Peter stood awkwardly off to the side, completely unsure of what to do.
Adeline still looked to be in a state of equal parts shock and horror; Caspian looked quite grim, refusing to back down from the staring contest the former was challenging him to, and Edmund seemed to be hovering somewhere between protective and curious. Susan and Lucy were as baffled as Peter was, standing back and watching the scene unfold.
Adeline sighed, apparently giving up the nonverbal duel with Caspian.
"Do they know I'm here?" she asked, and Caspian shook his head.
"No. I told them I'd heard news of you, but your presence here is only known to us and a select few servants."
Adeline didn't look a bit reassured by this. Her face was still pale but she pulled her shoulders back determinedly and adopted a posture that screamed calm and collected; however, her hands were balled into fists, clenching the folds of her skirt. Peter wasn't fooled, not for a second, and he didn't think anyone else was either.
The doors swung open, and Trumpkin came through, giving them all a brief bow.
"Your Majesties, King Fitzgerald and Queen Isabella." He slipped back out once the royals had entered, closing the door softly behind him.
King Fitzgerald was broad shouldered, deep chested, and was just a few inches shorter than Peter. He had a slight belly, but was actually in rather good condition for a man his age. There were very slight streaks of gray at his temples, and though his face had a few lines, they were the sort of lines one got from smiling all the time.
His wife, Queen Isabella, was a beauty, especially for someone who had left her youth far behind her. She moved with effortless grace that strongly reminded Peter of Adeline, and despite the fact that the woman had recently lost her daughter, she smiled gently and reached for Caspian, drawing him in for a motherly hug.
"Caspian, dear, how are you?"
Caspian returned her embrace affectionately and greeted her in a similar fashion; he shook the king's hand, and evidently decided to get the worst over with.
He said nothing, merely nodded meaningfully in Adeline's direction; she stood where whoever came through the door would have their back to her upon entrance, and she'd done nothing yet to draw attention to herself.
The visiting king and queen looked over their shoulders, and Peter was surprised at the looks on their faces. There was shock, even disbelief, but the most predominant emotion there was joy.
Queen Isabella had crossed the room and thrown her arms around the astounded Adeline before any of them had time to ask what was happening. Peter realized that the queen was weeping, and suddenly Adeline, who had been standing stiffly in the queen's embrace, buried her face in the queen's shoulder, hugging her tightly.
For a moment no one said anything. Then, suddenly Queen Isabella drew back, crying, "Fitz! Look who it is! Oh Addie, I can't believe it!"
She was sobbing outright, choking a little on her words, but neither Adeline nor King Fitz seemed to care all that much; the two had met for their own hug, the king holding Adeline against him as though she were his own child.
Adeline was crying by now as well, the sound muffled against the king's chest.
Peter glanced at his siblings; Susan and Lucy, for some odd reason, were fighting tears of their own. Caspian seemed to be profoundly relieved, and Edmund looked as though the floor had just fallen out from under him.
Peter didn't blame him; the whole thing didn't make any sense, but just then Adeline drew back and looked at the Archenland rulers and they watched as she swallowed several times before managing words.
"I'm so sorry." The whisper was rough, and strangled sounding. The royals looked at each other, confused, before King Fitz asked gently, "Addie, what are you talking about?"
"I didn't keep her safe." She finally said, starting to cry again. Isabella took her by the hand and led her to sit down at the table, Fitz pulling out the chair on the other side of Adeline.
Suddenly remembering he had a handkerchief in his pocket, Peter handed the bit of cloth to Adeline. He was rewarded with a watery smile, and he retreated to his place beside Lucy, watching and listening to the three people seated at the table.
It was a moment before Adeline was able to speak again, but she wiped her face and took a deep breath, her eyes riveted on the surface of the table.
"I knew something was wrong, that night. I woke up suddenly, and I just…knew. But I didn't know what it was, so I got up and went to her room, just to see." Her voice was quiet, but steady. "I didn't see anyone in the hall, but her door wasn't closed all the way, and I could see through a tiny gap, and I saw – "
The tears almost got the best of her at that point, but she swallowed and pushed on. "I saw a man standing in front of her bed, and he was holding this awful sword. It was a full moon, and I saw blood all over the blade, and I didn't stop to think, I just rushed in, but he was bigger and stronger than I, and I managed to tear something off his robes before he knocked me out cold."
