A/N I slammed out 130,000 words on this fic and then hit a wall. A big fat super wall. It took me this long to scratch my way through it. Poor fingernails. Stupid stupid super wall…
The Lost Chronicles of Narnia: The Beast of Witherby
The empty halls echoed with the sounds of dueling footsteps.
Caspian strode through the castle, his expression nearly as hard as the man's that followed him. Lord Tenneth was keeping up with his King, although the length of Caspian's stride made the older man's newly acquired limp more pronounced. To the casual bystander it might appear that the King of Narnia cared little for the pain of his retainer's wound, but that was the furthest thing from the truth. Caspian was very much aware of Tenneth's injury, but he refused to insult the dignity of his former teacher by slowing his own steps. They might be in Narnia, they might be Narnians, but they were also Telmarines, and weakness was to be avoided at all costs.
The High King was already waiting for them when they entered the great council room, reclining in his throne with the ease of one that has been sitting there for a while. It wouldn't surprise Caspian if Peter had spent most of his night there. Aslan knew that Caspian himself had slept more than one night wrapped in gilded stone, unable to free himself mentally or physically from the burdens of the crown. The Telmarine lifted his hand slightly and Tenneth immediately fell back, closing and locking the doors behind them.
"You are here early," Caspian said to Peter as he settled into a throne next to his friend, the one usually reserved for Edmund. Caspian had no desire to spend the morning speaking across the council room to be heard.
"And you look as if you have not slept," Caspian added, noticing the dusty circles around his eyes. Peter gave him a rueful smile.
"I had bad dreams," the High King admitted. Caspian raised an eyebrow but Peter just shrugged.
"Do you wish this meeting private?" Caspian glanced pointedly at the door where Tenneth had placed himself, feet squared and back straight.
"No, this actually needs to be brought to the General's attention. Tenneth." The older man's head snapped up alertly and he marched across the throne room to stand before the Kings at attention. A touch of amusement turned Peter's lips. "Relax, milord, you look overly controlled."
"I am the General of the Telmarine army," Tenneth replied flatly. "It is my job to be overly controlled."
Caspian suppressed his smirk, despite the fact that he was pretty sure the general was joking. With Tenneth it was hard to tell.
"First off," Peter said, his face relaxed but his tone serious. "Before anything else is discussed, has every grievance been properly aired between us all?"
"Sire?" Tenneth seemed confused.
"Yesterday was unfortunate, but it was yesterday," Peter elaborated. "I meant every word I said to both of you, but today we have much more pressing matters. So I ask everyone here: have all of our grievances been aired? If not then we need to get them out. I will not have the day's work sullied by harsh feelings. If you two need to have another go at each other, then by all means do it. As far as I am concerned, my feelings have been made plain to everyone present. I am content. Are you?"
Both Caspian and Tenneth looked at each other for a long silent moment, but finally the general bowed low to both monarchs, indicating his compliance.
"I am content," Caspian said quietly, "But my instincts say that the general is not." Tenneth straightened, and had the expression of one that feels uncomfortable in the position they were in. Truthfully, under the eyes of the two most powerful men in the Kingdom, he should have been.
"Do you wish to speak, milord?" Peter inquired with deceptive mildness. He might have had issue with Tenneth last night, but he was a wealth of knowledge and this morning Peter knew they needed him. "Short of drawing steel, you will not be punished unduly for your opinion. I need your focus today, not your resentment."
Tenneth looked down at the ground in front of him, clenching his jaw tightly, then his face smoothed and he looked back up.
"I would ask forgiveness for my lack of discretion yesterday," Tenneth finally said in his gravelly voice. "I should not have entered into a challenge with the royal throne, no matter what my feelings on the matter. It was not appropriate for one of my station, and it caused undue distress to the Queen. My inability to hold my tongue last night only fueled matters. I apologize."
"The throne challenged you, Tenneth," Caspian told him honestly. "The only lack of propriety I have seen has been your comment to the Queen yester morning. She was distraught long before the dual, and it was not until I heard of your conversation that I understood why. I will not have anyone distressing her so, and certainly not you."
"I only sought to warn the Queen that her actions had consequences," the older man replied, explaining but not excusing himself. "That they were not wise when it came to her safety."
"I could say the same for yours," Caspian remarked pointedly and the general flushed, once more looking down. Caspian shared a look with Peter then lightened his tone. "The next time you have issue come to us, not her. Just because she is Queen does not mean that she should be expected to deal with such things."
"Yes, Sire," Tenneth bowed again and Caspian let it drop. Peter had watched the exchange and was giving Caspian a tiny look of approval, pleased the other King had kept his temper about a Su issue.
"Now, to the point of this meeting," Peter settled in his throne, running one hand through his hair absently. It did nothing to keep the blonde clumps from falling back in his eyes. "We were attacked on our way back from the How yesterday."
Tenneth's head immediately snapped up, his eyes narrowing. This was news to him. Briefly the High King went through the course of events, including the improbable escape. He did not gloss over the fact that Aslan had saved them. Peter was learning to give credit where credit was due.
"They were skilled in both blade and saddle," the High King summed up. "Definitely trained to ride together, they way they swept in at us and kept formation. The horses were fit, not peasant nags. The riders wore hoods, but they were definitely human."
Caspian looked less than pleased at his last statement.
"Then it is probable the attack came from our own forces," the King admitted unhappily, but Tenneth was shaking his head.
"I ran through an inspection yesterday, Sire," the General stated. "If there was a many as you say, then there would have been a noticeable lessening in the ranks. We have many men but not that many trained horses. We lost some of the best of them at the How."
"How big is the Telmarine army exactly, Tenneth?" Peter wanted to know. "Infantry and cavalry both."
"In total?" The general pursed his lips. "Are we counting the men pledged by the council lords or just Caspian's own men?"
"Just my own," Caspian decided. Then he tipped his head to the side. "Hold on, more importantly how much of the Telmarine army is currently housed on the palace grounds and in the surrounding city?"
"The entirety of the royal guard is housed here, although most live in town with their families. They make up approximately forty percent of the total army, as is important for protection purposes. Actually I would be much happier if that number was closer to sixty percent. I would rather a majority should any of the council lords decide to bid for the throne themselves and have the sense to band together."
