Lucy had not been expecting to cross a river.
To her knowledge, there was no river anywhere near the Narnian border, and they shouldn't have come upon the Great River for another couple of days.
But when she'd questioned Adeline the latter had informed her that there were several unnamed branches of the Great River, and this was one of the largest. It wasn't very long, in fact it emptied into a large lake just a few miles to the east, but it was wide, and thanks to the heavy rain they'd gotten yesterday it was also quite swift.
Lucy thought the opposite shoreline seemed entirely too far away. She knew better than to complain, though; she glanced at Adeline, who was also staring across the current with a speculative look. Peter waited patiently, but when she said nothing he asked, "Do you think we can make it?"
She nodded slowly. "Yes, but we'll need to use extreme caution." One hand reached behind her as she spoke, retrieving a length of rope from one of her saddlebags. It was caught underneath something, and when she tugged more forcefully Lucy caught a glimpse of something gold, some sort of square, but before she could figure out what it was the rope came free.
"Here," Adeline tossed the end to Susan. "Tie it to your saddles. It'll help us stay together."
Lucy moved to get in line behind her sister, with Amos directly after her. Edmund once again was in the back, and after he'd secured the rope to his saddle Adeline moved her horse carefully into the water.
Lucy tried to keep her teeth from chattering; Adeline had let her and Susan borrow an extra pair of trousers that morning, but they weren't very good at keeping out the cold water.
They were nearly out to the middle of the river now, the current pushing at Lucy's waist; she tried to focus on the gradually nearing shoreline to distract herself from the cold.
A strange whistling sound made her look over her shoulder, just in time to see the arrow sink into her horse's left haunch, and right then the whole world erupted.
Her horse bucked under the pain, squealing horribly, and Lucy felt her feet wrench out of the stirrups and she would have fallen off and been swept away if a callused hand hadn't grabbed her upper arm.
"Easy, lass, I've got ya." Amos's deep voice met her ears, clearer than all the muffled yelling that everyone seemed to be doing at the moment, and he pulled closer to her mare, untying the rope that connected her to their little chain. The animal was already limp, and vanished beneath the water when the rope came free. Lucy felt sick, but she held onto Amos's arm, arching her neck to keep her face above the current.
A shout from behind her brought her head around, and she felt her heart stop when she saw her brothers and Tomas trying to speed up, trying to get out of range of the soldiers that stood on the Archenland shore, armed with swords and crossbows.
A great splash made her jump, and she watched Adeline ride past them, shouting at Amos to get her and Susan across. Amos lifted Lucy onto the saddle, sitting sideways in front of him, and nudged his horse forward till they pulled even with Susan. The three of them looked back; Tomas was nearest, with Peter and Edmund not far behind him.
The six of them made it out of the water and up the muddy bank and then turned to watch the scene unfold. To their utter astonishment, Adeline wasn't following them. Instead she sat atop her horse in the middle of the river, arrow notched to her bow, pointed at the soldiers.
As Lucy watched she let the arrow fly, and a man fell to the ground a second later. His companions seemed uncertain at that point, looking back and forth between Adeline and her target, and when a few moments had gone by without another move from them Adeline slid her bow back into the quiver, turned her horse around and headed towards the bank.
Lucy could only just make out the men's shapes from this distance, but there was no mistaking the motions of one soldier as he raised his bow.
"Watch out!" Peter's cry came too late; the arrow sunk into the back of Adeline's left shoulder, the impact knocking her completely out of her saddle. Tomas gasped, Amos stood just to the side and slightly in front of Susan and Lucy, who watched in horror as her brothers ran back down to the water.
The horse had kept coming towards them, almost like it hadn't noticed, and Edmund grabbed the reins, holding it still, while Peter had waded out further, searching frantically for a glimpse of their friend.
He ventured out even more, the water up to his chest, and it looked like he was sweeping his arms in a wide arc under the surface, feeling for her.
Suddenly a hand shot up just in front of him, and a split second later Peter had grabbed it, heaving a dripping, bloody, and choking Adeline almost completely out of the water. He held her tightly against him, hooking one arm behind her knees, the other supporting her back, and carrying her out of the river.
Amos helped him up the bank, Peter extending the hand that was behind Adeline's back while she locked her arms around his neck. She was still coughing roughly, her entire frame shuddering, and the blood had already soaked through her shirt, an ugly red smear starting to make its way down her back.