The couple on either side of her did nothing to hide the tears streaming down their faces, but they hadn't taken their eyes off Adeline.
"What happened then, Addie?" Isabella asked gently.
"When I woke up, the man was gone, but it was still dark out." Her face morphed into something like shame, as she admitted, "I panicked. I should have gone and found somebody, or sent word to you. But I was so afraid, and I just…left."
"What were you afraid of?" this came from King Fitz.
Adeline didn't say anything; her jaw clenched as she struggled to form words. Something clicked in the back of Peter's mind as he remembered the little she'd told them right after they'd left Amos's farm.
'I feared the consequences of allowing harm to befall her.'
Her words rang in his ears, and before he'd realized what he was doing he had come to stand directly across from Adeline, placing his hands flat on the table as he leaned towards her.
"Addie, they would never blame you." He said gently, and he knew he'd hit the nail right on the head when a shuddering sob got past the tight hold she was keeping on her emotions.
King Fitz and Queen Isabella looked sharply at Adeline.
"Surely you would not think such a thing, Addie." Isabella said, her voice conveying just how absurd the idea was to her. When Adeline still did not speak, King Fitz stepped in.
"Addie, we thought you'd been killed the same night as Gwen. We never once considered pointing the finger at you."
Adeline had clearly not thought that someone might come to that conclusion; her eyes widened as they filled with fresh tears. She looked at Peter, who smiled understandingly, and then turned her head to face Isabella.
"I'm sorry." She said humbly, and both king and queen leaned in to embrace her once again, murmuring words of comfort that were for her ears alone.
Peter felt something stir within him at the sight; he strongly suspected that what with all that had transpired since she'd left Tashbaan, Adeline had most likely not had time to grieve. And if she and Gwen were as good as sisters, grieving would naturally have to happen at some point.
He wasn't sure how to approach the subject; he filed it away to ask Lucy about it later. For now, though, it was evident that seeing Fitz and Isabella once again, and talking with them, had done Adeline much good. The three of them disentangled themselves from their group hug, Adeline's face already mostly dry.
Caspian stepped forward, obviously pleased with the turn of events.
"I hope you'll be able to forgive me for the ambush, Adeline."
She looked up at him, and smiled. "That's quite alright, Caspian. I know how things appeared."
Peter, relieved that all the tears were over and done with, started to move back to his spot by Lucy again, but King Fitz stopped him.
"You'll have to forgive me, sir, but I don't recognize you four."
Peter glanced at Caspian, but Adeline spoke up for them.
"Fitz, allow me to introduce their Majesties, High King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy."
The Archenland king looked stunned; he turned to look at the small young woman beside him, who grinned and nodded. He stood, reaching for Peter's hand across the table.
"It is an honor to meet you, High King, as well as your siblings." He turned to each of them, greeting them warmly. His wife copied him, insisting they all called her 'Izzy'.
It wasn't hard at all to imagine these two people taking in a small child to raise alongside their own. There was nothing but sweet authenticity in Izzy's questions regarding their sudden appearance in Narnia, and Fitz reminded Peter strongly of his own father, which surprisingly didn't pain him as he thought it would.
Yes, he decided, Adeline had good reason to adore this couple.
Their merry conversation carried on over lunch; Adeline shared her story of how she'd fled Tashbaan, evading the strange men on horseback, before reaching Amos's farm.
Here, she paused, a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth, and she glanced at Edmund, who rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, go on, then; but make sure you tell them how nice I was afterwards."
She laughed, and told Fitz, Izzy, and Caspian of Edmund tackling her off her horse, a tale that Fitz found greatly amusing.
"Lad, you'd be the laughingstock of Anvard if the soldiers there knew you'd done such a thing."
"Why is that?" Peter questioned, and Fitz's face crinkled into a broad smile, his eyes cutting sideways towards Adeline. She flushed slightly and suddenly found great interest in her plate, nudging the mushrooms back and forth with her fork.
Fitz grinned even wider at her reaction, before answering Peter.
"No soldier in his right mind would ever cross blades with Addie. They're all terrified of her; when she sets foot on the training grounds they all run, suddenly having places to be. But she always finds one cocky young newcomer who thinks he can best the Lady Adeline."