"A hostile takeover?" Peter mussed. The youth in him briefly found the idea exciting, but the rest of him was not at all happy about it. "How likely would it be that could happen? The council disliked Miraz and yet they didn't try such an overt action."
"Miraz preempted them, High King," Tenneth replied in a bland tone. "He had the most dangerous of them shipped away, those who would have supported Caspian especially. Glozelle was not a strong lord in the council room, but he had the most men available to him. Miraz won him by giving him a position of power over men that had always treated him disdainfully. The rest were waiting to see the kind of king Caspian would make before risking direct confrontation with the royal uncle."
"What mean you, Tenneth?" Caspian asked, even though he wasn't sure he wanted to know. "What difference would my kingship have made?"
"The council was waiting to see if you would be as weak a king as Miraz was trying to make you," the general admitted, looking slightly regretful that he was telling Caspian this. "Surely your Majesty can see how your education could have been directed in a way more fitting the future King? Such subjects as strategy and economics and their like were deliberately withheld, ensuring that you would be dependent on those who knew how to run a kingdom already."
"Such as my uncle," Caspian muttered, shaking his head. "Then I suppose that it is fortunate that my professor was brave enough to teach such things in secret. He never did tell me why, but he always insisted I speak of our lessons to no one."
"If Miraz would have contained his ambitions, it is possible that he could have ruled through you as he desired," Tenneth didn't try to soften that comment for Caspian's benefit. "But his greed drove him too far. He had alienated so much of the council that had you taken the throne, they would have done their best to convince you of his treachery. Should that have failed, they would have attempted to displace you both. The events at Beruna and the presence of the Kings and Queens of Old have since sent their plans askew."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Peter quipped, giving Caspian a bit of a rakish grin. "Sounds like your countrymen are asses."
"Thanks, awfully," Caspian murmured back.
"The total of the Telmarine army was nearly four thousand men, although after the war the number has decreased to about three thousand, if you count those that can be called in from their farms and shops as a last resort," Tenneth finished, ignoring the kings' comments. "Approximately twelve hundred are yours, Sire, half of which are career soldiers. In prior times, at any point in rotation three hundred men were on palace grounds available immediately. As of this morning the rotation has been increased to four hundred."
"That decision was not made by me," Caspian noted to the general, raising an eyebrow.
"It was done in counter to the increasing number of men being brought into the town and the castle by some of the other lords," Tenneth replied stiffly. "I was ordered to maintain a higher level of protection, and felt it a sufficient deterrent."
"Wait a minute," Peter interjected. "Just how many are we talking about here?"
"His Majesty had the townsfolk emptied out of the castle and back into their homes. Those that left have been gradually replaced by members of the Lords' personal guards." Tenneth was watching Caspian as he spoke. The young King's face had gone a bit pale. "…By allowance of the King himself."
"Caspian?" Peter turned to his friend.
"Aye, I allowed it," Caspian acknowledged in a tight voice. "The Lord Baerd expressed concern about the poisoning and asked if he could increase his men to feel safer."
"Did you give him a limit to the number?" Peter demanded.
"I said within reason," Caspian spoke through gritted teeth. It was too early in the morning for this.
"Oh, hell," Peter groaned and leaned back in his throne, rubbing a hand over his eyes. "Let me guess, the other lords decided to follow suit." Tenneth didn't even have to answer.
"Why am I just learning about this?" Caspian demanded of his general, frustrated.
"Because I just learned of it, Sire," Tenneth replied calmly. "The men were brought into the castle in pairs and threes and kept tucked out of sight. Actually I wasn't alerted of it until one of the Rabbits noticed that too much wine was being consumed for the number of rooms it was going to. They informed me yesterday and it took until this morning to discern how many were actually here."
"And I say again, why wasn't I informed at the time?"
Tenneth's expression turned a little irritated.
"His Majesty and Queen Susan could not be located at the time the issue was brought to my attention," Tenneth said flatly. Peter leveled a look at Caspian, who had the decency to flush. However Peter had more important things to discuss. He opened his mouth, but Caspian had already beaten him to it.
"How many soldiers are in the castle and under which lords?" the Telmarine King wanted to know.
"As far as we can tell, the number is approximately two hundred and fifty men, the greatest number belonging to Lord Baerd." Tenneth smirked a touch. "He looked especially nervous this morning when I saw him. He knows that I have become aware of his actions, although I did not say as much."
"And the others?" Peter asked. "Who are their liege lords?"
"I do not know, but I would assume that it would be one or even all of the other council lords. There is a constant struggle for power, and having arms this close to the throne makes Beard very dangerous to everyone."
"We have to get all of these men out of the here," Caspian decided worriedly, standing up and pacing around. "This place is big, but not that big. If even one person draws steel, there could be a full out battle in the castle halls. This is not good."
"Just order them out," Peter suggested, but Caspian and Tenneth were both shaking their heads.
"It is not that easy, Peter," Caspian explained, his dark eyes narrowing. "It is by right of royal decree that Baerd has them here. I cannot revoke my approval without reason, and to order the withdrawal of the personal guards could be taken as a threat to the lords' personages. I might be able to ask Beard to lessen his total number of men, but no less than any other. To admit that I do not want them here because I fear conflict would only stoke a fire I wish to put out."
Peter was aghast. "You're telling me that this entire castle is full of Telmarine soldiers just sitting around and waiting to fight, and there's not a thing we can do about it?"
Caspian just gave him a slightly sick look.
"I think I need a drink," Peter decided, closing his eyes. But Caspian was thinking very fast as he paced.
"Lord Tenneth," he said curtly. "We did not notice the influx of so many men because they came into the castle in small groups, correct?"
"How did you know that they were soldiers? Because of what they wore?"
Tenneth looked a tad offended.
"They wore clothing similar to townsfolk," the general said. "And when they traverse the castle they do so by the servants' corridors to blend in. But I would know a trained Telmarine solider when I saw one, your Majesty. And especially these. There are some elite amongst them."
"Elite?" Peter wasn't sure he wanted to know.
