Lucy wasn't sure what to do; Amos looked stunned, so obviously the name Lady Adeline carried some importance, even out here on a backwoods Archenland farm. She looked to her siblings, finding identical looks of confusion on their faces. They all waited, hoping for some sort of explaination.
At last finding his voice, Amos stammered, "My apologies, my lady. I didn't recognize you. You didn't have to share your hunt with us."
"Please, just Adeline," she said softly, almost pleadingly. "Formal titles aren't exactly necessary in a place like this. And it's not a hunt if the animal already is someone else's possession. It was only right that I share; besides, I couldn't have eaten it all by myself before it spoiled. I really am sorry I cost you a sheep, though."
Amos waved the last part aside, saying, "You had no way o'knowin' that sheep belonged to anyone. There's not 'nother farm for miles in any direction, and if you 'ad known you wouldn't 'ave shot it. I could tell that when you tried to pay for it."
Susan leaned forward suddenly, her brow creased with confusion.
"How did Edmund know you were the one who shot it, anyway?"
"It wasn't that hard," Edmund said dryly, "The carcass was hanging across the back of her horse."
Adeline's mouth lifted just slightly as Lucy put in, "Well, I do hope he wasn't rude. Ed, you didn't just walk up to her and ask if she'd stolen that sheep, did you?"
She watched as her brother's ears turned bright pink; Adeline was full-out grinning now in satisfaction at his obvious discomfort.
"Well…erm, actually, we had a slight disagreement before I could ask her anything."
"And by slight disagreement he means that he tackled me off of my horse." Adeline's voice was sarcastic, but it was clear she was amused, not upset. Her smile got even bigger when Susan and Lucy both rounded on Edmund, who (understandably) flinched.
"You tackled her off her horse?"
"Eddy, no wonder she's got that lump on her head! How could you? Oh, I hope she fought back, I can't believe you would do that-"
"Hang on," Edmund interjected, raising his hands defensively, "I didn't give her that lump, she said that one's several days old. And I made sure she wasn't hurt before we even got back to the house. And, she most certainly did fight back. My nose is still throbbing, and that was before she almost threw me into a tree. Didn't even use her hands."
"My hands were currently occupied, trying to stop your hands from strangling me." She swiftly retorted, taking a sip of her tea to hide her laughter. "But I think I caused more harm than you did."
"You see," Edmund exclaimed, pointing an accusatory finger at Adeline. "She's the one who could have hurt me, so why am I the one being scolded?"
"Because, if you hadn't been a brute and attacked me in the first place, then this conversation wouldn't be necessary."
Edmund's jaw swung open in outrage as the others enjoyed a good laugh at his expense.
"I like her," Peter announced, setting his mug down as he beamed fondly across the table at the girl. "I like her a lot."
Amos chuckled a bit more, much to Edmund's chagrin, before Lucy asked seriously, "Is your head alright, Adeline?"
"It's still sore from time to time, but it's improved so much over the past few days that I really can't complain. Thank you, though."
"What happened to it, anyway?" asked Susan.
The change was instantaneous. All traces of a smile were gone, the twinkle in her eyes that had been so vivid as she'd teased Edmund was replaced with a shuttered look that spoke volumes of pain. Lucy had never seen anyone look like that before.
Susan apparently hadn't, either. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
Adeline shook her head slightly, dropping her gaze to the tabletop and wrapping her hands around her mug.
"It's alright; you asked out of concern."
Her voice drifted off, and they waited a moment before she started again.
"It is not an easy or pleasant story to tell." She paused, her jaw clenching for a moment. "I know it must look incredibly suspicious, just showing up at random in the woods, but if it would not be an imposition," she turned to Amos, "I need a place to stay just for a few days. I will cause no trouble, and I'm willing to help out in any way I can."
Amos contemplated her for a moment, before turning to the four siblings seated at his table.
"When did you four need to leave?"
"That depends," Peter answered, "How long would it take us to reach Caspian's castle from here?"
"A'least a week, but he's not using the old fortress as his main headquarters now. He's rebuilt Cair Paravel."
