Edmund tried not to breathe hard. The arrow's cold tip grazed his Adam's apple; he could hear his heart thumping wildly against his ribs. For a moment no one said anything, until the Tisroc quietly moved into his line of vision. It took a great deal of self-control for Edmund not to gasp. The man was the spitting image of Prince Rabadash, the long ago, would-be suitor of Susan.
Whereas the Prince's face had always been twisted into a smirk, however, the man standing before Edmund looked quite relieved. His eyes hardened as they contemplated Edmund's features for a moment, before focusing just over his shoulder on Adeline.
"Lady Adeline, is this soldier friend or foe? Say the word, and my men will ensure he won't trouble you again."
His meaning hit Edmund like a ton of bricks, but he knew when to keep his mouth shut and let Adeline handle this one. Thankfully she did, with so much grace and charm that he could have hugged her.
"My lord, standing before you is King Edmund the Just, of Narnia. He rescued me from Lord Xaviar's forces, and is a most trusted ally."
The Tisroc's brows rose in surprise. "How then does he wear the enemy's armor?" His tone was no longer accusatory, only curious, and Edmund knew it was safe enough for him to speak.
"My lord, I had to steal this suit of armor from one of the soldiers. It was necessary in order to infiltrate the fortress undetected."
He waited, with bated breath, and to his utter astonishment the Tisroc threw back his head and laughed heartily.
"Please, release him," he ordered his men through the chuckles. Edmund shifted and glanced over his shoulder at Adeline, who looked just as bemused as he.
"Forgive me, King Edmund," the Tisroc said at last, "but I was raised on stories of the craftiness of Narnia and her kings. It would seem that such stories are not mere children's tales."
Edmund grinned. "Evidently not, my lord."
The Tisroc gestured to him and Adeline. "Come, we will eat together, before we journey to Cair Paravel."
To be fair, she supposed Edmund had never really encountered any ruler of Calormene ruler who was actually…decent. She'd studied a good bit of history during her years at Anvard, and she knew that the Tisroc during Narnia's Golden Age had been a sly fellow, and his son had been no different. The story of Prince Rabadash's efforts to win the hand of Susan was well known, as were the Prince's less than stellar tactics.
So to suddenly meet this Tisroc, who had brought them both into his royal tent and fed them…well, it was sure to feel abnormal. Edmund kept looking at the man critically, almost like he was trying to see through whatever trap had been laid, and it was only after Adeline took a moment while the Tisroc's back was turned to swat Edmund with her napkin that he stopped ogling, and relaxed a bit.
Towards the end of their extremely early breakfast, the Tisroc nodded his dismissal to the attending servants, who closed the flaps of the tent behind them.
There was a brief pause, and then the Tisroc said, "I have received your messages, King Edmund. It was not possible, however, to reply. Tashbaan has been under Xaviar's watch ever since Princess Gwen was murdered. It is nothing short of a miracle that I and my company have made it this far without being attacked. Escaping the city took a great deal of stealth, and weeks of planning. I assure you, we moved as quickly as we could."
Edmund nodded thoughtfully. "I am glad to hear that, Lord Tisroc. I –"
Edmund faltered. "Pardon?"
The Tisroc grinned, before replying, "My name is Álvaro. I suppose if we are going to work together, then first name basis would be more practical."
For several, long heartbeats, Edmund gaped openly at their unexpected ally. Adeline nudged him with her elbow and he snapped out of it, smiling broadly in return and extending a handshake.
"Indeed it is, Alvaro. Please, call me Edmund."
The discussion only got better from there. Alvaro seemed to be equal parts infuriated that a guest in his home had been murdered, and relieved to find Adeline alive and well. His concern only proved further to Edmund that Calormen was not siding with Xaviar, which had been Caspian's main concern.
Edmund seemed content with the political side of things, but when Alvaro asked after Adeline's health, in a very kind and genuine manner, she could tell he had trouble keeping his jaw closed. The Tisrocs of Calormen were hardly known for their favorable treatment of servants. Then again, Adeline was not simply a servant.
She may not have been the guest of honor, either, but her position still gained her enough recognition to exchange pleasantries with the royalty. His warmth and friendly manner were nothing new to her, and once he got over his shock Edmund seemed to quite like him as well.
Eventually, she and Edmund had to go prepare for the next leg of their journey, even though they were both long past exhausted. Alvaro left them to check with the commanding officer, ensuring things were ready to get underway, and Adeline hadn't taken five steps in the opposite direction before Edmund grabbed her hand and tugged her gently behind a supply wagon.