"The best warriors we've got," Caspian told him. "Swordfighters and such. There used to be more but the How took a lot of them out. But the point is that we are not supposed to know they are the lords' soldiers, correct?"
"Hence all the subterfuge, your Majesty," Tenneth's eyes were starting to brighten as he followed his King's line of thought.
"Then I think I have a plan."
Caspian outlined it in full, although Peter and the general each had their own recommendations as to how it could succeed with less chance of life loss. Finally they came to an agreement.
"That still leaves us with these hooded riders," the High King felt complied to add. "Not that this isn't as important, but that lot nearly took both Lu and I down in the river." He rubbed his shoulder, as if simply thinking of the arrow made it hurt.
"Let me think on it," Caspian said, frowning. "I don't like the idea that anyone feels confident enough to attack the High King himself, or is callous enough to attack a group of innocents."
"Many in the town still don't feel as if the Old Narnians are innocent, Sire," Tenneth's words were flat, and his expression said nothing about if he agreed or disagreed. Caspian's frown deepened.
"Emotions are still strained in the city, especially amongst the peasants," the Telmarine King murmured to himself. "The poor seem to resent the loss of life more than the wealthy."
"How do you know this?" Peter asked curiously, but Caspian only shook his head slightly, saying only that things got around to him eventually. Tenneth's eyes flickered from one king to the next, but he pretended to be oblivious to the exchange.
"The poor rarely ride good horses and these were trained men," the High King mused thoughtfully. "I would expect another riot before I would expect an attack to come in this form from commoners. Somebody doesn't like us here, and it's someone with the money and the power to try to remove us. That narrows it down considerably."
Silence fell between the three men, so long that it grew uncomfortable. Finally Tenneth cleared his throat.
"Permission to carry out your commands, your Majesties?" he asked respectfully, but his dark eyes were clouded. Peter nodded, but Tenneth hesitated just a brief second until Caspian did as well before bowing low and limping briskly out of the room. When the door closed, leaving the two young men alone, Peter looked over at Caspian.
"Do you trust him?" Peter asked softly, raising an eyebrow at his friend. Caspian's hand strayed to his sword hilt, as he stared at the place his former instructor had disappeared. A slightly sad expression touched his face as he slumped back in his throne.
"Do you?" was all Caspian had to say.
The Queens were holding court.
It would be an understatement to say that the attending lords and ladies were surprised when only Lucy and Susan entered the throne room that morning. As highest ranking monarch present, Susan seated herself upon Caspian's throne, with Lucy next to her in a chair much grander than what had been supplied the day before. Unconsciously Lucy seemed to emulate her sister, and the littlest Queen sat straighter with her hands resting regally upon smoothed skirts. Unlike most her age she did not fidget, instead looking about the room with piercing eyes.
Susan wasn't the only one ready for this morning to not go smoothly. Much to everyone's surprise, it was little Lucy who was the first to address those gathered. She smiled benevolently, although her court of thirteen hundred years ago would have seen the stiffness these Narnians and Telmarines did not notice.
"The throne grants welcome to any and all to approach with their desires and grievances," the Queen said in a clear voice. "They will be heard and dealt with fairly, as has ever been done in Narnia under just rule."That sent a ripple through the crowd as they tried to figure out if the youngest monarch spoke unwittingly, or if she was really brave enough to openly criticize the past Telmarine rulers. Susan had to contain a small smirk, having not expected for Lucy to add that last part to the ritual opening statement and knowing exactly what her sister meant. Edmund would have been beaming with pride.
"Lord Donnon," Susan said once the murmurs in the room had gone down. "I have been informed that you had a case to make this morning. Please do so."
The Telmarine stepped forward and bowed to the thrones, hiding his surprise skillfully.
"Your Majesties," Donnon said smoothly, looking extremely apologetic. "I admit to being unprepared for said case. If you would be so good as to allow me another day or so…"
The tone of his voice said that his request was so understandable that it must be granted, however Susan simply raised an eyebrow at him.
"Strange, sir, when you pressured the King unduly for this chance to be heard," Susan said clearly, unsurprised at his reluctance. Donnon, like many of the lords, had managed to pull several reluctant concessions from Caspian, and he used those every chance he had to further himself. It was more to his benefit to address the King himself. "The issues of three separate men and one Beast were pushed back to make room for you at your insistence, and yet you are unprepared? I find that hard to believe."
A flash of irritation passed over Donnon's face, but that too was hidden as he straightened.
"The King knows the details of my argument, your Majesty," he countered. "Upon hearing that King Caspian would not be holding court today, I assumed that I would be bypassed until he once more was available to continue the discussion. Again, my apologies."
"You have nothing to apologize for," Susan said sweetly. "But if you do not wish to speak of your case today, when there has been made time available, then I will have to push your issue to the last of the list. I assure you milord, that it is a very long list. The choice is yours."
Lord Donnon stood silently, his eyes locked on the Queen's. Finally he dropped his gaze, but his eyes narrowed dangerously. Lucy watched the two, having a good clue as to what Donnon was thinking. He was weighing out Susan's words in his mind and was trying to decide whether to give credence to her threat. He was deciding if he could out maneuver her, and unfortunately this Telmarine did not dismiss Susan as quickly as his cohorts might have. She had the ear of the King, and he was becoming a stronger one every passing moment.
"Then I must beg forgiveness your Majesty, if during my words I bumble like a fool before you," Donnon had made his decision, and it was the one that Susan had figured he would make, even if it was the one that made life more difficult for her. The courtiers chuckled amongst themselves, because Lord Donnon had never bumbled and he was no fool.
"Many men have been fools before Su, milord," Lucy said cheekily. "At least you may survive the encounter with some of your pride attached."
Donnon's steady gaze jerked to Lucy quickly, and his eyes once more narrowed. Groaning inside, Susan wondered just what had gotten into Lucy today. She was deliberately provoking this man. If Su didn't know better, she would have thought that Lucy didn't like him. Lord Donnon smiled and nodded in amusement, but Susan could see his brain working furiously. For a brief moment the eldest Queen regretted her decision to do this in Caspian's stead, but she figured that her suitor had enough to deal with right now.