Lucy gasped, turning wide eyes to Susan.
"Su, he rebuilt the Cair! Can you imagine?"
"How long is it from here?" asked Edmund.
Amos shrugged. "Likely a week'n a half, barrin' any setbacks."
"I'm sorry," cut in the newest addition to their little household, "But why do you need to see King Caspian? I'm assuming that's whom you're speaking of?"
"Yes, King of Narnia." Peter said. He hesitated, looking to Edmund, but the latter just shrugged as if to say, Might as well.
"Right then, do you know who we are?"
She looked positively baffled, but as her eyes roved over the four of them Lucy saw understanding begin to dawn. She could practically see her mind replaying their conversation, and Lucy was sure she saw Adeline's lips form the words "throne room" before she gasped.
"You….you're the Four. The Kings and Queens of Old, from all the stories."
Peter was obviously pleased that she'd guessed it; he nodded before explaining how they'd come from their other world, and their journey before finding Amos. By the end of it she looked shocked, to say the least, but also contemplative.
The rest of them sat in silence as she chewed her lip, deep in thought. When she did speak, she sounded hesitant, unsure of herself.
"Your Majesties –"
"Now, we can't have that," interrupted Edmund. Everyone looked at him, perplexed until he continued, "Our names are Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. As you said earlier, formal titles aren't much use in these parts. And I think that after sharing a meal around the same table, you can regard all five of us as friends."
The others nodded their agreement, which seemed to please Adeline slightly.
"Alright. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy…and Amos," she added, looking to that man with a hopeful expression, "Would any of you be opposed to my accompanying you to Cair Paravel?"
Peter recovered first. He leaned over the table, looking at Adeline intently.
"I don't mean this to be rude, alright? I just need to make sure before we get roped into anything without knowing." He paused, waiting for her to nod in understanding before he continued, "You're not running from the law, are you?"
She shook her head vehemently. "No, I can tell you that much."
That seemed to be good enough for Peter. He looked to the others for their approval, which was given readily, and turned back to Adeline with a broad smile.
"You're more than welcome to join us."
The relief on her face was incredible. "Thank you."
Lucy was glad; Adeline seemed nice enough, and Peter wouldn't let her travel with them if he didn't trust her.
Still, a little niggling voice in the back of her head asked just what, exactly, they had gotten themselves in for.
Peter tossed and turned, unable to find a comfortable position. They had all gone to bed a couple of hours ago, Adeline fighting him and Edmund relentlessly over who would sleep on the floor. She had reasoned that it made absolutely no sense for two people to give up a double bed so one person could have it. Peter had reasoned that he wasn't about to sleep in a comfortable bed when there was a woman in a bedroll downstairs. Edmund had not reasoned at all, and merely threatened to pull rank and order Adeline to take the bed in the loft.
In the end, Adeline's (unfortunately) logical approach had won. She had flatly refused to take Amos's room, either, so after a solid twenty minutes arguing and another ten persuading Adeline to at least take an extra blanket, they had all finally settled in for the night, and sleep had claimed them all not long after.
Why, he didn't exactly know. He knew Edmund had had trouble sleeping their first night here, but ever since their days had been long and hard, putting in hours of back-breaking labor, and most nights Peter couldn't remember anything past pulling the blankets up to his chin.
But now, he was wide awake, alert to every creak the house made, every rush of wind through the surrounding trees, and it was for this reason he knew the exact moment a horse whinnied.
Not an unusual sound on a farm, he knew. But this one, for some reason, sounded different. He heard it again, and he realized it was coming from the north, the opposite side of the house as the barn.
Maybe one of the horses got out, he thought, and as silently as he could he crept downstairs, stepping over Adeline's sleeping form and making his way to the door.
A sliver crescent moon hung low in the sky, but he stood on the porch and squinted, trying to make out the shape of a horse against the northern tree line. All was silent, and he had just started to take a step off the porch to take a closer look when a hand suddenly clamped over his mouth, dragging him back into the house.