Taken completely by surprise, she lurched into him despite his lack of force. His hand was quick to steady her, and she looked up to find his face dangerously close to her own. His lips were parted, about to speak, but he noticed their position the same moment she did and froze. It felt like forever, but it was really a few seconds later that Adeline pulled back, smoothing her braid habitually and clearing her throat.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
Edmund shook his head as though to clear it, then answered, "No, I was just checking to see if you were alright. I know your back is hurting still. They probably have a healer in attendance; would you like me to go fetch-"
"Oh, no, that won't be necessary." She cut him off quickly, determined not to let some measly scratch keep them away from the Cair any longer. They could be at the Cair by sundown tomorrow, since a major trade route was only a few miles away, and led straight to the city. Taking the extra time to consult a healer over a superficial wound simply wasn't an option.
Edmund studied her critically.
"I know you don't wish to delay, Addie, but my healing skills are far from satisfactory. You need professionals, or at least someone better than I."
"I assure you, Edmund, I'm fine. I'll let Lucy look at it when we get back."
He sighed, obviously not pleased but giving in all the same. "If it starts paining you, do you promise to let me know?"
The request caught her by surprise, but there wasn't a trace of joking in his expression. His eyes were perfectly sober, leaving her little choice.
"I promise. You'll be the first to know, Ed."
He seemed pacified, at least. "Thank you. Now, let's go find you a horse. I doubt you relish the idea of riding in my lap for the duration of our journey."
Edmund had already started back down the path to where the horses were, so thankfully he couldn't see Adeline's face. If he had, he would have asked why she was blushing so fiercely, and of course she wouldn't have been able to tell him. She would never be able to tell him that she didn't mind riding with him. Not one bit.
Several hours later, the company made camp beside the wide river. The men were busily pitching tents and gathering wood and water, so Adeline decided to keep out of the way and moved to the riverbank. She grabbed a bit of harness that needed oiling as she passed the supply wagon, and made herself comfortable on a small boulder that was right beside the water.
There was a full moon, and a slight breeze that toyed with the wisps of hair clinging to her temples and neck. For several long minutes she sat and worked quietly on the leather straps, enjoying the solitude and the comfort that came with simple tasks such as this.
The crunch of footfalls on the rocks sounded behind her; she glanced over her shoulder and spotted Edmund. He came and stood quietly beside her, watching her work. She waited patiently, knowing he had something on his mind.
He spoke so softly she almost didn't hear him, despite their quiet surroundings. She crinkled her brow in confusion, and he continued, "Back there, with all those men…it just felt like all you wanted to do was escape and come down here."
She'd never really thought about it that way before, how it would look when she slipped away like this, but she had to admit he had a point.
"It's not that I'm uncomfortable, per se." She looked up, and found that he'd crouched down beside her rock, putting them at nearly matching eye-levels. He was peering at her closely, and she quickly returned her gaze to her lap and the harness, uneasy over the flush that had started at her collarbone.
"What is it, then?" he asked quietly.
Adeline pursed her lips and thought a moment. Why did she always move off to the side like that? It wasn't in her nature to step out of the way and let someone else do all the work.
"I suppose…it's because I know my place. These men are Alvaro's private guard, and they obviously have a system set up, one that decides who hunts and who sets up camp and who takes care of the horses and such things. If I were to try and insert myself, simply because I know I'm capable, I'd likely put a kink in the line somewhere."
Edmund nodded, but she wasn't finished. "Something I can do, without disrupting them, is keep watch."
His eyes widened slightly at that. "Keep watch?"
"Yes. From this position, I can see across the river, and at least two miles in either direction from us. Not to mention that I'll hear anyone long before they reach us; sound echoes off of water."
Edmund took a moment to look around, and admitted her perch was ideal for it. "But why not let them do this? If anyone does sneak up on us, you're the first person they'll come to. Why put yourself, unnecessarily, in danger?"
Pausing, she glanced up at him again, knowing he probably wouldn't like her answer. Nonetheless, she gave it to him.
"These men are professionals; they're trained, and good at what they do. I'm a servant, and that means I'm a great deal more disposable than they are."
"You are not disposable."
The sharpness to Edmund's tone surprised her; of its own accord her head jerked in his direction, and she saw that his face was twisted into a scowl, and his fists were clenched on top of his knees. Somehow, though, she got the impression that his anger was not directed at her.
She recovered quickly, and rolled her eyes and said, "Yes I am. I'm a servant girl. Yes, I can handle a blade, and quite efficiently, yes, but I'm not on their level, and-"
"You're right," he interrupted, clearly annoyed now, "You're above their level."