"I have ever believed that a prideful man is the one that falls quickest, your Majesties," Lord Donnon said silkily, and with a modesty that neither Queen believed. "If I was to be a fool for you Queen Susan, then I would only be joining the ranks of the few and the overly privileged. It would be an honor indeed."
Susan stiffened as she caught the ever so subtle slight to Caspian, but she kept her countenance mild and her tone light.
"In my time as Queen of Narnia, honors were bestowed only as they were earned," she replied with a touch of a smile. "I would rather keep company with honest fools than clever snakes painted green with envy. We can be thankful that such snakes have been driven from these great halls. If any so remain I would beg a brave man slay it for me, for I am only a simple female and I so do hate serpents."
Lucy barely restrained herself from clapping, but her grin said it all. Susan remained still, eyes locked on Lord Donnon's. This time when he smiled it was a real one, full of genuine amusement.
"Consider my sword to be at your disposal, your Majesty," Donnon said with a flourish. "Although it might be hard to find such serpents you speak of, for they blend in very well. I will have to devote myself wholeheartedly to their removal, and as soon as my case has been made, I will do so at once."
Lucy could tell that this was not the reaction her sister had expected, and realized that she needed to cover Susan's momentary disconcert. Being struck with a sudden idea, she drew Donnon's attention to herself.
"Oh, how wonderful!" she said with delight. "It has been so long since either of us has had a champion, Susan. Since Caspian has made it clear how he will always champion you, dear sister, I believe I shall take the dear Lord Donnon as my own. It is so good of you to have offered, Donnon, considering how busy you always are. Do not worry, I promise not to occupy all of your time." Lucy beamed at the man, watching his jaw drop, then close quickly.
As Donnon stood stunned, Susan moved in quickly, ignoring for the moment the consequences of what Lucy had just done.
"I have been informed by the court scribes that you seek to gain the throne's permission to extend your lands, milord," Susan said bluntly. "You wish to take them into the Shuddering Woods in return for allowing Dwarven miners inside your borders. However, as Caspian has explained to you repeatedly, it is impossible to justify the allowance of one of the lords of the council to extend his lands when all may not. Furthermore, the taxes paid by the miners will more than make up for the loss of revenue on land that was only occupied by the occasional herd of sheep."
Susan didn't let Donnon interrupt, instead plowing on as if she didn't hear his attempts to speak.
"As the King has stated more than once, he intends to give the Narnians back their fair share of this land, without undue relocation of the current Telmarine population. By extending your lands in that direction, this would be in complete contradiction to the intent of the King, and my sister and I cannot in good conscience allow that to happen."
"Your Majesty, it is more complex than what you are making it!" Donnon had recovered enough to burst in when she was pausing between breathes, but Susan held up her hand imperiously.
"And I am just a simple girl, milord," Susan smiled sweetly, the smile that had brought whole countries to their knees. "So I will have to do what seems most simple. As far as I can see, your worst problem is that you have nowhere for you to graze your sheep, and as your Queen I cannot allow your herds to go hungry. Therefore it is royal decree that the Lord Donnon's sheep all be brought to the palace gardens and allowed to graze to their hearts content." Susan beamed at Lucy. "See sister, I told you that we would find a more sensible way to keep the grasses down. They do scratch my skirts so as they are."
"Your Majesty, that is simply unnecessary," Donnon declared, realizing that she was taking so much of his livestock away from him. "I have the lands to feed them sufficiently, that was never my objection-"
"Oh good," Susan declared happily. "I love it when an issue is resolved. Now, we must move on to the next case. Lord Beard, wasn't it?"
Lord Baerd seemed to suddenly be nowhere to be found, as were several of the minor lords. In the middle of the throne room, Donnon stood motionless, seething with anger.
"I believe that you are mistaken, Queen Susan," Lord Donnon began to growl, but he was smoothly interrupted by the loud thumping of boot heels hitting stone as the King entered the throne room. The gathered onlookers immediately dropped down in respectfully deep bows and curtseys. As he passed by, Caspian gave Donnon a benign nod of greeting, then he bowed to both the Queens.
"Good morning your Majesties," Caspian said with a sweet smile. "I see you have settled the lord's problems, my queen. That is good news, for after several days of deliberation I believe both Lord Donnon and I were beginning to grow weary of each other."
"No one could grow weary of you, Caspian," Lucy said with a real smile of happiness. She had not seen him last night and knew little of his and Susan's quarrel. The Queen stood up from her seat and hugged Caspian without restraint. "I missed you," she whispered to him privately, her smile wavering for only the briefest of moments.
"And I you, little Lu," he told her, kneeling down and kissing her cheek affectionately. Then he turned and saw that Donnon had still not moved, although his jaw was working furiously. The King raised an eyebrow at him. "Did you need something, milord?"
Donnon knew when he was outnumbered and he knew when he had been beaten. Bowing low, the Lord ground his teeth, saying, "No, your Majesty."
"Good," Caspian decided, as if oblivious to the malice rolling off the lord in waves. "Now I must return to business, but I wanted to say hello, Lucy. I will see you both at lunch."
"And Donnon too, Caspian," Lucy said merrily, giving the lord a huge smile. "He is my new champion."
This gave Caspian pause and almost made him break from his nonchalance. He glanced at Susan quickly, who merely shrugged as if to say that it wasn't her fault. Finally Caspian nodded. "Lunch then, Donnon. Good day, your Majesties." And with that the King left the throne room, taking any residual fight Donnon might have made with him. The lord's face was a thundercloud as he stomped back to his seat. Scythley leaned in to speak with him, but Donnon just jerked his head dismissively. Across the throne room in the far seats, Duke Hornabret seemed incredibly amused by the situation, his daughter at his side. Gerdi was smiling proudly at the Queens. Susan wanted to tell Gerdi not to be too proud yet. That was just one, and they had a day full of more.
Steeling herself for a fresh battle, the Queen called the next case.
"Your plan isn't working."
"No. Your plan isn't working. My plan is going along quite nicely."
"How can you even tell? The Warlock stopped communicating days ago."
"You poor fool. Tell me, what else other than a King of Narnia could have slain the Warlock?"