Once the door was shut, he wrenched the hand off and spun around to see Adeline. Either she was a light sleeper, or she hadn't been sleeping in the first place. She pressed a finger to her lips, and he bit back his questions as he watched her move to peek out the shuttered window.
When she turned back to face him, he saw a strange expression on her face: a mixture of determination, fear, and what might have been guilt.
"Go wake the others. Get dressed and come back down here, quickly. Be as silent as possible."
Her instructions, given in what could barely be called a whisper, surprised him, but she was already looking out the miniscule crack in the shutters, giving him no chance to argue.
Five minutes later, all six of them were standing in the kitchen, dressed and wide awake. Lucy's eyes were huge in her pale face, but Adeline offered no apologies or explanations as she turned from her vigil at the window to face them. She had changed clothes herself while Peter was upstairs rousing his siblings.
"I can't offer any explanations now. All I can tell you is that if you do exactly as I say, then everyone will make it out of here alive."
She was still whispering, and now he realized that it was because she was afraid of being overheard; so many questions sprang to Peter's mind that he clamped his lips together to keep from spilling them all out. It was clear that she regretted the situation, for the obvious danger they were now in, but for now she was asking them to trust her.
And as crazy as it sounded, Peter had every confidence that he could trust her; trust her with his life, with the lives of his family, and yes, even Amos's life, since he was already included. He took a deep breath, knowing that if he showed any doubts, then the others would follow suit.
"What would you have us do?"
She shot him a grateful look before gesturing to her saddlebags.
"Pack enough provisions to get us over the Narnian border. Only necessities. Then go to the back door and wait for me."
As soon as she finished she hurried into Amos's room, but the others stood in shock, looking at each other as though expecting someone to pop up and say it was all a dream.
No one did, though, so Peter shook himself out of his daze and turned to gather vegetables and a few fruits. Lucy reached for a few small pots and pans, Susan filled several skins with water, and Amos was helping Edmund pull off a cured side of bacon, wrapping it in clean cloths.
They had just finished when Adeline came back in, but she didn't pause, instead heading straight for the loft. They could hear her moving about softly, doing what they didn't know, but Peter caught the sound of another horse out in the yard and his heart started to pound roughly.
He stood by the back door, a small, inconspicuous portal that was practically hidden by the trees. Which was precisely why, Peter realized, Adeline had instructed them to wait for her here. He hefted the saddlebags in one hand, clasping Lucy's with the other. He squeezed reassuringly.
Adeline suddenly appeared, and Peter noticed for the first time a sword was hanging on her hip. She unsheathed it now, the blade sliding out without so much as the faintest scrape of metal.
She unlatched the door, poking her head out first and looking all around carefully before taking two steps outside, gesturing them all to hurry into the trees. Her sword was held at the ready, keeping watch until Edmund brought up the rear. She followed him into the dense growth, and they stood beneath an ancient pine and tried not to breathe loudly or snap any twigs, watching to see what she would do next.
Adeline started off through the trees, skirting just out of sight from the pasture. They headed along the western edge, aiming straight for the barn. Peter noticed that they never went too close to the edge of the trees, where they could be seen. Whatever was out there, it was definitely something Adeline wished to avoid.
Sooner than Peter anticipated, they arrived at the back side of the barn, and his pulse pounded when he spotted a man in armor sitting on a horse not twenty yards from where they were hiding. Thankfully the soldier was oblivious to their presence, and a few moments later he rode off slowly in the direction of the house.
Edmund turned to Adeline, confused. "What's he doing?"
Her brow was furrowed as she answered slowly, "I'm not sure. I think-"
Her words cut off in a gasp; Peter whirled and watched a flaming arrow fly in a high arc and strike the roof of the house. The solitary flame caught the thatch roof, and the orange and yellow glow quickly spread. Moments later hordes of identical arrows followed, and the six of them stood transfixed as they watched the house go up in a column of fire and smoke.
Adeline sprang into action.
"Edmund, Amos, with me. Now."
