Peter needed a bath, a meal, and a holiday. Not necessarily in that order.
Trying not to groan, he along with Caspian hefted the beam up off their shoulders, settling it into place over the supports. At last its weight was removed, and they both stood huffing and puffing as they tried to catch their breath.
"Your Majesties, it looks better than it did before. You have my most ardent thanks, how can I ever – "
"Please," Caspian cut off gently. "Only try to help those who are in even greater need."
The innkeeper bowed. "My wife and daughters are preparing food and other supplies to be handed out among the city. And we will be hosting anyone who needs shelter tonight free of charge."
Peter was still breathing heavily, so he merely smiled and nodded his appreciation for the man's generosity before he and Caspian took their leave. Once they were out in the bright sunshine he paused and looked around him; despite the fact that he knew better, he felt disappointed that the damage hadn't disappeared in the half hour or so that they had been inside helping repair the inn.
Splintered wood and cracked stones lay scattered in the streets. Entire houses or even larger buildings were reduced to piles of rubble. Dust still felt thick in the air, and the heat of the noonday sun beat down unforgivingly on the backs of the workers.
Everywhere he looked, it seemed he noticed something else that had been destroyed. He tried not to let his shoulders slump too much as he and Caspian walked back up the street towards the large tent set up in the middle of the town commons. As they drew nearer, the people parted, bowing and curtsying as they passed by. Peter did his best to nod and acknowledge them, but he couldn't stop the exasperated sigh as they entered the cool shade.
"Edmund," he said sharply.
His brother, trying and miserably failing to not look guilty, whirled from where he stood speaking with one of the numerous officials that were scurrying about the city. Peter crossed his arms and adopted a glare much like the one his father used to give him whenever he'd broken a window or made poor marks in school.
"What are you doing?"
Edmund plastered on a fake, innocent grin and began to shuffle towards the chair that sat behind a large work table.
"Peter! Erm…done already? Must not have been a terribly big beam then, eh?"
"It was enormous," Caspian put in, "but not nearly as big as the trouble you're going to be in once Lucy finds out you're disobeying. Again."
Now it was Edmund's turn to huff. "I can't help it, Cas. I wasn't up sword training, I was just fetching something from the table over there, and I was going to sit back down immediately, but then that official came up and I got sidetracked, and anyhow I don't see the point of being confined to a chair when I'm in perfectly good health, and – "
It was here that Peter's frayed patience snapped.
"You're not in perfectly good health, Ed," he interrupted. Edmund's mouth opened and closed a few times as he struggled to make sense of Peter's apparently sudden foul mood. Peter didn't care. If his brother was going to be this stupid, then by the Stone Table he was going to treat him accordingly.
"Three broken ribs, two more cracked, severe blood loss, malnourishment and dehydration, even more severe concussion, and multiple, deep lacerations all over your torso – do you have any idea how scared we all were? Lucy was beside herself, I didn't get a scrap of paperwork done because I wanted to be there every time you woke up, the staff – "
"Peter," Caspian cut him off and placed a hand on his shoulder. He swallowed the rest of his lecture, sighed again, and moved to help Edmund lower his body into the chair padded with thick cushions.
"I'm sorry," Edmund said quietly, and Peter's anger vanished as suddenly as it had come. Once Edmund was settled, Peter stood and leaned back against the desk and crossed his arms again.
"I'm sorry, too. That was too…I shouldn't have been so cross. You ought to do as Lucy says, because she knows more about healing than you and I put together, but I was frustrated with how things are in the citadel and took it out on you."
Edmund lifted one side of his mouth in an attempt at a smile and then, looking nervous, abruptly said, "You won't tell Lucy, will you? If she knows I got up again she'll make me go back to the palace and I can't, there's too much that needs doing here, there's entire lists – "
"We won't tell," interjected Caspian, "so long as you don't do it again. You'll rip all the wounds on your back open, and Lucy's far too busy to drop what she's doing and come tend to your stubborn hide again."
"Oh, fine," Edmund huffed. "I'll be a good boy, happy now?"
"More like skeptical," Peter said drily.
At that Edmund's expression turned indignant. "I can behave if I put my mind to it, thank you very much."
"Ed, I've known you for your entire life and I can count on one hand the number of times you've done what you're told."
"Well, yes," he admitted, "but that's more of a personality quirk than a flaw, you see. And it's only under certain circumstances. If it's something really, really important I can be good as gold."
