Lucy tapped her fingers impatiently against the vial at her waist. The cordial was always with her, as was her dagger. Yet even her preparedness did nothing to ease the anxious feeling in her stomach.
The late morning light, pale and grey, filled Peter's study. Far below she could hear the waves on the rocks, and not for the first time in the last hour she gratefully noted the fact that the windows in this room faced the sea, rather than the forest on the opposite side of the palace. Were she to stand with those trees in sight, she wouldn't have been able to tear her eyes from them for searching for a glimpse of Edmund.
The missing king was half the reason everyone was so quiet, and all of the reason why they were holed up in Peter's study in the first place. The clean-up from the earlier battle was still going on, but the four of them, along with Adeline, Trumpkin, Reepicheep, and Glenstorm had come up here straightaway.
And here they'd remained, for almost three hours as a plan was hashed together to rescue their brother. It was a crude plan, rough around the edges, and filled with variables that could go disastrously wrong, and in general it made Lucy feel sick to think of.
But it was their only chance – Edmund's only chance. It would have to do.
She took a deep, fortifying breath and turned to face the others, who were huddled in the center of the room.
"How does it fit?"
Susan barely glanced up at her before responding, "It's tricky work, but I think it'll manage. Caspian, you'll need to mind you don't try and move too quickly, or this brace will gap."
Caspian looked down at his wife, kneeling before him as she painstakingly laced his shin guards.
"I know, my love."
He smiled briefly at her, but all were distracted by a knock at the door. Peter spoke quickly with the dryad, then closed it and turned back to them.
"Trumpkin says the horse is ready. He and Glenstorm have only been down there for half an hour. That must have gone a lot easier than this did."
Adeline grimaced. "That's not saying much, Peter. These armor straps simply refuse to lie flat."
She stood on a chair behind Caspian, carefully adjusting his breastplate and chainmail as she attempted to blow a wisp of hair out of her face.
Peter slowly circled Caspian, eyes narrowed in concentration. Susan and Adeline both stopped, their work finished, and Peter nodded.
"That'll do," he said. "Best get on with it; the sooner you get to him the better. Is the draught ready, Lu?"
Nervously she nodded, plucking the tiny bottle off Peter's desk and handing it to Caspian, who secured it in his belt, unseen.
"Now, before you head off," Peter started in, "are you certain-"
"Yes," Caspian interrupted. "I want to do this. And I need to."
Peter said nothing, but he swallowed heavily and nodded. Caspian placed one hand on his shoulder, then turned to give Susan a quick kiss before he walked around behind the desk.
"Where did you say it was?" He queried, closely examining a mural of the Pevensies that was framed by two bookcases.
"The pommel of Rhindon."
"Ah." Caspian reached one finger up and pressed, and the left bookcase creaked open slowly. He paused, gave them all one last smile, and then slipped through, pulling the hidden door shut behind him with a soft click.
For several long moments none of them said anything, and then Susan drew a shuddering breath. "Well, I suppose that's it then."
Lucy clasped her sister's hand in her own, but her eyes were trained on the small, blonde woman who stood apart from the others, staring at the spot Caspian had stood only moments ago. Peter approached her carefully.
"Addie," he said softly, placing one hand on her shoulder. Adeline turned to him, eyes dry but worry and distress evident in her features.
"None of that, now," Peter cut her off, "You know that won't do any good. I think we could all use some tea, and then maybe we'll time to rest a bit before we go."
Wordlessly they all followed him out, but the twisted knot of worry in Lucy's stomach persistently reminded her that she probably wouldn't be able to eat very much, and she definitely wouldn't be resting at all.
Edmund had no idea how much time had passed.
Dimly he registered that the orange-pink glow of the sunrise had faded, so it could have been nearly midday for all he knew, and in any case his perception of time was a bit off due to blood loss.
The lashes he'd received on his back had been like fire, splitting him wide open, over and over again. The worst of the pain had faded a while ago, but had been replaced by a throbbing ache that had him longing one of Lucy's salves or ointments. Xaviar had also given him several new injuries on his face and the front of his torso, and every breath Edmund took was nearly unbearable.