She turned to Peter, took the saddlebags out of his hand and replaced them with her sword, then turned and ran towards the barn with Amos and Edmund on her heels carrying the rest of their supplies.
Peter gripped the hilt; the blade was smaller than what he was used to, and admittedly he was six years out of practice, but he still kept a sharp eye open, backing his sisters into a tree trunk.
After what seemed an eternity of agonizing waiting, the others reappeared, along with six horses saddled and ready to go. Within moments they were mounted, and without any further words Adeline's steed broke into a fast canter, leading them in a sharp north-western course away from what was left of Amos's farm.
They rode for what had to be hours. The first pink streaks of dawn were fingering their way across the sky when Adeline finally called them to rest in a small clearing.
For a moment no one said anything. No one could say anything, really. But Adeline finally broke the silence, turning first to Amos.
"I'm so dreadfully sorry, Amos. I never intended for that to happen."
That man, bless his soul, looked the girl straight in the eye.
"It weren't but a house. And it wasn't your doin' anyhow."
Adeline looked relieved at this, sending him a small smile before facing Peter.
"I owe you my apologies as well, Peter."
He looked at her for a moment, read the desperation and regret written so clearly on her face; he realized that she now considered their safety her responisibility.
"Adeline, there's not a shred of doubt in my mind that you would have done all in your power to protect us. That means far more to me than unintentionally leading a bunch of rogue soldiers to the farm."
She was past relieved now; she looked to be on the verge of tears. Her hands fidgeted with the reins, and her gaze dropped to her lap as she spoke quietly.
"Those men have been following me for nearly a week. I don't know what they want, or who they are or who they work for. But I truly thought I'd lost them before I came anywhere near you. Obviously I was wrong."
She didn't look up, her hands now clenched around her saddle horn.
"As you can probably guess, it's not safe to go back. I'll take you to King Caspian myself, and once you're safe at Cair Paravel we'll part ways."
Peter frowned a bit at that. "If those men are hunting you, won't they catch you once you leave us?"
"That's a risk I'll have to take."
The words were said so simply, so cryptically. It sounded as though she was arranging a business meeting rather than signing her own death warrant.
"I don't understand." Susan said, "If you're known as Lady Adeline, Caspian ought to have heard of you. And even if he hasn't, you'd still be more than welcome to stay at the Cair until it was safe for you to leave."
"I'm not sure it ever will be safe for me out here, my lady. And you might wish for me to consider you as friends, which I do so gladly, but I can't ignore the fact that the four of you are royal. No matter what happens to me, I cannot allow danger to come so close to you again."
"So, what then?" Edmund jumped in. "We say goodbye at the gates, watch you ride off into the sunset to your own execution? After you just saved our lives?"
Peter was shaking his head before Edmund had even finished. "I'm sorry, Adeline, but there's no way I'm agreeing to that. If you leave the Cair, so will we."
That she hadn't expected them to argue was obvious. Her mouth hung open slightly, and she looked back and forth between the four of them in disbelief. Amos spoke up from the edge of their little circle.
"No use, lass. Stubborn as mules, they are. There's no chance of 'em letting you ride off by yourself, not after seein' what those soldiers did back there."
Her look turned a bit apprehensive, but all she said in reply was, "We can discuss this later. For now, we should keep riding."
Peter shot Edmund a look the moment she'd turned to leave the clearing. He knew that his brother was thinking the exact same thing:that no matter what happened between here and Narnia, this girl wasn't going anywhere without them.
"My lord. It is done."
He turned to the messenger, standing in the open doorway.
"You are certain? He is dead?"
"He took refuge in a farmhouse in the western Archenlands. The men burned the house to the ground."
He frowned a bit at that, fingering the deep scar on the underside of his jaw. The wound was still fresh, and at times quite sore, reminding him of how close he'd come to being discovered that night in Tashbaan.
He cursed himself yet again for his own stupidity; the stranger had come out of nowhere, and even with the bright full moon he hadn't caught a glimpse of their face well enough to recognize who it was. He'd been fearful that the struggle had been overheard, and fled the princess's chambers without even pausing to look at the unconscious form on the floor. By the time he felt it was safe enough to sneak back in, the stranger was long gone. He felt a mild twinge of guilt over hunting down a mere boy. Still, even the testimony of a child could be the undoing of several years' worth of planning. It wasn't worth the risk.
