In the Name of the Crown

Chapter 9

The doors looked exactly the same as Susan remembered, painted a soft white, with gold handles, set into an alcove between two marble pillars, on the eastern side of the palace. Opposite them was the balcony, open to the sea and open air, and the breeze softly ruffled her skirts as she stood uncertainly in the hall.

She knew it was ridiculous to be this nervous about a simple room, but every time she thought about what that room was, and all that had taken place inside it over the course of a thousand years, her knees started to tremble and so she'd been avoiding the place for the past week, but lately it was all she could think about and she just wanted to get it over with.

Taking a deep breath, Susan reached and yanked the door open before she gave herself chance to think about it, and stepped inside, letting it close quietly behind her.

The Room of the Four Thrones had been rebuilt to its original design, with columns lining the sides and a roof made entirely of glass – that had been Lucy's favorite feature, she remembered with a smile – that allowed the sunlight in, pooling across the floor. She was quite alone, but she still kept her steps muffled, slowly making her way towards the small risen platform that ran the width of the room, across the front.

Coming to a stop just before the steps, Susan remembered how she'd felt that day, so long ago, when she and her three siblings had accompanied Aslan Himself up this very aisle. Her feet mounted the steps almost of their own accord, stopping again just before the throne that sat on the right, closest to the middle.

Tentatively, she reached out and brushed her fingertips over the knob on the end of the armrest, recalling how glad she'd been that she hadn't been placed on the end. Naturally, those positions had gone to the Edmund and Lucy, since they were the youngest, but suddenly becoming Queen (of a country you didn't know existed to begin with) had proven to be rather nerve-wracking, and the simplicity of being in between two people, both of whom she trusted, had been a great comfort.

Susan smiled softly to herself, relieved. She had spent so long pretending it was all make-believe that once they'd returned she had worried that she wouldn't be able to remember, that maybe she'd tried too hard to forget.

What had Aslan told them, mere moments after her crown had been placed on her head? 'Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen.'

How foolish she was, to pretend it didn't matter anymore, that she was no longer a queen simply because she'd gone from royal robes to school uniforms.

Aslan, forgive my unbelief, she thought.

The doors opened behind her, and she knew without turning around who it was.

"I forgot," she said quietly, turning to see Caspian looking at her, his gaze warm but understanding.

"I tried to," he replied, "but I found that caused me more pain than remembering did."

For a moment neither of them said anything, content to simply be in the same room as the other.

"Caspian," she said slowly, "did you…wait for me?"

She wished she could say that she didn't care, that his answer didn't matter to her. But she knew that it did. Regardless of what happened now, she had to know if he'd missed her as much as she'd missed him.

He crossed the room with slow, measured steps. She did likewise, meeting him halfway and they stopped, standing close together but not touching, his eyes searching hers intently.

"Yes…and no." he finally answered. "My head told me to put it behind me, to find someone else. But I also knew that I had to wait, until I could give whoever it was I found all of my love, the way they would deserve." He paused, briefly, before continuing.

"My heart, however, was not willing to put you behind so quickly. Many times I found myself hoping, praying, that one day you would return to me, so that I wouldn't have to move on." He stopped again, a smile beginning at the corners of his mouth and spreading upwards until it reached his dark eyes, eyes that were still locked on hers.

"And here you are," he said, almost a reverent whisper, "You came back."

She forced a smile past the lump in her throat. It was so like him to have never given up hope, all this time.

"I came back," she repeated, just before one of his hands reached behind her neck, the other on her waist, and he pulled her gently into him, claiming her lips with his.

Susan sighed against his mouth, sliding her fingers through his thick, soft hair and relishing the feeling of his callused thumb softly stroking the skin by her ear. His arm wound around her back, pulling her body flush with his, and he hummed contentedly when she wrapped her arms around his neck, and turned her head to deepen the kiss. It was sheer heaven, and even when they broke apart she could not keep the silly grin off her face.

He laughed slightly. "You do realize this time the age gap has only widened; are you sure thirteen hundred years isn't going to be a problem?"

His voice was teasing, and she grinned impishly up at him, playing with the strands of hair at his neck.

"I'm sure we'll find a way somehow. Just remember that since I'm older, I'm always going to be right about everything."

He smiled in return, looking deeply into her eyes before kissing her again, and she realized, in that moment, that the memories were a part of her, and that they couldn't be left behind; no matter how fast she tried to run, Caspian would always manage to catch up.


The training grounds of Cair Paravel were located just north of the city walls, with several wide fields reserved for practicing sword play, a large archery range, and the small, makeshift forge that was used to repair weapons as needed.