He blinked, the canvas walls of his prison wobbling and distorting in his vision. He probably wouldn't be able to stand on his own, not that he was eager to try. His legs, though unscathed from Xaviar's visits, were achy and sore from kneeling for so long. It was really quite odd, the things you thought of in moments like this, but right then he would have given almost anything to sit in his favorite armchair by the fireplace in his private study. It was soft, and inviting, and next to the window-
The whisper was almost lost on him, but his head jerked up and he hissed in pain, trying to blink the sweat and blood out of his eye as he craned his neck towards the sound. Something rustled behind him and he tensed; he was sure the whip would be descending on his shoulders again but an armor-clad soldier came into view, and for a moment he simply waited, wondering what was going on. Suddenly the man pushed up the visor on his helmet, and Edmund nearly wept with relief when he recognized the man in front of him.
"Caspian, I-"he started, only to have his brother-in-law shush him.
"Quiet, they mustn't know I'm here" he whispered, and got down on his knees, pulling his helmet off. His eyes widened slightly as they took in the amount of blood and torn flesh, and Edmund really couldn't blame him. The muscles over his stomach and chest were riddled with cuts and bruises, some even wrapping around his sides and back. His shirt was undeniably ruined, barely hanging in tatters and positively caked in blood and grime.
"Are you alright?"
Edmund gave him as an incredulous look as he could manage. "Oh, I'm great. Spiffing, actually."
Caspian rolled his eyes. "Well at least you've still got your wits about you. That's good, because you're going to need them."
"What do you mean? Are we leaving now?" Edmund couldn't quite keep the hope out of his voice, but wasn't surprised when Caspian regretfully shook his head.
"Sorry, but we can't. This is our best chance to win this once and for all, so for now we need you here."
A sly grin twitched the corners of Caspian's mouth. "But you won't be utterly defenseless."
He pulled something from his belt and held it between them. Edmund's breath caught.
"Addie's dagger," he said hoarsely.
"Small enough to conceal, but large enough to do a proper job once you get the chance," Caspian said bracingly. He reached behind Edmund and slid the blade down one of his boots, making sure to hide the handle underneath his pant leg.
"I think you'll be happier about this, actually."
Caspian reached in his belt and pulled out a tiny flask. Edmund squinted. "What's that?"
"A potion for the pain. Lucy sent it along. It won't heal your injuries, but you'll be able to move easier."
Edmund felt his eyes widen. "Thank Aslan."
With a wry smile that looked more like a grimace Caspian pulled the stopper, then hesitated.
"I'm sorry…I'd untie you but then I'd have to redo it before I left and I'm not sure I could make it look the same. They can't know I was here."
"S'alright, Cas," Edmund said thickly. "Just give it to me all at once. It'll go down easier that way; Lucy's concoctions always work but they never taste good."
Caspian nodded and poured the brew down his throat; Edmund swallowed thickly several times in a desperate attempt to avoid choking, and when it was finally all down he shuddered. "Lion's mane, but that's vile."
"It should start working soon. Be sure you act like you're still in pain, though, at least until we tell you."
"Hang on," Edmund said, as Caspian stood up. "You're not leaving already?"
"Sorry, Ed, but I'm needed back at the Cair. We've got a plan, don't worry. Just let us worry about the details."
"Well, what do I worry about then?" Edmund whispered indignantly.
Caspian paused just before flipping his helmet visor down. "Surviving."
He was gone before Edmund could say another word.
The stone walls and floor were cold and hard, but Adeline ignored the discomfort and focused her attention on the figure through the bars. He was a good deal cleaner than he had been when he arrived, but she wasn't fooled by appearances. She had accepted long ago that he would never change.
Dully she leaned her head back against the wall, savoring the quiet of the castle dungeons. They were really quite clean in comparison to other prisons she'd seen, though still dark and gloomy and far removed from the hustle and bustle above. All of the cells were empty save the one in front of her, which meant few guards were needed. That was fine by her. She needed to be alone with her thoughts anyway.
Caspian would be back soon. And he would be able to tell them how Edmund was doing, if he was alive, if he was injured. He would know what Xaviar had done to him. But until his return, there was nothing more any of them could do.