"Was he in the house?"
"Yes, my lord, along with several others. One of the soldiers snuck in unnoticed and saw their sleeping forms in all the beds."
That sounded better. The sooner he got rid of this fellow, the less nervous he'd have to be.
"Very well. Tell the men to stick to the plan; we don't make any moves for at least another month."
"It will be done, my lord."
Susan had muscle aches in places she didn't even know she had muscles. Knowing it was due to the long time spent in the saddle, she swung her feet to the ground gingerly, wincing and gripping the saddle horn as her knees buckled.
Lucy didn't appear to be much better off, and Amos and the boys were definitely sore as well, though perhaps not quite as severely. They all followed Adeline through the thick undergrowth, stepping around bushes and ducking under the occasional low branch.
They'd been riding for the past two days, stopping only when it became too dark to see. By Amos's estimation they had about half a day to go until they crossed the Narnian border; the amount of ground they'd covered in such a short time was unbelievable, but their guide never hesitated, seeming to be familiar with the terrain and different routes.
Adeline had also told them that the smaller party meant they could travel faster, whereas if any of the soldiers were following them it would take at least an entire day for all of them to catch up, not to mention the possibility of being followed in the first place was minute. The news was heartening, and made the painful hours of horseback riding more bearable.
Now, Adeline led them to a small clearing near a clear, small stream. She set about gathering firewood while the others refilled the water skins and tethered the horses and got out their dwindling food supply. Dinner, as always, was simple and eaten quickly. After they'd finished eating they all found a fallen log or clean rock to sit on, and they sat in silence, enjoying the peace of the woods.
Susan's mind, however, was far from peaceful. She was back in Narnia, a place she'd almost convinced herself didn't exist at all. But if it was all make-believe, why did she feel happy for the first time in six years?
Because Caspian is here, that's why, reasoned the tiny part of her that couldn't ignore the truth.
But it had been three years for him, she reasoned. Surely a king of a prosperous and peaceful nation would have found a queen for himself by now. She knew exactly what other women would find appealing about him.
He was a king, and a fine one at that, but he was also a man who held himself to the expectations of his people. He was kind, and fair, and good. Such a man was hard to find, even in a world where magic actually existed. There was little to no chance that he was still unwed, and even if he was, that didn't guarantee he still felt anything for her.
She pushed the matter to the back of her mind; there was no purpose in getting upset about it now. She could worry about it when the time came. For now, the priority was keeping all six of them alive until they reached the Cair.
Looking around at the others, she could tell they, like her, were all lost in deep thought.
Well, all save for one.
Edmund, who had been unconsciously staring at Adeline for the past several minutes, suddenly asked, "How'd you get to be known as the Lady Adeline?"
The question clearly surprised her; her head jerked in his direction and her eyes widened slightly before she fully heard the question.
"Er…well…um, actually I've served in battle a few times. I suppose that's the reason. It's actually just Lady Adeline, but someone somewhere added 'the' and it rather stuck."
By the end she was flushing slightly, and one of Ed's eyebrows was arched slightly as he watched her.
Amos had been quietly sitting off to the side, but he suddenly burst out, "No offense meant, m'lady, but there's a reason – a great many reasons – why the people know you as the Lady Adeline."
"Really?" Edmund grinned. "I believe we have time for a story or two. Amos, please do share."
Adeline shook her head no vigorously, but Amos promptly ignored her and settled in, obviously enjoying himself.
"Well, one of her most famous conquests was against the Telmarines, after King Caspian defeated Lord Miraz. Some refused to dwell 'longside Narnians, so they tried invadin' Archenland."
Susan was surprised by that. "Did Narnia send any aid?"
"Oh yes," Amos assured her, "but it wasn't needed. Lady Adeline fell nearly a 'undred foot soldiers singlehandedly. The King's finest warriors were forced to just follow her 'round the battlefield, because there were no more soldiers to kill once she came along."