"Yes. And unless Aslan wants to die for a traitor twice, than the High King will have something much more important to deal with than the controlling of our King."
"And if the boy dies first?"
A dark smirk turned the corners of the second speaker's mouth, his eyes bright.
"Yes. That would be terrible, wouldn't it? Such a very great shame."
Lunch was an amusing affair for everyone but the newest Champion of her Royal Highness, Queen Lucy the Valiant.
Unaccustomed to dining privately with the royals, Lord Donnon still had managed to hold himself with arrogant dignity. His frustration from earlier in the day had smoothed off of his face, and initially he had sought to use the proximity to the Kings and Queens as a chance to better his own position. However every attempt that he made to speak of such things to Caspian or Peter was cut off immediately by the dual efforts of girl and feline. Lucy kept up a constant string of girlish chatter, ranging everywhere from the current geographic changes of Narnia from the Old Times, to her favorite color of hair ribbon. The kitten (or Kitten) insisted on sitting on his leg, kneading sharp little claws into his upper thigh, making the large Telmarine yelp in pain and the boys snicker. But every time Donnon placed the animal back on the ground, the chattering Lucy absently picked it up and placed it right back where it had been.
Peter wondered secretly if Lucy knew that she was putting her kitten (Kitten) in the worst place possible, but was much too polite to mention it in front of company. After Donnon almost leapt out of his seat with a barely contain curse, the kitten fighting for purchase as Lu lectured Donnon on proper kitten care, Caspian had to excuse himself into the hall before bursting out in laughter. Susan kept a demure expression as she politely sipped her soup, but she too had to excuse herself when Lucy forced the stressed looking Lord to repeat back to her the ideal table setting and food selection should one find themselves dining with a Beaver. Finally, nearly unable to contain his frustration, Lord Donnon begged leave of her Majesty, citing previous engagements that simply could not be ignored. Lucy had sniffed, looking offended, and stated that she disliked being ignored just as much and insisted he bring her back a suitable surprise for her pains. Agreeing quickly, the wide eyed man darted from the room, kitten (Kitten) in high pursuit.
"Hmmm, do you think he'll bring me a pony?" Lucy mused later with a giggle, after Peter had finished his meal and had escorted her to her and Susan's room. She settled down next comfortably in the sitting room, watching her brother flop down tiredly. "I've only ever had a Pony, and he was much too dignified for his own good."
"What in the world do you think you're doing, Lucy?" the High King asked, raising one eyebrow at his baby sister. "That man is not a playmate; he's a potentially very dangerous enemy. We still don't know where everyone stands, and the last thing in the world that I need right now is having my little sister in such a dodgy situation."
"I would have thought it apparent, Peter," Lucy said lightly, unconcerned at the possible danger. She was sure that he would agree once she explained her reasoning. "If we don't trust him, doesn't it make sense to keep him close? That way it will be even that much harder for him to do anything without us knowing about it. And I know you're worried about me getting hurt, but if something happened to me when Donnon is around, it would obviously get blamed on him. He's not that stupid. Plus he's the one that is causing the least amount of trouble for Caspian out of all the lords, so I think that I can manage him for awhile. You three have enough to do as it is."
"That's not the point, Lu," Peter grumbled, unwilling to cave to her logic. "You're only ten--."
"Nearly eleven," she corrected with a grin, making him roll his eyes.
"Fine, nearly eleven. You should be playing with dolls, not playing with politics. You're going to have to tell Donnon that you take it back. I'm not having that man shadow your every step."
"Am I not allowed to have a champion?" she teased, but Peter was not letting her have her way, not this time.
"If you want a champion, you have one," he said flatly. "Trust me, you've always had one. But Donnon goes. That's not a request."
"You're pulling rank on me," Lucy couldn't believe it, and her shock showed on her face. "That's not fair."
"And neither is putting yourself in a position that's going to make me worry myself sick about you day and night," the High King informed her, running a hand through his blonde hair. "Truly Lu, I don't have the energy for this. Please, just tell him you changed your mind, because it's going to cause a whole lot less problems than if I officially revoke his status. That is cause enough to have the lord claim insult. You are so young, it will be passed off as girlish fancy."
"I know you're not trying to sound as mean as you are," Lucy said softly, and there was a slight hitch to her voice. "Fine. If you insist."
"Lu… don't be like that. You have to understand--."
"I understand that everyone is helping fix things but me," Lucy said quietly. "I am a Queen of Narnia, too. I have ruled as long as you have. How many times must you insist on ignoring me until it is nearly too late?"
That one hurt Peter; she could see it in his eyes. So many times now not paying attention to Lucy had been nearly their downfall, but she had never brought that up to any of her family. Not being one to say she told them so, and she wasn't really sure she knew why she was doing it now. But she just had the feeling that it was important she help this way, and she wasn't going to back down without some sort of fight. The High King stood before her, his mouth opening to speak then shutting again several times. She watched as different emotions crossed his face, from concern to frustration then to resignation. Finally Peter's mouth set in a tight frown.
"Fine, Lucy, have it your way. But, there are conditions," Peter said, his decisive words broaching no argument. "I am assigning Ironhoof to you, and he will be present every time Donnon is. The second I hear that you have given any of your guards the slip, or have met with the lord in private for any reason, you will find yourself confined to the royal quarters, permanently. That is a promise, Lu, so be careful what you choose to do, little sister. Will you be in here the rest of the afternoon?"
"Good. Do me a favor and stick in here until I come get you later."
"Just trust me Lu. Things might get a little loud, but we have everything under control."
With that the High King kissed her on the top of the head and left, the heavy wooden door closing behind him. It was not thick enough to muffle the king's exasperated sigh before he ordered his Centaur bodyguard to remain with Lucy, nor the rumble of confusion coming from Ironhoof. At Peter's grumbled answer, Lucy flinched. She hated that he was unhappy with her because of something she'd done of her own choosing, especially when he loved her so much. He tried so hard to keep her happy and safe, and Lucy knew it was very difficult for him to suppress his protective nature. Still, he'd let her do it, so some part of him understood her logic, he just wouldn't admit it. Peter could be very stubborn when he felt like it.