Edmund couldn't help but be impressed; clearly Caspian had put a great deal of effort into not just restoring the old citadel, but also improving it. It was still somehow unchanged, still the Cair that Edmund remembered, and he was glad.

They'd decided rather spur-of-the-moment to go and tour Narnia's training facilities; his sisters, Izzy, and Caspian had opted to remain at the palace, but the rest of them had started off earlier that morning. And within forty-five minutes of their arrival, Adeline was clearly regretting coming along as well.

To everyone's surprise except Fitz's, the appearance of Lady Adeline had caused quite a stir amongst the soldiers; Edmund realized that once again he'd underestimated her. She was much more than just partaker in a great battle. She was something of a legend, a fact that was evidenced by the gawking soldiers and the frequent requests to demonstrate a particular skill in front of a group of trainees.

She declined more times than not, though every so often Fitz would nudge her forward, and when she finished the applause was nigh on deafening. It would seem that the Lady Adeline had earned respect from not just her people, but neighboring countries as well.

Edmund refocused on his surroundings in time to see the two soldiers who were sparring clash swords once again, the sound of metal filling the air as the men drew back, testing their footing, and attacked again. The men surrounding the sparring circle cheered, the noise deafening, and Edmund looked next to him at Peter, who looked to be having the time of his life; he'd always been the one who'd enjoyed this sort of thing.

Beside Peter stood King Fitz, and after him came Adeline, and then…him.

Lord Xaviar.

Standing in the courtyard that evening almost a week ago, Adeline had had to explain how she knew Xaviar. The look on the latter's face as he'd watched her sent uncomfortable goosebumps up and down Edmund spine, but if anyone else noticed they said nothing.

Xaviar had even mentioned, adding to Adeline's version of the story, that they'd danced together quite a bit their last night in Tashbaan, and Edmund would have to be blind to miss the suspicious gleam in Queen Izzy's eye.

His own mother used to get that very same look whenever he or Peter mentioned a girl's name from school; it didn't matter if they were claiming to utterly abhor said girl, if it was a girl and she was mentioned by one of the Pevensie brothers, their mother was going to ask questions.

It certainly hadn't helped, then, that Adeline had blushed fiercely during the entire affair, while Xaviar had stood, gawking at her as though he'd never seen a woman before.

By the time Adeline had finished telling of her meeting Xaviar at Tashbaan, Izzy looked as though she wanted to drag Adeline off to be fitted for her bridal gown, and Edmund knew, beyond any doubt, that he did not like this Xaviar fellow.

At all.

Edmund was not normally one to make harsh judgments. After all, his title, given him by Aslan, was the Just King. But he had no more shaken Xaviar's hand – the latter had a pathetically weak handshake, he was oddly pleased to note – before he decided there was something definitely off about him.

He was wise enough not to voice his thoughts; everyone else took an immediate liking to the man, so going to any of the others without valid evidence would only make him look foolish.

That did not mean, however, that he wasn't going to keep an eye on him. And right now, Edmund personally thought that Xaviar was standing much too close to Adeline, bending slightly every so often to say something in her ear.

On one such occasion, whatever he said caused Adeline to turn a brilliant shade of scarlet, and to smile widely before she caught herself and schooled her features.

Little did Edmund know, right beside him, Peter was fighting the mad urge to laugh. Edmund's face was sullen, his brow furrowed and his fists were clenched, and when Adeline blushed again he was almost positive he heard something like a growl emit from his brother's throat.

He couldn't hold back the snicker; Edmund whipped his head to face him, his brown eyes flashing murderously.

"It's not funny, Pete," he muttered, "He's acting as though they're already betrothed."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Ed. You're acting as though you have claim to her. You've spent all morning glowering at him."

"I do not have claim to her. I just think she could do better than him is all."

Peter rolled his eyes.

Normally his brother was the last person on earth to make hasty judgments. During their Golden Age Peter had come to rely greatly on Edmund's advice, especially when negotiating with other nations.

Edmund had a knack for diplomacy; it usually took him a few days to reach a conclusion on any matter of importance, and even longer when it came to people's character.

Peter frowned in thought; when you looked at that way, however, he realized maybe this made Edmund's obvious dislike of Xaviar all the more worrisome. Edmund didn't go by pure instinct, and on the rare occasions when he did, it usually was for a good reason.

Still, though.

He decided to advocate the high road. "Well, if you can't find a plausible reason to send nonverbal death threats to him for a solid hour and a half, then you should at least try and be civil. For Addie's sake, if for no one else's."