"The point is," she pressed on, determinedly ignoring the queer sensation in her belly that had sprung up at his words, "I am easily replaced. If we were to get attacked, I need to be the first line of defense, because I am not important enough to be on the inside, protected by so many of the guards."
For the second time that day, Edmund's long fingers gently snatched her jaw, turning her face to meet his. His eyes were dark, and Adeline wished she could look away so she wouldn't drown in them.
"Adeline, you are many things. But disposable, servant girl, and easily replaced are not any of them."
He spoke, still quietly, but his words rang with complete and utter conviction. To her horror, Adeline felt her eyes sting, and she tried to pull out of his grasp. He wasn't having it, though.
"While we're here," he continued, "I've been meaning to apologize."
Momentarily confused into being distracted from her efforts to make him let go of her face, Adeline blurted, "Whatever for?"
One side of his mouth twitched, and Adeline desperately tried to look anywhere but at his mouth again.
"I've deeply regretted what I said to you, the night you were taken. It was flippant and disrespectful, and I'd give almost anything to turn back the hands of time. I'm sorry, Addie."
So much had happened since then, that Adeline had to wrack her brains for a memory. It came eventually, though, and with it a sense of satisfaction that he was apologizing. But his fingers were still lightly grazing her cheekbones, and she was getting frantic so, naturally, she said the first stupid, flighty, nonsensical thing that popped into her head.
"Oh, Eddy, it's alright, you can't help that I'm not pretty, really, you don't have to-"
His incredulous tone cut her off mid-syllable. She blinked, confused by his astonishment.
"Adeline, I-" he broke off in a laugh, and for a moment she dared to hope that he'd get his blasted hand off her face, but instead his grip tightened and he shifted his position, going from crouching to kneeling in front of her, with his free hand taking one of hers.
"Addie, I want you to listen to me very carefully." She nodded, knowing that her eyes were the size of saucers. "I am not apologizing because I think I lied. I am apologizing because that wasn't the sort of compliment a woman like you deserves."
At long last, he let go of her jaw, taking her other hand in his like it was priceless treasure. He cleared his throat, causing Adeline to look up, from where his thumb was lightly stroking the back of her hand.
"You deserve to hear that, out of all the women I've ever met, you are by far the most extraordinary. You excel them all, Addie. Whether by measure of grace, or strength…or beauty," he added, his look becoming rather pointed, "I have never known a woman like you, in this world or in any other."
Adeline's jaw was hanging open by the time he'd finished, causing him to chuckle lightly.
"Surely someone has told you that before?"
She swallowed, with difficulty. "Not…not like that, they haven't."
He studied her for a moment longer, then softly said, "They should have."
Leaning in, he pressed a chaste kiss to her cheek, then stood to his full height and disappeared on the path towards camp, leaving her alone with the water, her harness, and her very, very flushed face for company.
The next morning saw them rising early, breaking camp and saddling their horses for a long day of travel. For Edmund's part, the sun had come up much too soon, but he was also eager to be home. He knew his family must be worried; he'd been gone twice the amount of time they had expected for him to rescue Adeline.
What they hadn't counted on was the castle where she'd been held captive; it had taken nearly three days just for Edmund to grab one of the guards behind the stables. It had taken another day and a half to find out where Adeline's cell was and to plan their escape.
He still couldn't believe how easily they'd gotten away, but supposed it was for the best. He was afraid to think of the next time he encountered Omri. Edmund had never been what anyone could call vicious, but the condition of Adeline's back had set his blood boiling.
Directing his thoughts to safer topics, Edmund hoisted himself into his saddle, noticing not for the first time how efficient Alvaro's men were. In a matter of minutes the wagons and pack horses were loaded; he moved to the front to ride beside the Calormene monarch, who sat tall and proud in his saddle. To Edmund's surprise, Adeline was already in position beside him. She jumped slightly when Edmund's horse stopped next to hers, but she continued what she was saying to Alvaro, giving Edmund ample opportunity to study her.
Today her hair was twisted into some kind of knot on the nape of her neck, though the usual tendrils fluttered by her ears and temples. She wore a deep green tunic with full, billowy sleeves, with brown trousers and boots. Her sword and dagger hung from her burnished leather belt, with her quiver on the saddle horn.
As he watched her, Alvaro said something to amuse her and she laughed, her face crinkling and her eyes lighting up, and her hair flashed gold in the bright sunshine, and Edmund suddenly had the most terrifying, sobering, and ecstatically thrilling epiphany of his life.