She had almost wanted to laugh when Peter suggested food and rest.
How could she rest when Edmund was still out there?
She sighed. If everything went right, their plan would not only save Edmund, but defeat Xaviar's forces. She'd helped come with some it anyway, so she couldn't really complain that it required Edmund to remain behind enemy lines until the last possible moment. Still, it was nearly driving her mad to know that she wouldn't see him until after everything was over and done.
A deep groan interrupted her musings, and she looked up to see the lumpy form that was huddled in a corner of the cell start to move. She could just make out his face by the dim torchlight, light that was reflected in his eyes when they finally opened.
To her surprise they focused almost immediately on her; normally her father was out of his head with exhaustion, even when he wasn't drunk or hung over, and took several minutes to notice anything or anyone around him. She was surprised even further when he spoke.
"Come to see me?"
The usual slur was missing, which she'd expected since he hadn't had anything to drink since he had arrived here. She didn't say anything, watching him grunt and puff his way to a proper sitting position against the wall, facing her.
" 'eard you got a marriage proposal."
"I did." Adeline saw no point in ignoring him entirely; he might have been a lazy beggar but he was still her father after all. Not to mention he'd probably heard the most ridiculous exaggerations of Xaviar's attentions to her, so it wouldn't hurt to set the record straight even if he wouldn't remember it in the morning.
"So congratulations are in order, then." He raised an arm in mock salute, and she suppressed the ripple of annoyance that surged through her.
"Actually, I refused him."
For a moment her father gaped at her. Then he said gruffly, "Didn't hear nothing good about 'im anyhow. S'alright then."
Adeline blinked. Was that…approval she heard? She studied him critically. His face seemed to be a mite red, though that might have been a trick of the light, and he was avoiding her gaze, instead closely examining his knees.
She cleared her throat awkwardly. "There….there is nothing good about him to hear or tell."
The silence hung uncomfortably, and Adeline fidgeted while she tried to figure out what had just happened. Her father had never once, over the course of her entire life, shown any interest in her decisions or her well-being. His round-about way of saying he respected her answer to Xaviar was baffling.
Suddenly she was irritated. What right did he have to pass any sort of judgment at all? What contribution had he made to her life, save for neglect and mistreatment? She'd been driven to beg for food scraps as a child, while he spent any money he could find on ale and wine, desperate to drive the memory of her mother away. Moving to the castle had been redemption beyond her wildest dreams, and even then, once she'd made a name for herself despite everything, despite all the odds that were stacked so highly against her, he refused to acknowledge her, refused to thank her or the royal family for the food baskets frequently sent down. He continued ignoring her attempts to bridge the gap between them, her desire to salvage the relationship with her only parent.
And now, now that he was sober, and cleaned up a bit, he thought to let her know that her choice was fine by him, as though she needed his blessing. She fidgeted some more, trying to get a grip on her climbing temper before she started a full-scale screaming match.
"Y'look just like 'er."
He was hoarse, but she'd caught every word, and her anger disappeared. She didn't need an explanation to know he was talking about her mother. She'd heard it often enough, when she had first left for the castle and would go out among the villagers on her days off. Random passerby or merchants who had known her mother would often stop and remark on the resemblance – with the exception of her golden hair and blue eyes, which were her father's. As a girl she'd often wished that she had inherited her mother's porcelain skin, raven hair and dark eyes, but then she'd gotten older and had become too involved in the military to be concerned with her looks anymore.
At least, until she'd met Xaviar in Tashbaan.
And then she'd met Edmund.
Who was still in danger.
With a jolt she pulled her thoughts off of their dangerous path, and glanced up at her father. He had fallen asleep again, his head slumped to one side as he snored softly.
She sighed. On the bright side, it was one of the few conversations she'd had with the man that didn't end in yelling and throwing things. At least she wasn't leaving angry; rather, she was very, very tired, and wished she could sleep.
She jumped slightly, and turned to see Reepicheep standing a few feet away. She cleared her throat again.
"High King Peter wishes to see you in his study."
She nodded. "Tell him I'll be right there. Thanks, Reep."