Edmund looked a bit defeated at that, but nodded slowly as they both turned back to face the goings-on, just in time to see the end of the current match. Peter clapped politely along with everyone else, but a new contestant was already pushing his way into the open circle.

The applause cut off abruptly as the enormous man standing before them sauntered around the circle, looking for the entire world like a ferocious predator selecting his next meal. He towered over everybody else on the field, and Peter had never seen upper arms that were quite that big.

Peter's mind conjured up images of what this chap must do to those whom he bested in the practice rounds; to his surprise, the man came to a stop before Adeline.

"Care to cross blades, Your Ladyship?"

The title, meant as a term of respect, was practically snarled; the tension around throughout their little group doubled. However, Adeline said nothing, merely shrugging off her cloak and unsheathing her sword, stepping around him into the center. Peter knew a very real feeling of panic when nobody tried to stop her, even though fighting this man would practically be suicide.

Yes, she'd been fantastic all day. In fact, she was undefeated thus far. But all her matches had been against men who were average sized, or slightly above. This opponent looked as though he could be half-giant. He dwarfed Edmund, who stood at least three inches taller than everyone else on the field, including Peter himself.

He heard a chuckle from Edmund. "Pete, she'll be fine. Just watch, you'll see. And if she is in over her head, Fitz is right there."

Peter knew he was right, so he tried to put his protective older-brother instincts aside and enjoy the show.

The man – Omri, Peter heard the soldiers around them mutter – took the first strike, using a side-swing that looked to be aiming for Adeline's neck. She blocked it effortlessly, and ducked under the crossed swords, her feet lithe and nimble on the loose dirt, and she went for his ribs. He blocked this time, and then began a series of blows and parries that Peter could scarcely keep up with.

His felt his eyes widen as the pace increased, the gleaming metal of the swords flashing under the midday sun.

Omri had a distinct advantage in regards to muscle, but Adeline more than compensated with her speed. Her feet were never still, and while Omri was using brute force, she danced around him, moving with an unearthly grace.

Suddenly he raised his arm over his head, swinging his sword like an axe, bringing it down so fast that it blurred, but Adeline side-stepped it, bringing the edge of her own blade up to rest, almost casually, against his Adam's apple.

Omri froze, panting, his eyes wide, and there was a deafening moment of silence before the crowd erupted into cheers.

Adeline lowered her sword, smiling a little as she stepped back. She bowed, recognizing the shouts and whistles that were meant for her, and she moved to step back into place beside Fitz when Omri shouted above the din.


Adeline paused, raising an eyebrow in question, but he stared her down, unyielding, and she sighed, walking back to her place opposite him.

"No swords." He said, and her back stiffened as she looked at him for a long moment. His expression did not change, and she turned and walked towards where Peter and Edmund stood, closest to her.

"Are you mad?" Edmund whispered, but there was half a grin on his face, and Adeline looked as though she wanted to return it as she handed him her sword.

"No," she replied quietly, "I'm angry. There's a world of difference."

Peter could hardly blame her; this fellow seemed determined to put Adeline in her place, all because she was a woman. Well, he'd learn soon enough. He was half tempted to feel sorry for him.

She turned around to face Omri again, and Peter noticed that the back of her tunic was already soaked through with sweat. Her hair was caught in a low bun on the nape of her neck, and there were wispy curls hanging about her temples and ears, damp with perspiration. Her face was flushed, but her eyes were bright and focused.

Adeline spread her feet, shifting for better traction, and Omri did the same, though he did not crouch as low as she, and he once again made the first move.

He swung his fist quickly, and she dodged, her knee coming up into his stomach, and he grunted. She moved behind him, but he spun in place and her fist came up to meet his jaw, but he grabbed her arm, and Peter couldn't stop his gasp as Adeline was lifted clean off her feet, swung over Omri's head, and hit the dirt, hard, behind him.

She lay on her back, looking winded, but Omri still grasped her arm and her other hand came up to dig its nails into the skin just below his elbow, drawing blood, and when he hissed and tried to pry her fingers off she swung her legs and hips straight up off the ground, bearing all her weight on her shoulders and neck.

Her legs wrapped around Omri's neck, ankles crossed behind his head, and with one quick pull, she flipped him over her, using his bulk as leverage to bring him crashing to the ground just in front of her, his head at her feet.

Omri lay still for a few moments, while Adeline stood up. There was dirt in her hair, and her face glistened with sweat and she winced, probably suffering from a sore back now, but she still looked confidently down on her fallen opponent, who did not rise again.