"Mm." Peter rolled his eyes. "Right then, you mentioned something about lists?"
Edmund immediately sobered. "Yeah. They're getting longer, too. I'll probably have to send for more parchment at some point."
"Lists of what?" Caspian asked.
Peter blinked. "People? As in, wounded, dead….?"
"No, as in missing. They're not anywhere to be found. There are no fatalities so far, thank Aslan, but there's a fair number of wounded. As far as I know they've all made it up to the medical tent where Lucy and the other healers are stationed. Susan and Glenstorm, along with his sons, are still searching the rubble for more survivors."
"Alright…so how do we know these missing people aren't buried out there somewhere and just haven't been found yet?"
Edmund unfurled a scroll on the desk as he spoke. "I thought of that as well, but that would only make sense if it were entire families gone missing, because Susan told me when she was up here last that finding a person alone is rare. Usually it's a house that's caved in on the whole family. These missing people…it's entirely random. No family has more than one individual that's unaccounted for, and some have no one missing. The only pattern is that they're mostly children."
Peter frowned as he looked over Edmund's shoulder at the parchment, names crowding the space from top to bottom. He noticed two more scrolls on the table and assumed they were identical. Shaking his head in bafflement, Peter took the list from Edmund and began to absently pace back and forth.
"How do this many children just…just vanish?" he wondered aloud. Caspian had unfurled another of the scrolls, but frowned in confusion.
"Ed, what do these numbers beside each name mean?"
"The first number is the person's age; the second is what district of the citadel they live in."
Peter fought the nausea when he noticed that the vast majority of names on his list were noted as being ten years of age or younger. There were a few who were in their teens or twenties, with the eldest being twenty –six.
"Children don't wander…" he mumbled.
"What?" Caspian asked. Peter turned to face them.
"Children don't just wander off during an attack. When we first came to Narnia, our old world was at war. There were attacks almost every night, but we didn't want to leave. I was almost sixteen at the time, but even then I wanted to stay close to home. And to our mother."
Edmund looked sober. "So if we can logically eliminate the possibility that they got lost, then either they're all wounded or worse, and stuck under some rubble somewhere in the citadel, or they've been…" he trailed off.
"Kidnapped." Caspian finished for him.
Peter tried not to let the rage show. First his brother, then Adeline, now this…would Xaviar's selfishness never end?
"That...that monster, he -" Edmund was beyond words, leaning forward and clenching the armrests of his chair so hard it wouldn't be surprising if he left nail marks in the wood. Instantly Peter somewhat regretted discussing this with him; Edmund needed rest and he'd whined and hounded at them for a solid fortnight before they would even let him do this much in the cleanup efforts.
"We don't know for certain," Peter said, in an attempt to calm his brother. Edmund looked like he was about to rupture an artery.
"But we know there's a good possibility. That lunatic has gone above and beyond any limits of basic, questionable morality that I previously gave him credit for. Kidnapping children, taking them by force away from their parents…" Edmund could go no further. Peter felt sick.
"We need to gather more information. But the moment we have enough…we'll act." Caspian's quiet voice was soothing and commanding at the same time, and it served to remind Peter that even amidst all the sorrow and fear that was threatening to choke him, there was work to be done. He sighed.
"Send for me if you learn anything else important." Edmund nodded, still too angry to speak, and Peter touched his shoulder briefly before turning and heading back out into the hot sun.
Adeline liked to think of herself as a patient person.
After all, she spent years learning how to handle her sword, how to properly protect Gwen and serve on the Royal Guard. While the work and training were tedious at times, she used any frustration to further energize her efforts. She was good at waiting.
But for heaven's sake, it had been three weeks, and she had all but lost her mind.
Everyday held the same routine. She dined with Xaviar for breakfast and dinner, always wearing whatever extravagant gown or day dress he sent up with the maids. The meal was always spent in one-sided silence; after her outburst on her first evening here, she hadn't said a word to him. This did nothing to discourage him, however. He babbled on about anything and everything, actually enjoying himself at times, while she sat less than a foot away and ignored him resolutely. It was infuriating at best, and she was beginning to suspect that she would die at a young age from extreme boredom.
Yet underneath all the dull activities, there was a tension in the air, something that Adeline couldn't quite put her finger on.
