.
Well, it had been mostly enjoyable, save for the few moments when she'd accidentally made eye-contact with Edmund.
She sighed, trying to forget the flippant way he'd said those words.
None could hope to rival you for beauty.
At least he hadn't laughed. But, try as she might to ignore it, the words had stung. Her pride had taken a beating with the whole mess with Xaviar, and she was doing so much better once Peter had spoken with her, but in truth she was having a hard time forgetting how different Xaviar had seemed in Tashbaan.
Adeline might be a seasoned warrior, but she was also a woman, a woman who had been flattered by a handsome man's attentions, and just short of crushed over the same man's betrayal. Her heart felt bruised, and Edmund's flippant comment over her 'beauty' had proven to be too much.
The man probably hadn't the faintest idea of how his words had affected her, so now he'd be wondering why she was acting so strangely around him.
Men, she thought despairingly as she entered her chambers, overjoyed to find that the ever-faithful Lela had drawn a steaming hot bath, leaving a fresh nightdress and the covers pulled back.
She shed her clothes quickly, more than ready for the soothing hot water on her sore muscles. She settled in, leaning against the back of the tub with a sigh.
There was no reason for her to rush, and her fingers were quite shriveled by the time she finally donned the nightgown and climbed into bed. She blew out the lantern, and settled in for a much deserved rest.
She liked the palace at this time of night; quiet, and peaceful, with no servants scurrying to and fro with missives and documents to be signed. The halls were hushed, and Adeline loved the silence that engulfed her as she felt herself drifting off to –
She frowned, on the very brink of sleep and unable to decipher what the strange noise was; whatever had caused, it had disturbed her and she had just convinced herself that she was imagining things when she heard it again.
Now more than a little awake, she peeled one eye open; she lay on her side facing the door, but nobody stood there. The room was quite dark, with just a sliver of light coming in at the bottom of her door.
There was no movement in the shadows, so she rolled to her other side, facing the window, and she had the span of two heartbeats to catch the dim reflection of light on the blade of a sword, and instinct took over as she rolled back to the other side, feeling the edge of metal graze the backs of her shoulders.
She grunted in pain, rolling back to face the attacker, lashing out one foot from beneath the covers and making contact with what she could only presume to be his stomach. There was a soft oof, and she quickly got to her knees, trying to determine the size and build of her opponent.
She felt the cool breeze move her still damp hair, and thought, the window, just before she made out an arm raised to strike, reaching up to block it and wrenching the long dagger out of the hand, and she pulled back and plunged it to the hilt in the man's stomach.
She felt the blood splash the front of her dress, staining the sheets, but before she could do anything else large hands grabbed her arms from behind, pinning them to her sides, and a cloth sack was slid over her head.
Her last thought before the painful blow to the back of her head was of Edmund, and she found herself hoping he was safe, and then everything was gone in a painful wave of black.
Peter rubbed the back of his neck, more than ready to be done with this blasted paperwork and head off to bed. His head ached horribly, but he'd put up a brave front during their impromptu celebratory meal for Susan and Caspian.
Despite himself, a smile curved his mouth upwards. He and Caspian had certainly had their differences, but both of them had learned to play the other's strengths. Now they worked seamlessly together, nearly as well as he and Edmund did. He would make Susan a good husband.
He picked up his quill, trying to get to the bottom of his current stack before calling it a night, but after a few moments he waved the white flag. He was simply too tired, and this mess would be here in the morning.
He blew out the lantern on his desk and closed the door carefully behind him. He nodded to the occasional guard he passed, but all was quiet until he reached second-floor north corridor.
He paused, straining his ears. Surely, that wasn't….screaming?
He heard it again, louder, and broke into a run. He reached the top of the stairs just in time to see a middle-aged servant rush into the hall, flapping her hands wildly and screeching at the top of her lungs, so loudly that he couldn't make out any words.
He took the steps quickly, thinking the woman must be waking the dead, but when she spotted him the wails became more distinct.
"Your Majesty! There's been murder, you must come quickly!"
She didn't even give him a chance to reply; she seized his arm and all but dragged him down the hall. He felt his heart stutter when he realized she was taking him to Adeline's room. His steps faltered, but the maid was insistent, lugging him through the door, all the while moaning and sobbing hysterically.
He froze once he crossed the threshold; there was blood on the sheets, the pillow, the rug, the curtains, even a smear of it on the wall. He wished they could tell if it was Adeline's or someone else's, but he noticed the gaping window and his gut clenched.
He turned to the weeping servant, who stood beside him wringing her hands, and grabbed her shoulders, giving them a little shake. She gave a shuddering gasp, peering up at him with big tear-filled eyes.
"I need to you find the other kings and queens. Tell them I sent you and I need them to come here, quickly. Go!"
She nodded jerkily before hastening out the door, and he turned to inspect the room, knowing any answers would have to wait for the morning.
One thing was clear: whoever had done this would pay.