He could feel his pulse, throbbing against the big gash just behind his left ear. There were other wounds, of course, but that one was the most severe. He couldn't feel blood trickling down his neck anymore, so he presumed the bleeding had slowed, perhaps even stopped. He was grateful for that, since he was pretty sure he would need every drop of energy he could scrape together when Xaviar came to see him again.
The beating, as far as Edmund was concerned, had been nothing more than a display of childish anger on the other man's part. It had been a temper tantrum of sorts, more befitting a ten year old boy than a grown man, and there had even been a moment or two when Edmund had almost wanted to laugh at Xaviar's behavior.
Unfortunately, his three cracked ribs made laughing rather unenjoyable.
Edmund rolled his shoulders, hissing through his gritted teeth at the pain. His wrists were tied to two separate poles, on either side of him. The ropes were tight enough around his wrists to make his fingers numb, and pulled taut to the point where he forced to kneel between the wooden stakes, arms wide open and totally vulnerable.
There was a sudden rustle of movement just outside the tent flap, and a large bulky figure shrugged their way through. Immediately Edmund tensed, but not out of fear.
"I've been wondering what had happened to you."
Omri scowled. "You'll speak when spoken to, boy."
Edmund could practically hear his brother. You're being foolish, Ed.
I don't care, he responded. Out loud he said, "Oh, I don't see the harm in just making small talk. Do you?"
Omri spared him another dark glare, then resolutely ignored him while he checked the knots on Edmund's bonds.
Edmund wasn't so easily deterred. "I mean, it's not as if I'm here to discover all your secrets - after all, the spies who snuck in here right under your nose took care of that job. Quite neatly, too. I'm sure Lady Adeline will see to it that they're rewarded."
Omri said nothing, tugging on one of the ropes and making Edmund sway alarmingly.
"Though what kind of reward they'll receive, that's hard to say. There are all different types of rewards, wouldn't you agree? Some better than others, and some more deserved than others…" He was unable to keep up the game any longer; Omri detected the slight quiver of anger in his voice and paused his movements, looking at him with confusion and annoyance.
Edmund leaned forward as much as he could, and he could feel the muscles in his shoulders and upper back screaming in protest but he staunchly ignored them, doing absolutely nothing to hide the fury in his eyes and voice as he stared down the man in front of him.
"I don't care what you do to me; I don't care if you beat me to within an inch of my life. It won't matter. Adeline herself will kill you if you raise one hand against anyone inside those castle walls."
He knew it was true; if there was one thing he'd learned since meeting Addie it was that she was fiercely protective of…well, anyone in the vicinity, mostly. It was one of the side effects of being a body-guard since childhood, he supposed. And he knew, without a doubt, that the four safest people in the Cair were his family members.
Omri snorted derisively, a bit of tobacco-yellowed spittle flecking Edmund's cheek. He resisted the urge to flinch.
"That wee scrap o' a girl can't kill me."
Edmund shook his head ruefully. "Your master noted once how foolish it is to underestimate your enemy. You've done nothing but since the day she bested you on the training grounds."
"That were luck!" came the angry, defensive reply, and Edmund just barely held back a snort of his own.
"Adeline is many things, general. Lucky isn't one of them. She beat you with her bare hands….well, feet, too, to be fair," he admitted, "but it was by skill alone. Nothing more."
"There a point to all this?" Omri snarled.
"As a matter of fact, no," Edmund replied. "I just felt it was fair to warn you of the reward awaiting you, should you choose to attack Cair Paravel."
Omri looked like he would have liked to punch him – repeatedly – but just then the tent flap moved again. Edmund got a brief glimpse of the pre-dawn sky, with just the faintest streaks of pink beginning to finger their way up past the treetops, when the view was obscured by Edmund's least favorite person on earth.
"Thank you, General. Go join the others at the castle, please," Xaviar said silkily, effectively dismissing him. Omri sent Edmund one last loathing glance before taking his leave. The tent flap fluttered closed, leaving Xaviar staring smugly down at his captive. Edmund did nothing to hide his anger or distaste for the man, but other than that his expression was painstakingly indifferent.
"Did you sleep well, King Edmund?" Xaviar's tone was sickeningly sweet. Edmund narrowed his eyes a bit.
"Quite well, thank you," he replied, leaving the barest trace of sarcasm to leak through.
"Mm." Xaviar made a show of adjusting his gloves, and took a couple of steps closer. He reached for the braided-leather whip resting in the corner, and Edmund eyed it apprehensively. That particular instrument had opened his back nearly to the bone in Xaviar's last session. He wasn't exactly begging for an encore.