"Well, now," grinned Edmund. "Looks like Amos didn't do you justice, Addie."
"Amos?" Izzy's brow furrowed in confusion. "Who is Amos?"
Peter quickly explained that he was the man who owned the farm they'd all met on; he'd no sooner finished than Edmund piped up, "Where is Amos, anyway? I didn't see him come in with you earlier."
"He stayed in the city," Peter said, "He insisted, actually; we told him he wouldn't be a bother to anyone here, but he wanted to find some work. Said he used to be a blacksmith's apprentice."
"Oh, do let's go and see him," exclaimed Lucy. "Ed and I left in such a hurry, once Addie fell ill, and we didn't get to say a proper goodbye."
The former patient flushed again, avoiding Izzy's sharp look.
"You were ill? What happened? Did you get hurt?"
Adeline hastened to tell her, "Nothing, really. Lucy's already seen to it. I'm a bit tired, but otherwise I'm quite well."
Izzy must have been well-used to Adeline's watered-down stories, because she turned to Lucy instead.
"What actually happened to her?"
Lucy hesitated; Adeline was giving her a hard glare from over Izzy's shoulder, and she was torn between honesty and pacifying her friend.
Edmund, apparently, had no such qualms.
"Well, we ran into a spot of trouble at the river crossing; Addie got hit with an arrow and it knocked her off her horse." He promptly ignored the threatening look Adeline was now sending his way, continuing, "She nearly drowned, and once Peter got her out of the water she nearly died from blood loss, and then Lucy discovered that the arrow had been poison-tipped, and so she almost died from the poison. And then she almost died from the fever that the poison caused."
Peter would not have been at all surprised to witness actual sparks shoot from Adeline's eyes. Fitz's statement just moments ago began to make a bit more sense; any man in his right mind would do anything within his power to avoid that glare.
He wasn't sure if he admired Edmund's nerve, or worried for his safety.
Izzy had turned to face Adeline again, her face pale with worry and shock.
"Addie! How long ago was this?"
"Day before yesterday," supplied Edmund helpfully, permanently tipping the scales in favor of 'worried for his safety'.
Adeline spent the next ten minutes reassuring Izzy and Fitz that she was perfectly alright, that it had been a small wound anyway (Lucy looked like she was repressing her own tattling-tirade at that point), and she would be sure to get plenty of sleep tonight. Izzy tried to persuade her into heading upstairs for a nap, but Adeline flat out refused.
"I've spent all day yesterday and this morning resting; I'm fine, I promise. I would like to go see Amos, if there's a group of us going."
Izzy looked as though she wanted to argue, but kept silent even as her motherly eyes roved over every inch of Adeline's form, checking for signs of recent injury.
Edmund was not oblivious to this, and he must have decided to try and get back in Adeline's good graces, because he said, "Well, I'd certainly like to go, and I'm sure Lu would as well. You're welcome to tag along, Addie, if you like."
She shot him a semi-grateful look (an indication that he wasn't completely forgiven yet), and followed him and Lucy out of the room a few minutes later, leaving Peter to puzzle over the recent change in his brother.
Lucy supposed there wasn't really anything to be done for it, but the fact of the matter was, she and Edmund could not set foot outside the palace walls without causing a riot.
She and Adeline had dashed upstairs to change clothes while Edmund patiently waited by the front door, and once they'd come downstairs he'd looked at them both casually, something that Lucy wouldn't have noticed at all except for when his gaze moved to Adeline. She had changed from the creamy dress into her usual tunic and trousers ensemble, though perhaps the shirt was a bit nicer and she left her hair down around her shoulders.
Edmund, upon seeing Adeline, had got the strangest look on his face, and Lucy couldn't quite put her finger on it, but she was determined to find out what it was that made her brother look at Adeline like that.
Her concentration, however, was cut off abruptly when the first villagers noticed her and Edmund walking down the streets.
Narnians were overjoyed at their return, and even more so at the unexpected arrival of the two older Pevensies. Everywhere they went, they were pressed on all sides, people calling them and grasping for their hands.