The Mouse gave a quick bow, and scurried away. Adeline clambered to her feet, unsure of what to think of the man who was suddenly acting like a father after forgetting that he was one for the better part of two decades. She gave him one last glance and then followed Reepicheep, trying to ignore the heavy feeling in her chest.
It was odd; less than two hours ago Peter had been perfectly calm and composed, and now he couldn't stop pacing. He ran his fingers through his hair again, and glanced at his brother-in-law where he sat next to Susan. Their joined hands were on the couch between them, with Lucy on the other side of Caspian. Trumpkin and Glenstorm stood next to the wall.
The door suddenly opened, and Reepicheep and Adeline came through. The latter closed the portal smartly behind her, and came round to stand beside Peter, leaning back against his desk in feigned nonchalance. Nobody missed her pale face or fists clenched on the edge of the desk.
Peter wondered how to begin; he and his sisters had made themselves wait for Adeline to join them before Caspian shared any news. All they knew was that Edmund was alive, but his condition they had told Caspian to withhold until all were present. It was the sort of thing Peter knew that Edmund would want done. He glanced around, at a loss for what to say, but then matters were taken out of his hands.
"Is he alive?" Adeline seemed determined to get the worst business over and done with.
"Yes," Caspian responded immediately, and hesitated. "But…he's injured. Severely, I would say. I didn't get a chance to examine him thoroughly but he seemed to be in a great deal of pain. He was glad for your draught, Lucy."
It was essentially what Peter had expected, but that didn't make it any easier to hear. Adeline's face had gone white, right down to her lips, and for a moment he feared she might faint.
"Addie – " He reached for her but she jerked away as though he had burned her.
"I'm fine," she all but snapped at him, clenching her fists so tightly that it wouldn't have surprised him if she was drawing blood. Her eyes were focused intently on Caspian.
"What's been done to him?"
It was obvious that Caspian didn't want to answer this question; he shifted uncomfortably and looked pleadingly at the others.
"I'm not sure that matters, Adeline," Susan cut in gently. "He's hurt, but he's alive and all that we need worry about is –"
Adeline took a step forwards. "No, he's not hurt, Susan. Xaviar isn't some mild-tempered commanding officer; he's brutal and cruel even when he has no reason to be, and I've given him plenty reason. He probably thanked the stars when Edmund was brought to him."
She was breathing heavily, her eyes dark with anger but shining with tears, and Peter almost wanted to hug her but felt that she would only push him away.
Caspian finally gave in. "It looked as though he'd been beaten severely and then whipped. His back is shredded to pieces, and the way he was breathing I would wager he has multiple broken ribs. One eye is nearly swollen completely shut, and to be frank I was shocked he was conscious at all. He's lost a good deal of blood."
All vestiges of anger had drained from Adeline's face, only to be replaced with sickened fear. Peter watched in alarm as she swayed slightly, and he grabbed a nearby chair and gently guided her into it. Lucy was suddenly kneeling before her, taking both pale, trembling hands in her own.
"Addie," she began, "you must rest. I know you're upset and worried, and sleep is probably the last thing you want right now, but if you don't lie down for a bit you won't be ready come nightfall. You'll get yourself killed if you try to fight like this."
Adeline didn't seem to have any strength to argue; she merely nodded and watched as Lucy took a small vial from her pocket – Peter strongly suspected that his sister had been looking for a chance to slip into Adeline's tea unnoticed – and before she even had a chance to drink it all her body started to cave in on itself. Peter gently helped her out of the chair and onto the other couch, where she collapsed and didn't stir. She fell asleep so quickly and so deeply that he turned to Lucy in some alarm.
"What exactly did you give her, Lu?"
"Just a common sleeping tonic," she assured him, "and she'll be awake in plenty of time to get ready; it's only fifteen of one and it doesn't start to get dark until six or half past. She'll be rested and feeling much more herself by then."
He nodded, and suddenly remembered something as he caught Caspian's eye.
"Thanks," he told him, trying to put as much feeling into the one word as he could. Caspian nodded, and squeezed Susan's hand a little tighter as they all sat quietly, trying to dispel the images Caspian's words had painted in their heads.
Peter decided that he hated waiting more than anything else in the world.