As Lucy stood up from her divan, she felt dizzy, although it passed after only a moment. Deciding that maybe she just needed a nap, it had been a long couple days and she had been having bad dreams at night about her absent brother, Lucy padded into her and Susan's room. As she lay down, she briefly wondered if maybe this time she was wrong and Peter was right. She was impulsive but aware that she was just as fallible as anyone else. She had not yet reached a decision on the subject when she drifted into sleep. She dreamt of being cold, so very cold, and of a hopelessness that the young girl had never known in her own gentle heart.
The butterfly's wings were soft upon her cheeks as it brushed its kisses. The Queen sighed happily, watching her tiny lover flit away.
"Should I be jealous?"
Susan turned around at the soft masculine voice, feeling roughened fingers entwining themselves in her own. The King of Narnia gently tugged her closer, chocolate eyes drinking her in. Susan had been out here in the gardens most of the afternoon, idly strolling by around the pond in her bare feet. She loved the feel of grass scrunching between her toes, but not as much as she loved the way Caspian could always catch her by surprise and take her breath away. The King had been in council nearly all day with her brother, with the exception of lunch, and she had thought that he would not find time for her until much later. He looked so handsome as he stood before her, dark hair in his eyes and a touch of a smile curving his lips.
"Hallo, Caspian," Susan said brightly, looking up at him. She gave him a flirtatious smile. "I had thought you would never tire of my brother. I was almost stolen away from you by another, Sir Butterfly."
"Do I have competition, lady?" Caspian asked, now grinning at her. He kissed her hand, unable to help from brushing his lips across each knuckle individually. "Then I suppose I must fight to keep that which I hold most dear."
"Could you fight that which is more beautiful than myself?" Susan teased. "Or would the King find himself distracted, leaving his queen in her own competition for your attention?"
"There is no fight that I could not win for you," Caspian assured her sweetly, eyes twinkling as he sought to take her in his arms. "Nor a foe more distracting than you. Be easy, my queen, for there will be no competition for my heart."
Susan laughed and pulled away. "And do not fear, good sir, for as beautiful as the butterfly is, he is no match for you."
Caspian tipped his head, looking a little embarrassed.
"I do not believe it says much for my masculine prowess to be compared to a butterfly," he decided. "Perhaps a swift cat or a strong bear?"
"I could call you a Mouse, for that is the greatest honor there is," Susan said archly, then laughed as he swept her up to him, tickling her sides with his hands. "No fair, Caspian!"
Off to the side, Peepiceek exchanged a confused glance with another Mouse guard but said nothing.
"All is fair in love and war," the King promised her, kissing her neck and making her giggle. "And I wage a war to win your love, sweetest lady."
"Your tongue is honeyed, my King," Susan declared, trying and failing to escape his embrace.
"I am a King, aren't I?" Caspian said as he nuzzled her neck, as if the thought was a surprise to him.
"They say that a honeyed tongue is a sign of a knave."
"Hmmmm… A knave. I am sometimes that too."
Susan burst into laughter and leaned into Caspian, her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. He returned the embrace, momentarily lost in the scent of her hair. Then he loosened his arms, falling back so that he could look down at her properly.
"I must ask a favor of you, my queen," he told her, his voice growing solemn as he dropped their word play.
"And what is that?"
"I would ask that you remain in your quarters for the rest of the day." Her smile faded to be replaced by a frown. Caspian quickly moved on. "Or if you will not, I would ask that you stay close to your guards and arm yourself." He pulled something out of the side of his belt, and pressed it into her hands.
"Arm myself? Caspian, why?" Susan looked at what he had given her. It was a dagger, its sheath made of ornately carved leather. It had obviously been well used, for the leather was soft and the details worn to near obscurity.
"Because there is something that will occur today and if it does not go properly, I would not have you unarmed." Caspian stepped forward, his mouth near her ear for privacy. "I do not expect trouble, or I would not be asking. I would be insisting you be sequestered away. But as things are, I will still feel better this way."
"What is--" she started to demand but at his shush Susan quieted her voice to a whisper. "What is to happen?"
"I cannot tell you," Caspian admitted apologetically. At her look of indignation, he shook his head. "It is not from lack of trust. However you wear your heart on your sleeve. If you are present at the right time and do not react as you normally would, then things might not go properly, my queen."
"Is there nothing you can tell me?" Susan asked, looking unhappily at the dagger. "Nothing at all?"
"Just that no matter how cruel and callous I might appear today, I am the man I have always been. And I love all my people."
"Caspian, I don't understand," Susan said almost plaintively. Caspian tipped her chin up and kissed her, a long firm kiss.
"You do not have to. I will tell you everything this evening, I promise." He kissed her a second time, lingeringly, for a moment feeling breathless. "You are so beautiful…" he whispered, almost to himself. Then he gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek.
"Please," Caspian nodded at the dagger as he stepped away. "Just keep it on your person."
"I will," Susan finally agreed, although she did not like it. As she watched him stride away, she noticed that same purposeful walk that Peter had when he had been in the midst of something important. It was not like Caspian to not speak with her about whatever it was that was happening. She wasn't sure if she liked being left in the dark. Simultaneously, she wasn't sure she liked knowing either. Deciding that she had no other choice but to trust him, Susan tucked the dagger within the deep pockets of her skirts. Just in case.
Lucy woke up with a start. Confused as to her instinctive alarm, she looked around the room. The slightly deeper colors of the late afternoon sun filtered through the partially drawn curtains, making her blink. Then the crashing of steel against steel sounded, causing her to leap to her feet and dart out of bed. The sounds of fighting were louder in her sitting room, and to her surprise when she poked her nose out of the room, she found her door unguarded completely. The halls were in chaos. Men that she didn't recognize were running about, some in the garb of palace guards and others in unmarked clothing. Soldiers had their swords drawn and were forcibly dragging the unmarked Telmarines around, although for what reason, Lucy had no idea. She also had no idea where Ironhoof was, although she heard a deep rumbling roar from the other end of the corridor and sure it was him, Lucy stepped out into the hall to try and see what the matter was.
It was a very bad idea.