Peter led them all a bit further into the woods, out of sight of the soldiers, who were – thankfully – keeping on their side of the river. He set Adeline down on a flat rock, gripping her shoulders to hold her steady.
Lucy moved around to the back of her; she longed for her healing cordial, but was also thankful that she'd learned a fair amount of natural remedies during her time as Queen.
She lifted the edge of Adeline's tunic gingerly, peering underneath to try and get a glimpse of the wound, but it was too far down, closer to the bottom of her shoulder blade, and Lucy shook her head.
"Well, first things first, Ed, are those soldiers following us?"
Her brother went to check, and came back to report, "No, but they've not left either. I think they're considering crossing."
Lucy sighed. "Very well. We'll have to make do for now, and patch it up later when we've got time. Will you four step around those trees there for a moment?"
Edmund looked like he didn't want to leave, but he said nothing and instead followed the other men out of sight. Susan immediately set to work on the buttons going down Adeline's front, and the sisters removed the wet garment as gently as possible, peeling it away from the soaked camisole underneath.
Lucy winced when the wound was uncovered; it was deep, and the arrow must have torn free while Adeline had been underwater, because there was gash that ran off the side of the puncture. The blood was gushing, running down her back, staining the waistband of her trousers with crimson.
"There're some clean bandages in one of my saddlebags." Adeline's voice surprised Lucy; it was calm and even, and sounded like getting shot clean off your horse and nearly drowning were everyday occurrences.
The bandages were sopping wet, but the river wasn't all that filthy so Lucy wrung them out the best she could and dressed the wound, using the spare cloths to mop the blood off of Adeline's back. In short order she was dressed again, and Lucy moved around to kneel in front of her.
"Do you ever put yourself first, Adeline?"
The question seemed to surprise her; her blue eyes widened slightly before she asked, "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Lucy said carefully, not wanting to sound ungrateful, "that you've done nothing but put your life on the line for ours over and over again, ever since we left Amos's farm."
To her own surprise, a wry smile twisted Adeline's mouth before she answered, "That's all I've ever done, Lucy. That was my job, for thirteen years. You do something long enough, you don't really think about it much."
It seemed a rather morbid way to live, to Lucy's thinking, but she didn't say that, instead patting Adeline on her good shoulder before calling the men back to join them.
Peter had sustained plenty of injuries. One simply didn't fight Jadis and Miraz without acquiring more than a few bumps here and there. But every time, he'd had healers on hand, the whole of the Narnian army behind him, ready to fight whenever he gave the order, and it had always turned out alright. Always.
He was not used to someone else taking the knocks for him. The red stain on Adeline's shoulder was difficult for him to stomach, a constant reminder that he should have been the one fighting them off, keeping the danger at bay while the others rode to safety.
The rational part of his brain reminded him that Adeline was the only one of them who was sufficiently armed, that he and Edmund were using stolen swords, and in any case swords hadn't been of much use at the river. Adeline had drawn her bow, ordered him and Edmund to run for it, and without even questioning her further they'd obeyed.
What sort of king was he, anyway, to allow a woman – capable though she may be – to make herself the barrier between him and death?
He glanced over at her, noticing her pale face and the even paler knuckles that clenched the saddle horn in front of her; he somehow knew she wouldn't say a word about the pain or her fatigue, instead putting up a brave front to keep up their morale or some other such rubbish.
Lucy, however, had other ideas.
"I think we can stop here for a bit," she announced, and Adeline's head shot up. But Lucy, who had taken Edmund's horse while the latter walked, had already dismounted and was walking over to her patient.
"Let's take a look at that shoulder, Addie."
The nickname must have done the trick, because Adeline climbed down – a bit more awkwardly and stiffly than usual – and obediently followed Lucy over to a nearby tree stump. Peter got down himself and gathered the reins of Adeline's stallion with his own, and led them around a cluster of birch trees. Edmund, Amos, and Tomas followed and they settled in for a – hopefully – short wait.
They were closer to the girls than they had been last time, so they could all still hear what was being said. Peter's gut clenched when Adeline hissed in pain, and Susan's quiet, "Oh, dear" only confirmed his suspicions on the severity of the wound. The guilt twisted into a harder knot inside him.