She started to turn away, and in that moment, as her eyes left him and met Edmund's, sharing a triumphant grin, it happened.

Peter didn't notice Omri reach for the knife, but an arm drew back and he saw the flash of silver hurtling towards Adeline. There was no time to shout a warning, but she'd spotted Omri's movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to face him, and for one horrifying second Peter tasted bile as Edmund started forward, but there was no need.

Adeline's fingers closed around the blade, catching it mere inches away from her throat.

Nobody dared to move, or hardly even breathe. She kept quite still, taking a moment to observe the knife, with its simple, blunt-ended, wooden handle.

She looked unimpressed, and calmly regarded Omri, who had risen to his feet and stood defiantly before her, his lip curled in disgust.

"Brave man, waiting until my back is turned." She said evenly, but there was an edge of steel to her voice.

Abruptly she flicked her wrist, flinging the knife into the earth at Omri's feet, with the handle sticking up at an angle towards her.

He looked from it up to her face.

"You missed." He said, smirking.

"Did I?"

Before Peter even realized she'd moved, Adeline had drawn the dagger hanging on her belt, and he felt his jaw drop when the blade's tip sunk into the very center of the handle on Omri's knife.

A perfect bulls-eye. Susan herself couldn't have done it.

Her jeweled dagger quivered slightly in place from the force behind the blow, and Adeline met his gaze again, this time doing nothing to disguise her displeasure.

Omri looked like he'd rather skewer Adeline, but she refused to be intimidated, her eyes turning a deep cobalt in her anger.

"Few men have crossed me and lived to tell it. Consider it a gift."

With her parting words she crossed to Edmund, retrieved her sword, and began trekking back up to the palace.

The Pevensies were swift to follow, Peter noticing for the first time the blood on Adeline's hand. He caught up, walking beside her, and he saw the dark look but knew he had to ask anyway.

"Are you alright?"

"Yes." She replied shortly, never breaking her stride. Someone called her name behind them; he glanced over his shoulder and spotted Xaviar making his way towards them.

Edmund rolled his eyes, and Peter shot him a warning look over Adeline's head. She stopped to let Xaviar catch up, and he held out her dagger.

"You left this." She gave a small smile and took it, and as she did, he noticed the blood on her hand. He took it in his, gently splaying her fingers to reveal the long gash across her palm. It wasn't very deep, but ran from the base of her thumb to her pinky, and was still bleeding.

The three men looked up at her (Edmund did so reluctantly; he seemed to be trying to glare holes through Xaviar's hand that was still holding Adeline's). Her face was void of expression, but she glanced at Edmund, who smirked slightly, and one corner of her mouth twitched.

"His knife did that, when I caught it. I couldn't exactly let on, not in front of him anyway, but it should heal alright."

Edmund's grin was full-blown by now, and Adeline's matched it when he said, "Lucy's going to have fits when she sees you."

"Well, when she made me promise not to get injured, she ought to have known something would happen." Adeline retorted, "Because no matter what I do, I end up bleeding or unconscious or having three near-death experiences in one go."

Peter and Edmund laughed, but Xaviar frowned, puzzled.

"When did that happen?" he asked, and Adeline started, wide-eyed.

"Oh, Xaviar, I forgot you weren't with us." She said, almost apologetically, and Xaviar's frown deepened.

"Us?" he clarified, and Edmund jumped in (Peter had to work very hard to suppress a snort).

"Yes, Addie helped us" – his voice held the slightest, almost indiscernible touch of sarcasm – "out in a spot of trouble and nearly died three times. It must have been while you were still at Tashbaan. Lu's a wonder with healing though, so Addie's as good as ever." He grinned broadly at her, and she returned it, much to Xaviar's evident displeasure.

"I'm glad Queen Lucy was with you, then," he said, "and that King Peter was there to help."

"Oh, Ed helped too, you know," Adeline was (innocently) quick to say, and Edmund's grin nearly reached all the way around his head, while Xaviar's face was a dangerous shade of scarlet.

At that point Peter decided to leave their group before he lost control of his laughter; he glanced over and saw King Fitz walking just behind them and slowed his pace to walk beside him.

"Ridiculous, isn't it?" Fitz asked him quietly, his eyes trained on the threesome ahead, Adeline oblivious to the competition going on either side of her.

Peter chuckled, more at his brother than anything, and replied "Yes, it surely is. They both seem quite taken with her. Though I'm not certain Ed would admit to it."