Once beyond the safety of the doorway, the littlest Queen found herself swept up in the jostling. She was pushed down the hallway, away from Ironhoof and deeper into the chaos. Lucy tried to plant herself and order everyone to stop this mess at once, but her words were lost beneath the shriek of steel on steel as the unmarked men began fighting back in earnest. Realizing that this was a very bad place for her to be right now, Lucy cast about for the closest Narnian she could find. There were none. Shrinking as tightly as she could to the wall, Lucy tried to make herself as small as possible. She hated fighting and bloodshed, and she definitely hated being all alone in the midst of it.
"This is not a very good place for you right now, your Majesty," a deep voice rumbled as a short but very broad figure fought its way to her. Dr. Cornelius. Having been of dubious health since his time spent in Miraz's prison, the older Narnian spent most of his time reading quietly within the warmth and comfort of his rooms. After the tournament, the half Dwarf had been feeling especially ill, and had kept to his bed more often than not. But he was making a beeline for the Queen and with a gasp of relief, Lucy grabbed a hold of his much larger hand.
"What is going on?" Lucy wanted to know, eyes huge and holding tightly as the half Dwarf pulled her back towards her quarters.
"It seems that both our King and High King have made a serious misjudgment today, Queen Lucy," Dr. Cornelius mentioned, his calm demeanor not betraying his concern at the fighting all around them. "It would be best if you were not in the halls."
"Why is everyone fighting?" Lu asked, then she yelped as a soldier went stumbling back and nearly knocked her down. Cornelius seized the man by the tunic, and with the strength of his Narnian ancestors, he tossed the man back from Lucy and into two more Telmarines. As they all tumbled to the ground, a loud roar and the thunder of hooves momentarily caused the men in the hall to hesitate. An enraged looking Ironhoof was forcing his way through simultaneously kicking and punching everyone who got in his way. With a sweep of his hindquarters, he cleared the area around the half Dwarf and girl, and shoved both back through the door of Lucy's quarters.
"Stay inside your Majesty!" the Centaur demanded, sounding even grimmer and angrier than normal. "Bolt the door!"
Cornelius hurried to do as directed, the heavy metal bolt dropping in place securely as Lucy sat back down. Her tiny face was pale.
"What in the world is going on?" she asked a second time. Cornelius just shook his head.
"I demand to know just what is going on," Susan declared imperiously, however it was a bit hard to maintain her dignity while being drug down the castle halls by the arm. She had been about to return to her and Lucy's rooms when Lord Tenneth had appeared outside in the gardens with ten men. Immediately they had surrounded the Queen as the sounds of fighting broke loose. Her Cat guard had tightened in close to her, and the growling made more than one Telmarine cast about nervously. However the General seemed impervious, ignoring their bared teeth as he took Susan by the arm and pulled her towards the castle.
"I was told you would be in your chambers, my Queen," Tenneth growled, his eyes sweeping over the chaos in the halls. This was not going nearly as well as planned. He ducked into a tiny service corridor, one that led towards the courtyard. The hall was small, so that only two across could pass at a time.
"I was headed there in a moment, as Caspian requested."
"He should have made you go immediately, as I said."
"The King makes his own decisions," Susan defended Caspian, emphasizing his title pointedly, than she yelped as a pair of men came tumbling out of a side corridor towards them with weapons flailing. Tenneth smoothly turned and pulled Susan behind him, drawing his sword halfway and slamming the pommel of it into one's jaw, knocking him out as his jaw broke. The second was screaming as he fought to kick off the Leopard that had buried its teeth into his arm, his sword clattering to the ground. Tenneth absently kicked the weapon away as he pulled a wide eyed Susan around and had her hurrying down the hall once more.
"General?" she gasped breathlessly as the corridor opened up again, her guard folding around her so that she couldn't see what was going on past tall heads and broad shoulders.
"The Telmarines are fighting each other, your Majesty," one of her Cats rasped, grimacing at the taste still in its mouth from biting the human. "The Narnians are staying clear, with the exception of the Centaurs. They are rounding up the ones not in uniform."
"Are we under attack?" Susan grew cold at the thought, but was reassured by the General's words.
"We are the ones attacking, my Queen," Tenneth told her confidently, slowing his pace as they exited the interior of the palace into one of the largest courtyards. "There were armed men being snuck into the palace, possibly for a coup. The High King and King Caspian ordered for them to be removed immediately." He frowned as he added under his breath, "There were a few more than we had thought."
And there were. Having been under the impression that approximately two hundred and fifty men had been brought into the palace, the General looked over the courtyard. Nearly twice as many as his intelligence had led him to believe were now being lined up and forced to their knees, weapons removed and hands bound before them. The Telmarine Royal Guard was standing at attention with their prisoners, the Old Narnians having positioned themselves along the walls surrounding the courtyard and blocking off all means of escape. The only way out of there was over the battlements, and a lengthy plunge to their deaths. Susan unhappily looked at the bound men, seeing the expression of apprehension and downright fear on many faces.
"Who are these men?" she wanted to know, but Tenneth merely gestured towards the steps before the battlements. Seated in heavy chairs on the highest rise so that they could see everything easily, both Peter and Caspian watched dispassionately as more men were brought in and bound. Susan started to go over to them, but Peter must have been watching for her, because as soon as she started to step he caught her eye and gave a quick shake of his head. Confused but aware of the chain of command, the Queen stayed where she was.
"My Lord Tenneth?" Susan pressed urgently. While a scenario such as this was unknown in the Golden Age of Narnia, the Queen was politically savvy enough to understand the complications arising. "What will they do with these men?" The Telmarine General looked down at her, his dark eyes searching hers for just a moment before turning away.
"They will do as they must," was his simple reply. "If your Majesty wishes than I will escort you inside before this starts. However much longer and you will have to remain. I will not send you back in the castle unaccompanied. It is too dangerous at this moment." One of the Cats hissed at him but he ignored it.
"What of Lucy?" Susan worried, but the older man just gave the very smallest quirk of a smile.