No more words floated to them through the trees, and after a few minutes Lucy called them back. Adeline's face, if possible, was even paler than before, and he could have sworn he saw her hand tremble when she held it out. He knew she wouldn't like being coddled, so despite every inch of him screaming to help her he simply handed the reins over.
He couldn't stop himself, however, from waiting to make sure she didn't need help mounting. Unsurprisingly, she managed quite well with only one arm, and once seated she took a few deep breaths.
Her hands were plainly shaking now, whether from pain or from blood loss he didn't know, but she lifted her chin slightly and they started off again. Peter exchanged a worried glance with Lucy, who looked more resigned than anything.
It seemed that Adeline was still the one in charge, the one taking care of them all. The absurdity of it all made him shake his head a little.
Nobody had better ever call me stubborn again, he thought, and he contented himself with keeping a close eye on Adeline as they travelled north.
Their pace was quick, but not as fast as it had been before; they pulled to a stop on some sort of cliff, overlooking what Peter instantly recognized as the Great River. It was nearing midday, and sun reflected off the water, and the trees moved in the slight breeze, and it looked just exactly like Narnia that Peter couldn't help but sigh in relief.
Home. They were finally, finally home.
A couple of hours later, Adeline had successfully led them down the cliff, though how she kept such a firm grip on the reins with only one hand was beyond Peter. But make it down they did, and it seemed almost too good to be true when Peter walked over – Lucy was taking a turn on his horse so Edmund could ride – and scooped up a handful of river water, of Narnian river water, and threw it in the air.
He couldn't stop the small laugh that escaped him, and he looked over at the others and found his joy matched in his siblings' faces. Adeline managed a small smile, but her face was still tense with pain, though he wasn't sure she was aware of it. Amos, cheerful man that he was, simply looked happy at the fact that others were happy; Tomas was looking off into the distance with a strange look on his face.
Peter hesitated; the man had only joined them that morning, and had kept very much to himself. Still, he'd proved to be a sturdy traveler, never complaining, and Peter didn't want to assume he was up for more. So he asked, "Is everything alright, Tomas?"
The man looked to him, uncertain, but after a brief pause said, "Sir, I have kin in Beruna. Just a few miles west from here. I would be safe there, unless you have need of me."
Adeline had overheard, and she glanced at Peter and shrugged.
"Of course, Tomas. Thank you for not minding the short notice travel plans."
The kind man smiled, and after a brief nod of farewell to each of them he turned upstream, disappearing over the next hill.
"Well, at least he's got out of this safe." Adeline said, half to herself. Peter had to agree; what with all they had been through in the last week it was nothing short of a miracle they had come this far without worse injuries.
Peter looked once more down the path on which Tomas had ridden away from them. It was strange, they had known him for just a few short hours, but already Peter felt concern over his welfare. They couldn't afford to fret over him, though, so Peter put it from his mind and turned with the others in the opposite direction, following the current towards Cair Paravel.
Adeline had had enough excitement for one day.
Perhaps it was just her wounded shoulder, but she felt a good deal older than her twenty years when they finally stopped for the night. She managed to suppress the groan that wanted to escape as she climbed down, but she had to grab the saddle horn when black spots danced before her eyes.
She blinked rapidly and shook her head, and when her vision cleared she saw Lucy headed towards her with a determined glint in her eye. She knew better by now than to argue, so she simply led the way out of the clearing, behind a huge pine.
There wasn't anything to sit on, but Adeline didn't care about that. She just wanted her shoulder to stop throbbing. She stood patiently, allowing Susan to unfasten the buttons again and pull it gently off her torso. An unpleasant sensation tied her stomach in knots when she heard Lucy inhale sharply.
She turned around to face the young queens, knowing they would be honest but not entirely sure she wanted them to be.
"How bad is it?"
Lucy paused, searching for the right words, then apparently decided there were none and went for blunt honesty instead.
"The bleeding's stopped, that's good, but it looks as though the arrow was coated in something, probably some sort of poison. Your whole shoulder is red and swollen. And I bet you're feeling clammy, aren't you?"
Adeline managed a nod, her mind reeling. Poisoned arrows? Who had ever heard of such a thing?
"Can something be done for it?" she asked, trying hard to keep the fear out of her voice.