"Aye, it's often that way. But between you and me, Peter," he paused, looking around to make sure they didn't have any eavesdroppers, "I hope to high heaven she chooses Edmund."

Peter's brows rose at that; he'd expected Fitz to side with Xaviar, but the man caught his look and nodded grimly.

"Xaviar's not a bad sort, but he's much too high strung. He's got a thing for flair."

Laughing, Peter questioned, "Flair?"

"You heard me," Fitz responded, laughing a bit himself, but sobering again quickly. "Addie would be content anywhere; she doesn't need finery to be happy. Xaviar's the type who wants marble halls and jewel-encrusted dinner plates. And he thinks it odd that she's not used to that, having grown up as she did."

"Is that such a bad thing, to want to give her the best?" asked Peter.

"No, but Xaviar takes it a bit further than that, you see. It's almost as if he decides what other people want."

Understanding dawned, and Peter nodded slowly as he processed the information. "Whereas my brother…"

"Whereas your brother would gladly give Addie whatever she wanted, and demand nothing in return." Fitz answered for him.

Peter glanced ahead. Adeline hadn't a care in the world, but every so often Edmund would touch her arm and point out something in the city, and she would smile, which would in turn cause the scowl to become further etched into Xaviar's face.

"Well, whomever she chooses, the other will be sorely tested to admit defeat. Especially if it's Edmund. He's got a competitive streak a mile wide. Though he's always seemed to know when enough is enough."

"He's got a distinct advantage, then, because Xaviar has never admitted to anything. He runs his own world with himself at the center, and whoever gets in his way is going to know it."

Peter's brows rose. "You do not think very highly of him."

The king sighed, looking older than usual.

"He's not all that bad, I suppose," he admitted quietly, "but it is hard not to resent him. He is the new rightful heir to the throne, now that Gwen is gone."

Peter didn't know quite what to say to that. He'd never met Gwen, of course, but losing your daughter the way this man had could not have been easy. Watching another take her place would only be salt in a wound that was still fresh.

Choosing his words carefully, he said, "I never did tell you how much we sympathize with your loss, Fitz. I didn't get the chance to meet Gwen, but from all I've heard she was a princess worth being proud of."

The older man gave a small smile, indicating his appreciation, and the two walked in silence for the remainder of their short journey.


Adeline was not one you could describe as "flighty".

She was level-headed, always calm and collected even when faced with the most agonizing of dilemmas. She could sit down and think anything through, and come up with a solution that helped all parties involved.

So why, why was she so confused?

When she'd been at Tashbaan, Xaviar had never been far from her thoughts. Gwen's death, and then the soldiers had chased everything from her mind. Upon her arrival at Amos's farm, the mere relief at not being hunted anymore had preoccupied her; of course, said relief was short-lived, and the following week or so as they travelled hadn't exactly provided her much time to think about romance.

The reasonable thing now, of course, would have her be in a state of joy at seeing Xaviar again. And naturally, she was glad. And, it would appear, so was he.

But something was different.

He seemed so much more…aggressive now. Izzy had told her privately that he was to inherit the throne, seeing as Gwen was dead, and while she was happy for him, and had confidence in his abilities as a future king, she couldn't help but wonder if his new place among the royal family would be for the best.

She could always feel him watching her, and she knew that a month ago the sensation would only make her blush and trip over something, and then he'd probably catch her and say something witty, and she'd laugh and then they'd go for a stroll together. It was just so simple, before Gwen had died.

Now, his eyes on her made uneasiness curl uncomfortably in her stomach. She might have imagined it, but once she thought there had been an almost possessive look to him, especially whenever she mentioned Edmund's name.

Edmund. The other half to her problems.

Why that man couldn't just leave her alone, couldn't just let her think, was beyond her. It seemed that every corner she came around, he stood there, waiting for her or thrilled to see her, at least. Which was nice, she supposed. But a tiny part of her couldn't help but wonder if he did it on purpose to get a rise out of Xaviar.

Not that she could blame him, mind you. Xaviar in a temper was rather funny, but she felt a bit hurt that Edmund would use her that way.

Maybe it's not a game to him, a voice in her head piped up. Maybe he's actually jealous and likes seeing Xaviar the same way. Maybe -

She shook her head, clearing it, and took the steps to her room two at a time. She had about ten minutes to get ready for lunch; she couldn't exactly go as she was, dusty and sweaty and with her hand bleeding.

She scowled as she observed the cut on her palm. That blasted pig, Omri, thinking he could thrash her just because she was half his size.