"Perhaps your rest allowed your memory to recuperate? Enough to recall your siblings' battle plans, by chance?"
Edmund rolled his eyes. "Your subtlety needs extensive work, Xaviar. Though I never forgot them in the first place, I'm not divulging my country's secrets."
Xaviar looked unsurprised by this. "I didn't think you would. It seems that the traitor was stamped out of you long ago."
Despite Edmund's best efforts, the words nettled him, and he clenched his jaw in an effort to conceal this from the other man. "What do you want?" he managed. Xaviar smirked.
"We both know what I want, don't we?"
"Are you referring to the throne, or Adeline? Either way, I should have my meaning plainer: what is it you want, that you actually have a chance of getting?"
He would have had to have been blind to miss the fury that ignited in Xaviar's gaze, and he felt a savage satisfaction at the fact. Any retaliation he would suffer didn't concern him; all he thought of was how much this swine had put Adeline through, and whatever barbs he could throw at him now seemed to even the score, if only slightly.
Xaviar bent to look down on Edmund; Edmund wasn't a giant but Xaviar barely passed his shoulder when they were standing, and even with Edmund on his knees the Archenland prince didn't have to bend over very far.
"I want Adeline to see the man she has chosen," he whispered, "in all his helpless, cowardly glory. I want to see the regret in her eyes, when she realizes what you really are."
A tiny frisson of fear went down Edmund's back, but he held eye contact with the last piece of grit he had left. "Do you really think that will make a difference? I heard what she said. Even at my worst – and believe me, she's seen it – I'm a better man in her eyes."
Xaviar's nostrils flared as he learned that Edmund had heard his and Adeline's latest conversation, but a second later a gleam of triumph appeared. "How did that sit with the lady, Edmund? For the man she hates to tell her you loved her before you did? Was she angry?"
Edmund knew it was stupid, knew that if Peter were here he'd shake his head at how stupid it was, but it was impossible to resist. "Judging by the way she kissed me before we came here, I'd say I'm forgiven."
Something in Xaviar's eyes snapped, and he dropped the whip, closed the remaining distance and ploughed his fists into Edmund's torso and face repeatedly. As he picked the whip up again and moved behind him, Edmund reflected that the very worst men always had the hardest fists.
Aslan, let them come for me soon, he prayed.
Susan was running out of arrows. Which was pathetic, considering the short time they'd been fighting.
As she nocked another to the string and let it fly, she thought it was really quite ironic how in all the stories the archers never ran out of arrows, their bowstrings never snapped, and they never had to pause, mid-shot, to cut down some blundering oaf who tried to attack them at close range. No, she reflected, the make-believe archers really had the best of things.
It was all she could do to keep Peter's back cleared. He was busy fighting near the gate, clearing a path with Rhindon. Trumpkin and Reepicheep scarcely left his side, and Glenstorm was riding the castle walls to keep the enemy from scaling it. She didn't want to think about the village that lay outside the keep.
Caspian hovered close, doing his best to guard her so she could have clear shots to her brother, but judging by the emptiness of her quiver that wasn't going to be an issue in a few minutes.
"Where," Caspian panted, "is Addie?"
Ah. Now that was the question, wasn't it?
Peter had told them he hadn't seen her since she had tried to get permission to rescue Edmund. The sentries had assured them all that no one had left the palace from then till the surprise attack started, but Adeline was usually one of the first ones in a fight, and this had been going on for almost an hour. It simply wasn't like her to not be here.
"Look out!" Caspian suddenly cried, and Susan whirled to see a soldier charging with his sword raised over head. Before she could do anything, however, a silver blur flew past her ear, followed by faint chink sound. The soldier crashed face first to the cobblestones, but he'd barely landed when Lucy rushed forward to pull her dagger from his neck. She straightened, wiping it on her skirt. Susan shook her head.
"I know you're old and capable enough, but I'll never get used to seeing you out here."
Lucy smiled thinly. The battle wasn't going well, not for any of them, and a large part of it was their ever present worry for Edmund. A piece of their well-oiled machine was missing, and Xaviar was taking full advantage of it.
Susan was about to ask her if the armory had sent up any more arrows, when Caspian muttered, "Aslan, help us," and she turned to see Omri appear in the gateway and make a beeline for Peter. Her heart rose to her throat.