She couldn't blame them, not really, in part because she was as happy as they were that she'd come back. England was alright, pleasant even, but when you have experienced a life of magical creatures and fierce battles, returning to a world of noisy machines and practical school uniforms was dull for anyone.
Still, when the three of them literally had not moved from one spot for almost twenty minutes because of the crowd, she was beginning to wonder if the trip to see Amos was really worth it.
Adeline came to the rescue, slipping her hand between people to grasp Lucy's and pulling her along. She stopped and grabbed Edmund as well, the siblings following Adeline to the edge of the mass of people. Surprisingly, nobody seemed to notice, not even when Adeline tugged them free and into a nearby alley, darting through until they reached a small alcove where they stopped, panting, listening for following footsteps.
"How did they not see us?" whispered Edmund.
Adeline gave a conspiratorial grin. "After a few minutes, they're less excited that you're standing there and more excited that everyone else is excited. They'll notice you're gone in a few moments, but we'll be long gone by then."
Lucy exhaled slowly, thinking that Adeline was an absolute natural at this business of accompanying royals when they went out; she and Edmund would have surely been crushed if they hadn't left when they did. She exchanged a look with her brother and knew he was thinking the same.
After a moment Adeline had poked her head out, deemed the coast clear, and led them down the alley, but instead of going back out on the main street she led them behind buildings, in between shops and houses, sticking to the shadows where they had less chance of being spotted.
They made their way through the city this way, and amongst all the peeking and darting and running and shushing, it suddenly occurred to Lucy that they hadn't the foggiest idea where Amos was. She whispered as much to Adeline, who stopped short at the corner of a small, dirty pub.
"Oh, fudge." The girl said quietly, eliciting a chuckle from her two companions. They stood there in a moment of indecision, thinking, and Lucy had just started to say something when the door of the pub they were hiding next to suddenly swung open.
Adeline instantly shifted, placing herself between the two Pevensies and whoever came out that door; Edmund had moved slightly as well, just putting himself in front of Lucy, and she knew they would be quite safe here, this was their city after all, but she'd heard even from her short time here that there were quite a few Telmarines who harbored a grudge against Narnia in general. Add to that the fact that whoever this was would be leaving a pub, and she knew better than to not err on the side of caution.
She peered over Edmund's shoulder, holding her breath and hoping it was only one person coming out.
A drunken man made his appearance, stumbling over the threshold. He reeked of sweat and stale beer; as he shuffled blearily out into the bright sun mumbled oaths fell from his lips. Lucy prayed he wouldn't notice them in his drunken stupor, but the man's red-rimmed eyes latched onto Adeline almost like he'd been looking for her.
"You there, girlie, where's e'ryone run off to?" his words were so heavily slurred that Lucy could hardly understand him, but if Adeline had she gave no indication, choosing instead to watch him silently.
This seemed to irritate the man, and he scowled before saying, "Girl ain't got no proper sense o' respect, thaswus wrong wif 'er, an' she gotta geddit knocked into 'er somehow…"
Before his words had fully registered in Lucy's ears, he had charged towards them, his steps no more steady but a good deal faster, and Edmund had grabbed her and pinned her to the exterior wall of the building, shielding her with his body.
Adeline stepped forward, splaying her feet and bracing her legs, and just as the man came within arm's reach she turned to the side and crouched slightly, catching the man's chest with her shoulder, reaching up to grab the back of his neck with one hand, and Lucy watched, transfixed, as she spun ninety degrees, pushing up with her legs and using the larger man's momentum to swing him up off his feet, over her shoulder, and he slammed into the cobblestones so hard the glass windows of the little pub rattled in their frames.
He didn't get up again, and Adeline looked satisfied with this, looking up at Edmund to make sure they were all right. Edmund nodded, once, before a noise behind them made him spin around sharply. Adeline tensed, moving around Edmund so she could see who it was, and her face split into a wide smile.
The burly farmer stood in the alleyway, taking in the scene before him with an amused expression. His gaze went from the unconscious drunk at Adeline's feet, to the girl herself, before he asked wryly, "Didn't know who you were, did he, lass?"
Adeline returned his grin. "No, as a matter of fact, he didn't. He will when he wakes up, though."
Edmund snorted a bit at that, but smiled all the same as he released Lucy and she stepped around him, noticing that nobody in the vicinity seemed remotely surprised that Adeline, who didn't even stand five feet tall, had just bodily thrown a man twice her size over her shoulder.