Absently she ran the brush through her hair. Thankfully the maids allowed her to do this much for herself, and tonight they'd even left early. After helping her change out of the ridiculous silk gown she'd had to wear for dinner and into an equally ridiculous night dress, they'd all curtsied and slipped out the door, leaving her in blessed solitude.
These quiet moments, with no one babbling in her ear or pulling the laces on her corset or pinning up her hair, were her favorite parts of the day. They were few and far between, but she hoarded every one, and tonight, as always, she allowed herself to remember.
Adeline allowed a tiny, sad smile. It seemed petty and immature, but one of her biggest comforts here in this nightmare was thinking of all the ways she preferred Edmund to Xaviar. It was easy, really. She was confused as to why she'd ever been attracted to Xaviar in the first place. Yes, he was handsome, certainly; over the past several months, however, Adeline had found that his previously captivating green eyes couldn't hold a candle to Edmund's brown ones.
Edmund's brown eyes. A wonderful, deep, warm brown, so dark she couldn't always see his pupils. He was tall, so tall, and lean, but she knew his strength was more wiry and agile than Peter's impressive muscular bulk. Despite his slim frame, he had broad shoulders. Broader than Xaviar's, actually.
Here her smile grew into an impish smirk. One of the biggest reasons she liked to think of Edmund so much was that she knew that Xaviar suspected her of doing so, especially after her proclamation after their first dinner, and she also knew that the suspicion positively drove him up the wall.
Of course, it had a major downside. Every time Adeline imagined Edmund's arms around her or thought back to that insane, unbelievable kiss they'd shared right before their mission to retrieve the Archenland spies, it drove the knife a little deeper, and caused the never-ending chorus to sound in her head – I won't ever see him again.
She blinked back the sting of tears; weeping would not change things. She had tried enough times already. Moving to the window, she looked out over the sheltered hillside and tried to remember which way was north, so that she could at least look towards Cair Paravel.
She knew they had at least left Narnia, and she had a hunch they were in Xaviar's family home, but she was hesitant to ask, firstly because if he suspected her at all of concocting an escape plan he would double the security and that would make her truly go insane; secondly because asking him would have required that she talk to him at all and Adeline was determined that she would not say a word until she had to recite her marriage vows.
At the thought of her impending wedding a shudder ran through her. She still couldn't quite believe it, that she was going to marry him. But only this morning at breakfast Xaviar had mentioned that a fitting session with the dressmaker had been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. She thought he also might have mentioned when exactly the wedding was to happen but she'd been too dumbstruck to remember.
Dully she watched the gathering dusk turn into night, and when the moon cast silvery shadows through the window, she let the drapes fall, snuffed the candle and climbed into bed, all the while trying to convince herself that perhaps it would hurt a little less in the morning.
Somehow sleep came easily for her, but it was in the early hours of the morning that a quiet, strange sound stirred her. Drowsy, she frowned in the darkness for a moment before the unmistakable rustle of clothing snapped her completely awake.
Fighting every instinct to jump to her feet, she slowly shifted, acting as though she still slept deeply. One hand slid beneath her pillow and grasped the gilded letter opener tightly; it wasn't much for a weapon but it was better than nothing, which was what she'd had until she had nicked this off Xaviar's desk when they had eaten breakfast in his study a few days ago.
Adeline continued to breathe, slow and even, and forced her muscles to relax into the mattress as her ears strained to determine how close the intruder was to her bed.
Quite suddenly a gloved hand clamped over her mouth, and she jerked the hand with the letter opener towards where she supposed he stood. She couldn't see anything past the end of her nose, but apparently he could, for another hand closed around her wrist and pinned it the bed. Fear began to cloud her senses as she writhed and struggled, but then she felt him lean down to whisper in her ear.
"Be still, my lady. I mean you no harm."
Given the circumstances, she wouldn't have believed a word of it unless she had recognized the voice. Instantly she relaxed, and the hands disappeared. She sat up, still unable to see anything in the thick darkness.
"Tomas?" she whispered incredulously. A hairline of moonlight appeared, and she could just make out the outline of a man standing by the window. Cautiously, she clambered out of bed, thankful for once that this stupid nightgown actually covered her properly with all the silk and lace, and shuffled over to him.
"Tomas, what are you doing here?"
For one, glorious, selfish second, she thought perhaps he'd come to rescue her, and she stamped out the idea before it had chance to grow.
Tomas looked nervous, yet oddly calm. Adeline supposed that a man who had lived as a spy right under the nose of a tyrant like Xaviar would be able to keep his wits about him, but her wits were nothing but frayed strands.