He was in love with her.
It was amazing, really, how simple it was. But it was also amazing how scared he felt.
He couldn't tell her.
Edmund wasn't stupid, he'd seen the look on her face last night after his little speech. Sure, it had been quite unusual for their relationship, but at the moment he'd felt like being honest. And if he were equally honest with himself, he wasn't sorry he'd said all those things.
But there was a difference, wasn't there, between telling a woman you thought she was beautiful and telling her you loved her.
No, he decided. To pour his feelings out now would be overwhelming, not to mention unfair to her. She was going through enough as it was. Perhaps, once they put this whole business with Xaviar behind them, then he could tell her.
But for now, all he could do was offer his support, be there when she needed him, and disappear when she didn't.
Adeline's quiet voice broke into his thoughts, and he jerked his head up to find her and Alvaro staring at him.
"Are you alright?" Alvaro asked, looking rather concerned. "You were smiling to yourself, just sitting there, lost in thought."
"Oh, erm, I'm just glad to be going home is all." He told them breezily. "And I'm also glad that you two are with me. Peter and Caspian will be glad to see you, Alvaro."
The older man smiled in understanding, but Adeline poked Edmund's shoulder.
"You make it sound like nobody missed me," she teased.
"We all missed you, Addie. That goes without saying." His tone was a bit warmer than he'd intended, which didn't go unnoticed by Adeline. She blushed, and averted her eyes like she'd suddenly remembered their conversation from last night.
Just then the captain shouted the order to move out; for a few minutes the threesome were quiet as they rode ahead of the wagons and soldiers, and suddenly Adeline murmured something about scouting ahead, and urged her horse faster to pull up alongside the captain in the very front.
Edmund knew his eyes followed her, and he also knew that Alvaro had noticed, but he couldn't bring himself to care all that much. When Adeline had ridden out of sight he found the other man's eyes boring into him.
"You love her."
It was a statement, not a question. Edmund saw no point in denying it; this wasn't the sort of thing he was going to be able to hide from everyone. Truthfully, he had no desire to keep it a secret from anyone except Adeline.
"I've only been aware of the fact for about five minutes, but yes."
Alvaro studied him, and finally said, "A word of advice, Edmund: do not delay too long in telling her."
Edmund felt his brows shoot up into his hairline, causing Alvaro to laugh.
"I have fifteen wives, Edmund. Did you think me a simpleton in the affairs of love?"
"Only fifteen? That's rather conservative for the Tisroc, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is few compared to my ancestors." Alvaro paused. "But I happen to disagree with most of what my forefathers did, so deviating in the realm of marriage only seemed fitting. But that doesn't matter," he waved a hand, brushing the issue aside. "What matters is you telling Lady Adeline the depth of your affections."
"I can't tell her, Alvaro. There's too much going on right now."
"That," the older man insisted, "is precisely why you must tell her. There is too much uncertainty in war. One never knows whether he will come home carrying his shield or being carried on it. A woman, knowing that a man's heart belongs to her, would have no end of comfort regardless of the tumult surrounding her. You cannot deny Adeline that peace, Edmund."
Edmund felt like his feet had been knocked out from under him.
"But…but how do I tell her, without seeming overbearing? I don't want to make her feel pressured into accepting me. Just walking up to her and saying, 'I love you, by the way, wanted you to know in case I die tomorrow' isn't exactly ideal."
A sly grin crept across Alvaro's face. "Words might not even be necessary, Edmund."
For a moment, Edmund gaped like a fish before sputtering indignantly. "Alvaro, I would never…I-I cannot even consider-"
"By the Lion, Edmund, I was not speaking of her virtue." Alvaro rolled his eyes, while Edmund tried to get his heart rate back in the normal range.
"What I meant is…you could just kiss her."
"Kiss her?" he echoed. Alvaro grinned impishly at him.
"Of course. What better way to tell a woman of your love? Words cannot describe how you feel for her; I can see that much in your eyes. Take her in your arms, in front of a crowd if you must, and show her how precious she is to you."
Still flabbergasted, Edmund fidgeted with the reins. He looked up again and saw Alvaro watching him expectantly.
"Will you do it?" he persisted, and Edmund couldn't help but laugh.
"I'll consider it."
The Tisroc looked a bit chagrined, but seemed to know that was all Edmund would give him, and let the matter rest.