Being as petite as she was, Adeline was long used to people thinking her to be weak. She didn't feel insulted by it, because she honestly couldn't blame them; it wasn't like she trembled in fear whenever she looked in a mirror.

What drove her absolutely up the wall, though, was being thought of as weak, even after she'd proven she was anything but.

Sighing, she went to wash her hands and change into a clean dress. Working herself into a temper wouldn't help matters, and anyway she didn't have the energy to spare, harboring anger at a useless fool like Omri.

She'd just taken her hair out of its bun when a knock sounded on the door; Edmund stood on the other side, and when he saw her, his mouth swung open. For several long moments neither of them said anything, and she grew increasingly nervous under his intense gaze.

"What?" she finally asked, slightly irked when he still didn't speak. Slowly, tentatively, as though he might frighten her, one hand reached out to finger a strand of hair that lay over her shoulder, his eyes riveted on the golden curl. She looked at his fingers, at the gentle, almost reverent way they were caressing her hair, and felt her face grow warm.

Suddenly he dropped his hand, clearing his throat and taking half a step back.

"Erm…Su asked me to come walk you down to lunch. If you're ready, that is."

Trying not to feel the emptiness when he stopped touching her hair, she felt her precarious hold on her temper break.

"You're escorting me? Where's Xaviar?" she asked, her brain catching up a second too late. She wanted to pull her own tongue out when Edmund's face morphed into one of shock.

"Xaviar?" he echoed, eyes wide. "Er…he said he needed to go see Amos, something about gold, but I dunno when he'll be back, exactly. If you like, I can go fetch Pete to come walk with you, or I can- "

She cut off his babbling, feeling even worse when she saw how seriously he'd taken her.

"Ed, I'm so sorry, I did not mean that the way it sounded. I'm…I'm frustrated, and I took it out on you. Forgive me."

He nodded, once, before she turned to hastily braid her hair; a few moments later the pair was walking down the corridor, in a slightly awkward silence.

They'd just reached the bottom of the staircase when Edmund suddenly grabbed her hand, pulling her in the opposite direction towards the side veranda. He led her down the steps into the little garden he'd shown her on her first day here, and once they stood beneath a small willow tree he turned to her, grasping her upper arms and looking at her almost fiercely.

"What's bothering you, Addie?" he asked, and she blinked.

"Oh, well…erm –"

"Adeline." His voice was gentle, but left no room for arguing. She sighed, thinking that maybe talking about it would actually help matters.

"That whole business with Omri this morning, it just irritates me when men do that, that's all."

"No, that is not all." His deep brown eyes were so earnest, so pleading, that she felt her resolve crumble just looking at him.

"You and Xaviar are driving me mad." She finally admitted, and his grip on her arms slackened, before tightening again.

"I'm sorry, Addie," he said, "I ought not to test him the way I do."

A deaf man couldn't have missed the sincerity in his tone, but Adeline wasn't finished just yet.

"Why do you do it, Ed? You're both my friends; is there no way you could ever get along with him?"

Edmund snorted slightly and released her. "Believe me, Adeline, Lord Xaviar wants a great deal more than your friendship. He stares at you the way a man crawling through the desert stares at a glass of water."

"You think I haven't noticed?" she snapped. It was his turn to blink in surprise now, and she rushed on before he could say anything.

"Aslan's mane, Edmund, did you think me blind? I know he stares at me; I can feel it all the time! But you," she said, jabbing him in the chest, "would do very well to set a better example, because maybe if you didn't give him reason to be jealous he wouldn't feel that ogling was necessary!"

He looked a bit stunned as she stepped back, breathing hard and face flushed. She couldn't blame him; she hadn't shouted at anyone like that in goodness knew how long.

After a moment he cleared his throat awkwardly, and took a step closer, taking her hands in his.

"Adeline, I'm truly sorry. You're right, Xaviar is your friend, and a guest here besides. And you deserve better than that."

She chanced a look up at him, and saw that his eyes were glued to her face, searching for signs of forgiveness. The moment she made eye contact he grinned hugely, looking so much like a small boy trying to appease his angry mother that she couldn't stop the laugh that bubbled out of her.

He looked immensely pleased with himself, having made her laugh when she was supposed to be angry, and his smirk only intensified her giggles.

When at last she could speak again, she swatted him lightly, saying, "You are positively incorrigible."

He chuckled. "Yes, but that's what makes me so terrific, you see."

"Mm, yes, your humility as well."

In such conversation they turned and headed back up the garden path, Adeline feeling lighter than she had in weeks.

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