"My lady, I don't have long, but I bring urgent news from Narnia."
"Narnia? Wh-why, what's wrong?"
"They have need of you yet, my lady. The citadel is trying to rebuild from the Rebellion's attack, and in the process of tallying the dead and wounded, it has been discovered that almost two hundred children are missing. Their parents know nothing of their whereabouts, and the last any of them were seen was just before the attack."
Adeline's blood ran cold. "They think Xaviar's behind it?"
"They have no concrete evidence that he is…but I believe it is more than just a hunch, Lady."
She willed the room to stop spinning. "Lion's mane…he abducted Narnian children? Whatever for?"
Tomas remained silent, and when Adeline turned to him in question the words died on her lips.
"That's what you want me to find out."
He nodded. "Why, and where, if possible. It seems unlikely that even Xaviar would massacre that many children outright, but…he has managed to surprise us all before. Let us hope that he is holding them hostage, perhaps somewhere nearby."
"I'll do all I can," she promised. Deep down, beneath the worry for the missing children, she was rejoicing – how wonderful it was to have a purpose besides dolling herself up for dinner.
Tomas regarded her for a moment, before he spoke again, more quietly.
"Pardon my boldness, my lady, but I'm setting off for Cair Paravel before daybreak. If you wish to send word with me to their Majesties, I would be happy to serve you in any way I can."
Adeline's breath caught in her throat, but she nodded quickly and managed, "Could you wait for just a few moments? I won't be long."
He crossed over to the bed and retrieved one of the numerous pillows before tiptoeing to the door. He placed the pillow on the floor, along the crack that would have allowed any light to shine through, then came back to where Adeline stood by the window and lit a single, tiny candle. Its little flame was barely enough to see Tomas by, but hurriedly she spread two sheets of paper and readied her pen.
Frantically she scribbled, paying no mind to ink blots or smears on the first letter. She set it aside to dry while she wrote the second, taking her time and pausing to think over words with that one. At last she was finished, and rolled up both letters tightly before handing them over as she tried to subtly wipe the tears away.
"Tomas, I…," words failed her, so she simply placed one hand on his shoulder. "Thank you."
He gave her a small smile, blew out the candle, and then he slipped out the door and was gone.
Edmund set his fork down and leaned back in his chair.
"Lu, I can't eat anymore. If you keep trying to stuff me like this at every meal I'm going to get fat."
His sister eyed his plate, still half-full, critically before nodding. "Very well, that's as much as your stomach can handle right now anyway."
Affectionately, she shot him a half-serious glare. "But you'd better finish it all at dinner."
At the head of the table, Peter chuckled softly. Edmund rolled his eyes but didn't argue; his siblings were border-line smothering him these days, but Peter's rebuke a few days ago was still fresh in his memory. He'd seen all of them, Peter especially, in various states of injury and had hated it every single time. He could put up with their hovering and concerns for their sakes. After all, he'd wanted to do the same thing when Addie- he clenched his fists and inhaled sharply.
He barely managed to keep his face neutral, but inside it felt like his heart was crushed all over again. Just as soon as he started to smile or laugh, he would think of her and all he would be able to hear would be her telling Xaviar she'd marry him, give herself to him, and all he could see was the look in her eyes when he'd kissed her, hard and desperate, trying to convey without words that she wasn't supposed to go with Xaviar, she was supposed to stay here. Or Edmund could go to Anvard, he wasn't picky, as long as he got to be with Adeline. But because he'd been stupid, had let his guard down for one fraction of a second, she was going to be Xaviar's wife. For a moment, Edmund fought to keep down everything he'd just eaten.
A touch to his hand startled him, and he looked up to see everyone gazing at him with sympathy and concern. He took a deep breath and forced something that he hoped resembled a smile onto his face.
Lucy squeezed his hand gently before returning to her lunch, but he didn't miss the way her chin trembled just the slightest bit. He was trying to think of something to say that would get all their minds off of it when the door opened suddenly and Peter promptly choked on his drink.
"Your Majesties, I must beg your pardon for interrupting, but I didn't think you would want to wait for your stomachs to settle." Tomas strode into the room confidently, clad in a suit of armor that Edmund immediately recognized as one from Xaviar's army. In that moment he knew what Tomas had done, but everyone else was struck speechless.
"He could have recognized you, you know."