Peter paced anxiously, trying not to run his hand through his hair again, lest Susan throw another book at him. His sister currently sat beside her fiancé on the sofa, her hand clasped in his, and looking uncannily composed and calm. He shot her a sour look, to which she replied with a cheeky smile; he turned to gaze out the window again, his eyes searching desperately for a rider, or better yet, two.
The western horizon remained stubbornly empty, however, and he sighed in frustration as he moved to walk along the bookcases lining the sitting room, trying to distract himself.
It had been almost a week and a half since he'd run into Adeline's chambers to see blood everywhere, with no trace of their friend in sight. Edmund had gone ballistic, even climbing out of the window to search.
He hadn't found anything at first, but in the end it was a blessing he was so stubborn, because he'd ignored Lucy and Susan's shouts to get back inside before he fell and broke his neck, and as a result he'd spotted the smear of blood along the ledge on the exterior of the castle wall.
Less than twelve hours later Peter had watched his brother ride off, alone, to bring Adeline back, and they had not heard from him since.
He returned to the window, and was about to huff again when he spotted something. He squinted, and looked closer – and felt his heart leap into his throat.
"There's a rider." He said, much more calmly than he felt, and within seconds his sisters and Caspian were crowding around his shoulders, trying to get a better glimpse of the single dark figure that could be seen approaching the city gates.
Peter didn't remember leaving the window, or opening the door, but suddenly he was running down the hall, his feet pounding the stone tiles with his heavy boots, and he almost slipped and fell on the back staircase but didn't let it slow him down; he kept running, and as they approached the entrance hall he heard voices, and pushed himself into a hard sprint, barreling through the doors, only to skid to a stop as he looked confusedly at the Calormen soldier standing before him.
"Your Majesty." The man bowed, showing no surprise at Peter's undignified entry. "His Excellency the Tisroc of Calormen has sent me with a message for you, the Queens Susan and Lucy, and King Caspian."
"Speak." Caspian's deep voice sounded from behind Peter, who was grateful for the back-up; the knot of fear and worry had tightened painfully in his chest, and he didn't trust himself to speak.
The soldier bowed again, addressing the other king and two queens before continuing.
"The Tisroc wishes to inform Their Majesties that His Highness King Edmund the Just, as well as the Lady Adeline of Archenland, are alive and well, and will be arriving at Cair Paravel with the Tisroc and his company. His Excellency assures you, High King Peter, that he and his men come in peace."
Peter was surprised he'd made it past the mention of his brother's name, but he managed to nod gratefully.
"Thank you. Our servants will tend to you and make sure you're comfortable. We will await your master's arrival."
He didn't wait to see the man's final bow, instead turning on his heel and marching up the stairs, heading directly to his study. His sisters and Caspian were right behind him, and once the door was closed Lucy all but threw herself into his arms.
None of them said anything; no words were needed. It was enough to know that their brother and friend were safe.
Lucy stood between Peter and Caspian, clenching her fist in the folds of her skirt and trying not to fidget. The wait was torture; nearly all of the Calormene company had entered the courtyard, except for the two people she was most anxious to see.
Finally, the last troops and wagons cleared, and Lucy's heart soared when she saw her brother and Adeline riding on either side of a man who must have been the Tisroc.
Edmund must have felt the same way; he dismounted before they even came to a full stop, and Lucy was running towards him before she realized her feet were moving. She met him halfway to the steps, throwing her arms around his neck as he lifted her in the air, spinning her around like he used to when she was a little girl. He put her down just as quickly, this time to embrace a misty-eyed Susan. Caspian was next, and then the Pevensie brothers faced off.
Peter's face was equal parts vexed and relieved.
"I told you to come back if you found anything."
Edmund shrugged. "If I'd come back they would have killed her before our forces got there. It was a one man job, Pete."
Peter rolled his eyes. "Are you ever going to learn to do as you're told?"
The two men embraced then, though none of them mentioned how Peter was swallowing often, or how Edmund kept blinking rapidly.
Eventually they all noticed Adeline standing nearby, and the reunions were quite identical, except when Peter went to hug her she winced. Instantly Lucy was alert.
"Adeline, are you injured?"
"Yes, but it's already started to heal. It will just be sore for a while." She assured her, and Lucy would have let it go if Edmund hadn't interjected.
"Better check on it anyway, Lu. I had to be the healer, so there's every chance I botched it."
Lucy nodded, not missing for a moment Adeline's exasperated look she sent Edmund, nor Edmund's stubborn glare he gave her in return.
Edmund abruptly gestured to the man still sitting on the horse.
"Peter, Caspian, Susan, Lucy, this is Alvaro. Tisroc of Calormen."