Lips pursed, Lucy nodded. "Yes, but unfortunately that something happens to be my healing cordial, which is in Caspian's possession at the Cair. We're about another two days away, and I'm just not sure it's safe to wait that long."
Okay, so not exactly good news. But she wasn't dead yet.
"I know a tea we could make," she offered, "to slow the poison."
The girls were more than willing, and after they'd helped Adeline with her shirt they scrounged the forest floor in the gathering dusk, picking the needed roots and herbs to make the tea.
When they got back to their camp Amos was adding a stick of firewood, and Edmund was bringing back one of their stewpots filled with water; Peter was a few feet away, tending to the horses, but when Adeline stepped into the firelight all three men stopped what they were doing and looked at Lucy inquisitively.
"Well?" Edmund prompted, and Lucy informed them of the poison and of the tea they were making. Their reactions were immediate concern, and Adeline had to admit she was rather touched. For some reason she'd come to think of them all as her friends without ever realizing they'd think of her the same way.
That shouldn't surprise you, Addie, she said to herself. You've spent your whole life as the adopted daughter of a royal family, so why is it such a shock that these royals would treat you the same way?
She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't hear Edmund speak to her. She started when he touched her wrist gently, looking up at him – did he have to be so tall? – and taking in his worried expression with wide eyes.
"Sorry, I didn't hear what you said." She stammered, hating how breathless she sounded and jerking her hand away from him instinctively.
"I asked how you were feeling." He said slowly, obviously wondering if the poison had begun to addle her brains.
"I'm alright. This tea should help."
He seemed satisfied, and he moved away from her, sitting on a log they'd rolled near the fire. Adeline sat as well, though not beside Edmund, choosing instead a patch of clean earth, and thanked Lucy when she brought her the tea.
It smelled awful, but Adeline sipped steadily, turning down the offer of boiled potatoes that was tonight's dinner. They were down to mostly root vegetables, and since they were in Narnia now they were reluctant to go hunting since there was a chance some Talking Beasts might be out here.
Before long they were all seeking their bedrolls, Amos volunteering for first watch, and Adeline made herself as comfortable as possible on her right side, wishing they'd been able to find some sort of root or herb for the pain, but knowing that she'd just have to stick it out until they made the castle.
But she wasn't supposed to go to Cair Paravel, she remembered, and the frustration of being practically forced by those stupid soldiers to put her new friends in continued danger almost had her in tears. Suddenly she knew that she would get no sleep tonight, and she rolled gingerly onto her back, wincing as her shoulder met the ground.
"You alright, lass?"
Amos's quiet voice came to her from the other side of the clearing, where the men were sleeping, and after a moment of thought she replied, just as quietly, "I'm not sure."
She chanced a look at him; his face was open, receptive, and somehow she knew that he was one of those people who were just natural listeners, who would sit in silence while you told them anything and everything. She sat up slowly, crossing her legs and placing her elbows on her knees.
"King Fitz and Queen Isabella are the closest thing to parents I've ever had." The words were thick and strange falling from her tongue, but she swallowed and continued, after glancing around to make sure the others were asleep.
"There was always the knowledge that I wasn't their child, but they provided for me and showed concern for my welfare, which is twice as much as my own father ever did. I don't remember my mother, but I like to think she would have loved me as the queen does." She paused, looking at him again, and was relieved when he simply nodded.
"But their daughter, Gwen…she was to be the finest ruler Archenland has ever known. Her people adored her, but I knew her, really knew her, and I understood better than anybody just how seriously she took her role as future queen.
"Her parents entrusted me with more than just their daughter, Amos. They trusted to future of Archenland to me, for safekeeping." Here, the words were nearly impossible to get past the lump in her throat, but she was determined to finish, for someone to understand that she hadn't meant for any of this to happen, that if she had her way she would be back in Anvard with her sister.
"They trusted me…and while I slept, a man snuck into her chambers and ran a blade through her heart."
Amos's face was a mask of pain now, but she searched and couldn't find any of the disgust and contempt that she was expecting.
"That's why I ran, you know. I was just seconds too late, and the killer knocked me out cold, but I woke up before anyone had discovered what had happened and I knew that I couldn't possibly look Gwen's parents in the eyes and tell them I failed, that I hadn't kept their daughter safe like I'd promised. I couldn't face them knowing it was my fault."