"Oh, please, Amos," Adeline cut in, her cheeks flushing, "None of the warlords followed me anywhere. They sent me to fight, to defend Archenland."
"Aye, and you went beyond what was asked o'you, lass. You did a great deal more'n prevent an invasion. You showed the world what Archenland is willin' to do for their king, for their crown. King Caspian himself praised you to King Fitz."
Adeline wasn't looking at any of them, staring resolutely at the anthill beside her foot. Peter wasn't having it, however. He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and looking at Adeline intently.
"You felled a hundred men by yourself?"
Her face was bright pink now, but she nodded briefly in answer.
"Yes, but I didn't keep count."
They all laughed, and Edmund urged Amos, "Well, then go on. What other great things has she done?"
"After that, now, she returned back to Anvard, was made a member o' the royal guard, and resumed her protective duties for the Princess Gwen."
Here, Amos turned to face Adeline, asking, "Where is the Princess, lass? Strange for you to be off without 'er."
There was a long moment of silence; Adeline's face was a mask of stone, exactly the way it had looked when Susan had asked her in Amos's kitchen about the lump on her forehead.
They all looked at her in surprise, but none more so than Amos.
"Dead?" He echoed, his voice disbelieving.
Adeline was still looking at the ground; she clenched her hands together and took a deep, shaky breath before replying.
"Yes. Princess Gwen was found dead in her chambers while visiting Tashbaan."
Amos seemed unable to say anything else. He stared at Adeline in shock, while the others tried to make sense of the conversation. Finally, Lucy spoke up gently, saying, "Adeline, you don't have to tell us about it if you'd rather not."
Adeline shook her head slightly. "No, it's alright. I owe you that much."
She met their gazes at last; Peter nodded encouragingly and she seemed to take heart, shifting her position and hugging her knees.
"I've been Gwen's personal bodyguard since we were children," she started, and gradually she told them of how she'd gotten in a scrap one day with a young boy whose father worked in the palace in Anvard. She'd absolutely thrashed him, and the king just happened to be walking by at the time and saw the tail end of it; she'd made the boy apologize to the little girl he'd been bullying right when Adeline had passed by. King Fitzgerald had called her to him, asking why she'd done such a thing.
"I told him I didn't like how he'd treated the little girl, and since he wouldn't listen to me I decided to do something about it." Adeline said, fondness in her voice as she delved into the memories. Susan watched as she visibly relaxed, the tension leaving her shoulders.
"I thought the king would scold me or throw me into the stocks, but he just smiled and asked where my parents were. My mother had been dead for nearly three years, and my father was too drunk to notice when I was gone, so at seven years of age I was left mostly to my own devices. When the king learned that he sent a servant to gather my few things, then took my hand and brought me to the palace to meet Queen Isabella and Gwen."
She paused again, a bittersweet smile on her face.
"I was told that the princess needed someone to look after her, a companion. They offered to let me live in the palace as an honored guest, and I would be allowed to play and go wherever Gwen did. It sounded too good to be true, but in time I saw that they'd meant every word. I came to consider them the closest thing I'd ever had to family. King Fitz and Queen Isabella regarded me as one of their own."
Susan felt the prickle of tears behind her eyes. She exchanged a glance with Lucy, who was in a similar state.
"But now Gwen's dead." Adeline's voice was bitter now; she seemed to be talking more to herself than to anyone else. "And I, like a coward, ran because I feared the consequences of allowing harm to befall her."
"I'm sure you did everything you could." Susan reassured her, but the girl merely shook her head.
"There is no excuse for cowardice. Not now, not ever." She replied harshly, and they all fell silent.
She stood abruptly, reaching for her sword that had been laid to the side while they ate.
"I'll keep first watch. The rest of you need to rest; we've still a long way to go."
Their conversation was clearly over, but Susan couldn't help but wonder, as they laid out the blankets and Peter banked the fire, if perhaps there was a bit more to Adeline's story.