Peter's other opponents scattered, willing to let their commander take the prize fight, and even across the courtyard Susan saw Peter straighten his shoulders, readjust his grip on Rhindon, and wipe the sweat from his eyes. He stepped forward, broke into a run to match Omri's, and raised his shield. The first clang of swords was deafening. Over and over again the steel flashed in the early dawn light, reflecting the torches along the walls.
Once again, Omri had the distinct advantage with size, but Peter held his ground, moving quickly and proving to be a nearly impossible target. One blow fell on low on Omri's blade and the giant shoved, causing Peter to go airborne and crash to the ground some meters away. Winded, sore, and tired, he was slow to get back on his feet. Omri advanced with measured steps, but Susan's eyes caught another movement just to Peter's right.
Without thinking her hand flew to her quiver, plucking what she knew to be her last arrow and in one smooth movement it was nocked, drawn, and fired straight into the neck of the soldier who stood in Peter's blind spot with his sword raised menacingly. The armor clashed noisily on the cobblestones, and Peter, who had risen quickly to his feet, turned to face Susan with gratitude in his eyes.
Doing so, however, meant he didn't see Omri just behind him, poised to strike. In that moment Susan knew: this wasn't a public fight like Miraz. This man was willing to fight dirty – in fact, he preferred it that way. He had no hesitation about plunging his sword right through Peter's turned back, and she, Susan, was powerless to do anything except watch.
She watched Peter's eyes widen as he realized his mistake. She watched Omri pull his arm back, preparing to run her brother through. She watched the evil, twisted grin on the face that was seconds away from tearing her family apart.
What she didn't expect to watch was the small figure sprint out of nowhere, colliding with Peter full-force, knocking him out harm's way and sending them both to the ground. Peter fell heavily, but his savior went flying, carried by the momentum she'd hit him with.
Adeline stumbled to her feet, looking disoriented as she glanced worriedly around for the rest of them. She spotted Susan, standing between her sister and husband, through the crowd, and for one instant she looked relieved.
Suddenly she snapped her eyes back toward Omri, who stood glowering with rage.
For a moment the air was silent, thick with crackling tension. Then Omri suddenly let loose a deafening roar, raising his sword over his head in two hands and pounding across the ground.
If Adeline, the shortest human present at the moment, felt any fear at being charged by a half-giant, she didn't show it. Instead she slung her bow off her back, and reached up for three arrows, nocking them neatly and stood waiting patiently, the weapon aimed uselessly at her feet. Susan watched in confusion – three arrows, no matter where they fired, wouldn't even slow Omri down.
At the last possible moment Adeline splayed her feet, and pulled the bow up to take her aim – only she turned the bow sideways, so the three arrows were in a horizontal line. In one swift movement she pulled the string taut, and released.
In that split second, Susan knew what would happen.
The arrows hit Omri in the throat, going clean through and scattering on the floor behind the body of the Rebellion's former general.
The head, still encased in its helmet, clanged to the floor and rolled ominously towards Adeline. She stopped it with one foot, a look of pure disgust on her face, before she replaced her bow over her shoulders and drew her sword.
"Right then, any of you stupid enough to continue?" she asked loudly, peering at the remaining soldiers. After a moment's hesitation every enemy weapon was placed on the ground, and the Narnians rushed in to deal with the newly acquired prisoners.
Adeline stepped around her trophy, and quickly approached Peter. Susan, Caspian, and Lucy did the same, working through the crowded courtyard. As they got closer they could hear Adeline's worried questions.
"-you sure you're alright, I know I didn't get here nearly early enough but I got held up…"
"Addie, I'm fine," Peter said, nearly exasperated. "Honestly, you'd think this was my first battle. Why are you so worried?"
Adeline stopped trying to check his head for cuts and scrapes, and looked at him with a guarded expression. "Because Edmund's not here."
Peter's jaw dropped slightly; beside her, Lucy drew in a sharp breath. Susan's mind reeled with the implication of what she'd just heard – Adeline not only was willing to fight for them, but she understood their loyalty to one another. Protecting Peter when Edmund wasn't here to do it was by far the most impressive thing she'd ever done in Susan's opinion.
She didn't try to hide the tears in her eyes as she stepped forward and hugged Adeline, trying to put into the embrace what she couldn't put into words.
Adeline returned the gesture, smiling sheepishly up at her when they let go, and cleared her throat awkwardly. "I-I'm sorry I wasn't here sooner. I got…distracted."
Peter looked at her curiously, then said, "That's alright, you got here in time anyway. What do you think we should do next?"
Adeline turned to look at Omri's head, still lying where it had fallen. There was a measure of steel in her voice as she replied, "I'm going to see Xaviar. And then we'll get Edmund back."