This is what Ed was talking about, when he attacked her, Lucy realized, and she wanted to laugh all over again at how she'd scolded him for possibly hurting Adeline.
Yes, she could have gotten hurt, but based off what they had just seen it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. Adeline was the type of person to shrug off the pain, and take care of what needed taking care of, regardless of how miserable she happened to be. She was, as Lucy's father used to say, a brick, and Lucy felt her respect for Adeline multiply tenfold.
She jolted out of her reverie just in time to hear Edmund say, "We just came down to see you, actually; Pete mentioned you were trying to find work as a blacksmith?"
"Aye, and I've found it, too. C'mon, I'll take you to me shop."
They followed Amos down several more alleyways, before he opened a weathered set of doors on the back of a large rambling building. Adeline slipped through last, and he shut the door tightly behind her, pushing the bolt into place before moving to stand in the center of the room.
Lucy looked all around her; there was the forge over in the corner, with a large table holding a scattered assortment of tools and bits of greasy cloths, and there were a number of stalls along the back. It was a bit dark, but warm and rather cozy, and it wasn't at all hard to imagine Amos working here, his broad back and muscled arms hammering iron to mold as he willed.
Edmund was inspecting the tools over by the forge, and Amos was talking with him in great detail about each one, about its purposes and make. Her brother appeared fascinated, but Lucy glanced over and saw Adeline was standing off to the side, looking incredibly bored but grinning when she caught Lucy's eye.
"You know how men are, Lucy. Might as well make yourself comfortable; we're likely to be here for a while."
Lucy giggled, but had to admit she was right; Edmund was positively enthralled with the workings of the forge, and Amos was only too happy to have someone who wanted to ask questions. She glanced back towards the door and noticed a smaller forge, set against the back wall.
"Amos, what's this?"
That man looked up, peering over to where Lucy was pointing. "Oh, that's a goldsmith's forge. I've done a bit o'that meself, though no soul around 'ere has got any gold to work with. Hopin' there'll be somethin' soon, though. Always did like workin' with precious metals."
Edmund had more questions about Amos's line of work, before he noticed the position of the sun through one of the dusty windows.
"Oh, I'll wager it's approaching dinnertime, but we can't have been here that long, can we?"
"Not in the shop, necessarily," answered Adeline, "but it took us a good extra forty-five minutes to get down here through all the back alleys, and we'll have to head up that way too. We had better get a move on."
She moved to the door as she spoke, peeking out carefully before asking, "Amos, are you coming with us? You know you're more than welcome for dinner."
Edmund and Lucy were quick to second this, pleading with him to join them, but he shook his head.
"I've got work piled up to me ears, lass. But I promise, I'll come to see you lot soon."
After making sure he would indeed pay them a visit, they said goodbyes and crept back up the alleys, darting around corners and trying to avoid crowds as much as possible. They made good time, and it was just before dusk when they reached the palace gates.
Adeline was leading the way, her steps quick and light as she talked and laughed with them both, but when they spotted the carriage in the courtyard, the small gathering that was taking place at the bottom of the front steps she frowned.
Edmund shrugged, and Lucy made out the forms of her brother and sister, standing beside Caspian two or three steps up from the bottom. Fitz and Izzy were standing beside the carriage, which bore the Archenland coat of arms on the door, and were speaking urgently with a tall figure Lucy didn't recognize.
Suddenly Adeline gasped, loudly enough to catch everyone's attention, including the stranger, who spun around to see who it was. Lucy caught a brief glimpse of a classically handsome face, of chiseled features and she was close enough to guess that his eyes were a bright, lively green, and widened with shock.
Adeline pressed a trembling hand to her mouth, then quickly removed it to say, "Lord Xaviar."
The man's face split into an astonished grin, and he crossed over to her quickly and pulled her into his arms, embracing her in a way that spoke volumes of just how familiar he was with her.
Lucy felt her eyebrows shoot up, and she could have sworn she saw Edmund's hand clench into a fist as they all stood and watched.
Adeline was returning the hug now, and after a moment Lord Xaviar pulled back, looking into her eyes, and said, "Thank heaven you are alright."