The last syllable was choked out, and she sniffed, not wanting to cry, not here, not now; she was surprised to hear Amos speaking again.
"Lass, ev'ryone in Archenland knew you for three reasons: your feats against the rebel Telmarines, your unusual position in the royal 'ousehold, and most of all, your undyin' loyalty to Princess Gwen. It didn't take an educated man to see that you adored her.
"But, lass, you've got to understand, now, her parents knew it too, just like the rest'o us. They knew you'd do your best to keep 'er safe, and beyond that they wanted you safe as well. They'll understand better'n anyone it weren't your doin'. You shouldn't blame yourself for what 'nother man did."
Part of her didn't want to listen, but the words wormed their way to her soul, and she was surprised at how comforting they were. She could only hope Amos was right, that Fitz and Izzy would understand. She took a deep, shaky breath, and shot him a grateful smile.
"Thank you, Amos."
He nodded modestly, and she laid down again, falling asleep within moments.
The next morning had them all rising early with newfound vigor. In record time they had packed and started down the trail, after Lucy had taken another look at Adeline's shoulder. Edmund watched his sister come back from behind the trees shaking her head, and she'd told them all the sooner they reached Cair Paravel the better. The poison was starting to spread, and they all tried not to keep sneaking worried glances at Adeline.
She looked pale and clammy, but her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were overly bright. Whenever asked how she was feeling the reply was "Well enough" or "Alright, thank you".
Edmund stamped down the frustration, knowing she wasn't the sort of person to complain, that she was just trying to keep a stiff upper lip through the whole ordeal.
Still though, he wondered, would it hurt to be honest with them? They weren't going to label her a weakling if she said, "My arm feels like it's going to fall off, and did anyone mention the poison?"
But no. Like a true soldier she sat in her saddle – thankfully she hadn't insisted on taking a turn walking, allowing Amos to give his horse to Lucy – and remained perfectly stoic.
Women. He'd never understand them if he lived to be a hundred.
They'd been going steady for almost three and a half hours when they came round a bend and walked straight into a band of Narnians. Edmund pulled back the reins in surprise, before noticing Glenstorm standing near the back.
"Your Majesties!" the dark centaur was surprised.
"Trumpkin!" cried Lucy, dismounting to greet their DLF. The ruddy dwarf looked shocked, but pleased nonetheless. Then he noticed Peter and Susan, and his jaw dropped open.
"What are you two doing back here?" he asked, coming towards them with a broad smile.
Laughter and greetings ensued, and Edmund could hardly hear himself over the noise, but Glenstorm spoke above them, addressing the Four collectively.
"Your Majesties, we rejoice at your arrival. But there are two in your number we do not know."
"Oh, yes," Peter started, "This fellow's named Amos, he's looked after us extremely well and will be accompanying with us to the Cair." To Edmund's pleasure the Narnians sent friendly smiles towards Amos, and the latter visibly relaxed where he stood holding onto the bridle of Lucy's horse.
"And this," Peter continued, "is – Adeline!"
Edmund looked over his shoulder just in time to see Adeline slump in a dead faint out of her saddle. His foot was already out of the stirrup when he heard her hit the ground with a soft thump, and moments later he knelt beside Lucy, who was peering beneath Adeline's tunic at the arrow wound.
"It's bad, Ed." She spoke quietly, but he saw the desperation in her eyes. He stood and crossed to Glenstorm.
"How far are we from Cair Paravel?"
"With this number, two days at best."
He shook his head. "That's not fast enough. What about two riders, without stopping?"
Glenstorm looked surprised. "If you rode hard and fast enough, Sire, you could be there by midday tomorrow."
He whirled around. "Lu, it's the only chance we've got of saving her."
She nodded determinedly, and he scooped Adeline's limp form into his arms. It was alarming, how light and overly warm she felt, but he ignored the fear and handed her to Glenstorm before heading back to his horse, and climbing on once again. He rode over to the centaur, who handed Adeline over to him, carefully laying her across the horse in front of him, her good shoulder against his chest and her hot forehead resting against his neck.
He looked at his brother and sister, then to the Narnians.
"Bring them safely to us."
He dug his heels in, and with Lucy close behind him they continued in their journey towards the sandstone palace by the sea.