Tomas' eyes swung to meet Edmund's. "I'm aware, Sire. But I believe it may have been worth the risk."
He reached inside his cloak and withdrew two small scrolls. He handed the first to Peter, who unfurled it in confusion but the look morphed into shock when he saw the writing.
"You saw her?" he asked, astonished. Edmund closed his eyes briefly, trying to calm his racing heart.
"Lady Adeline, to be candid, is miserable and I believe quite lonely. But she is alive and unharmed, Your Highness." Tomas said quietly, glancing at Edmund.
Peter read the letter rapidly, his expression growing in bittersweet satisfaction. When he finished he looked up at Tomas.
"You were not required to risk your life yet again to deliver the information to Adeline, and yet you did. And as a result, she could very well find those children before it's too late. This country is indebted to you, Tomas."
The man simply bowed. "I am merely doing what I would want done for my own, were I a father."
Peter didn't seem to have an answer for that, and he laid the paper down on the table before asking, "What's the second letter?"
Tomas hesitated, but came around the table to stand beside Edmund's chair. "Her ladyship wrote this one for your eyes only, King Edmund."
Edmund had known, had known since Tomas had pulled those two scrolls out of his belt, but that didn't keep his hand from trembling when he took the proffered letter. For a moment he simply looked at it and then slowly he rose to his feet and headed for the door. Halfway there he paused and looked back.
"Thank you, Tomas."
He tried to convey that this, this was a much more personal favor than helping rescue the children of his people, and Tomas must have understood, for he gave another short bow before Edmund left the room.
Numbly, his feet carried him out one of the side doors, down a short flight of stairs, and through a back entrance into the small, private garden he had shown Adeline on her first morning at Cair Paravel. He smiled slightly, thinking how beautiful she'd been in that soft, white dress, and then grimaced as he thought of another white dress she would be wearing soon. The breeze carried the scent of flowers and the ocean, and he wandered over to a bench that sat beneath an apple tree.
There, in the dappled sunlight, he opened Adeline's letter and began to read.
I hope you're feeling better. I knew Xaviar wouldn't be kind, but seeing you that way was awful. Listen to Lucy, and please don't push yourself too hard. You are one of the strongest people I know, but you are still human. Give yourself time to heal.
I promised myself I wouldn't stall, so here goes:
I'm sorry. I really am so horribly, dreadfully, truly sorry that I had to do that to you. Not a day goes by that I don't think about the look in your eyes, or the way you shouted my name, or the way you kissed me goodbye. I pray you can one day forgive me.
I don't suppose it would be right for me to regret making the deal with Xaviar. Though I hate it here, here with him, I would hate losing you to his sword even more. Narnia needs you, Ed. And while I also need you, more than I've ever needed anyone in my entire life….I'll try and find a way to survive. I'm not sure how I'll manage, honestly. More than anything in this world I wish to be with you. I couldn't care less where, just as long as you're close enough for me to reach out and hold your hand, that's good enough for me.
There, now see, I also promised myself that this letter wouldn't make either or both of us feel worse than we already do.
More than having to leave you though, I'm sorry for not telling you sooner that I love you. I'd known for ages, I was just too blind and scared to understand what the feeling was, but the moment I saw that I might lose you forever, I knew.
I love you, Edmund Pevensie. From the way you tease me for being so short-statured, to the way you fight tirelessly for Narnia and your family, to the way you held me in your arms when I just couldn't bear the pain of losing Gwen. I love you, wholly, completely, and hopelessly.
Every last bit of you, even the parts you have deemed unlovable – I will continue to love them all until the world meets its end, regardless of whose hand I join with mine in marriage. Please, no matter what happens, don't forget that.
And no matter what happens, Eddie, don't come for me this time. I'm sure Peter's explained to you why it has to be this way.
Please, at some point, see to it that my father returns to Anvard safely. Fitz and Izzy will look after him, and I think I might be seeing them soon anyway.
Give my love and thanks to the others, but always remember that my love for you is unlike anything I feel for any other.
Edmund smoothed the paper with still-trembling hands, noticing now the faint smudges and tear drops that marred Adeline's otherwise neat, gentle penmanship. His eyes kept returning to that paragraph – I love you, Edmund Pevensie.
He leaned his head against the tree trunk and closed his eyes, willing the burning tears to recede from his eyes. He swallowed the lump in his throat, and through blurry vision read the paragraph again.
It was some time before he got up and rejoined his siblings upstairs.