"Her Majesty stayed in her rooms as she was requested," Tenneth drawled, causing Susan to blush slightly at the admonishment. Any further conversation was cut off by the marching of feet and loud protestations as the entirety of the Council of Lords was "escorted" through the crowds and positioned beneath the steps. They had many choice words to say, arguing angrily with themselves and towards Caspian, with only Lord Donnon and the Duke of Galma looking entirely unconcerned with the whole thing.
Caspian's voice cut through the crowds as he stood. A hush fell over the courtyard. He looked coldly imperious as he stood, looking down at the gathered each in turn, as if taking their stock and measure.
"Your Majesty, if I may," Lord Baerd started, but Caspian cut him off with a flick of his hand.
"No you may not, Baerd. In fact the next person to open their mouths without permission will find themselves in the dungeons until winter. Anyone else want to interrupt me?"
No one answered, shocked at the harshness of the King's tone, even Susan herself. Lord Scythley had grown slightly pale, although Donnon simply raised an eyebrow and the Duke of Galma looked smug.
"We seem to have a problem," High King Peter said quietly, the softness of his words sounding even more frightening then the louder heavy ones of Caspian. "The Castle has been invaded by armed Telmarine men. Caspian, are they your men?" he asked drolly. Caspian glowered at the bound men, watching several shiver beneath his gaze.
"Nay, brother, they are not my men."
"Hmmm. But they are Telmarine men, are they not?"
"But they must be someone's men. Someone must be in charge of them, giving them orders, or they never would have managed to infiltrate so many in at once. Would anyone like to admit to control of these men?"
"Your Majesties, you must not be thinking--" Scythley began, sounding outraged, however he was cut off smoothly by Lord Donnon.
"While it is only natural for the Council to bear the burden of your distrust, what with the questionable activities of your departed uncle, I must say that I find this insinuation to be mildly insulting King Caspian," Donnon bowed low to his liege. "I would have hoped your trust in me as an advisor and subject would have garnered more faith. I am hurt, sire."
"Duly noted, my Lord. As a Champion of the Crown herself, it is your place to be above distrust," Caspian said, locking eyes with the Lord. Donnon flinched slightly to the reference to Lucy's brand new tie on him, but he merely bowed lower. "As for the rest of you, no one has anything to say?"
"Galma is as ever loyal, your Majesty," the Duke murmured, openly smirking at the other Lords. "Considering my daughter's suit for your hand, it would do little to behoove me to be involved in a coup. My choice for the throne stands on it as we speak. All my men are accounted for, should you wish to investigate."
"Hmm. Anyone else?"
A chorus of denials followed. Peter and Caspian exchanged a glance, and then Caspian stepped forward.
"Very well. We shall just have to ask the men themselves who it is they follow." Caspian pointed at one of the prisoners and the tall Telmarine was picked up by the scruff of the neck and thrown at the base of the steps. As the frightened looking man stared up at his King, Susan gave a cry of dismay.
It was Rhince.
The castle was growing quiet once more, but Lucy wasn't sure if maybe that was worse. However the steady clomping of Ironhoof's pacing gave her the security in knowing that at least he was alright. Dr. Cornelius had busied himself by fetching the small container of water kept heating over the Queens' fireplace, and was finishing pouring them both a cup of tea. Lucy smiled and accepted the proffered cup.
"Thank you," she said politely. "We do have wine if you would prefer, sir."
"Thank you as well, your Majesty," Cornelius returned the smile and sat down across from the Queen. "However I have stuck mostly to water or tea these days. Wine leaves me too lightheaded."
"Peter won't let me have more than a half glass a day," Lucy rolled her eyes at the protectiveness. "He seems to feel it is bad for me. I think he forgets that I am a Queen too, and that I'm not silly enough to get into my 'cups."
"Truly?" Cornelius raised a skeptical eyebrow, making the girl giggle.
"Well, most of the time." She took a small sip and then curled her bare feet beneath her. "Doctor? What misjudgment did Peter and Caspian make? You said they knew of the men hidden and didn't tell anyone about their intentions to flush the men out, so to avoid more fighting. Didn't it work?"
"It seems to have, your Majesty." His voice rumbled soothingly, but she could hear the note of discontent in it.
"Then what is wrong?"
"The problem is this: now that they have these men, what will they do with them? They cannot just set them free or risk the same kind of scenario repeating itself. They cannot imprison men who are only following orders, and they cannot kill the men that gave the orders. The Council Lords will claim to have not given any order for attack and will blame any fighting on the men themselves. If there is a single seed of doubt in the intentions of the Lords, to have them imprisoned or killed will only make Caspian appear a tyrant like his uncle. To punish the men themselves will turn the commoners against Caspian. They moved too quickly in arresting these men."
"But if they had waited, wouldn't it have possibly ended in real fighting in the castle?" Lucy asked, pursing her lips. "Wouldn't more people have been hurt?"
"Possibly. But then they would have been able to make a fair and just ruling against men and Lord. Their actions would have been condoned. A misstep now could weaken the monarchy, and a big enough blunder could allow the Lords to claim foul against Caspian and the Barbarians he has allowed to rule alongside him, no offence intended your Majesty. The Narnians will not allow their Kings and Queens to be dethroned, not on their lives."
"And we would be back where we started from." Lucy sighed sadly, wishing for not the first time that she had Aslan to speak to. Then she steeled her little shoulders and spoke firmly. "Then I guess all we can do is trust in Peter and Caspian to do the right thing. Peter has had to make very difficult choices before, but he always knew what he was doing. And Caspian is so good and noble. I think we should have faith in them and in Aslan that it will all end up alright."
Cornelius smiled again, impressed as always in his little Queen's strength. "Indeed, your Majesty. Indeed."
Having nothing else they could do, they poured another cup of tea.
"Who gave you your orders to enter the castle, Telmarine?"Caspian asked, his voice deceptively quiet. Rhince just remained silent, but Susan could see him trembling ever so slightly.
"If given a direct order, than the fault is lain at the feet of your leader. However if you refuse to name him, then the throne will have to assume you acted of your own accord. I ask you again man, who ordered you into the castle?"
"I… I cannot answer that, Sire," Rhince whispered in a rough voice. "On pain of my family, my loyalty must remain true."
"Your loyalty is to the Crown," the High King said coldly. "If that is no longer the case, if you draw arms in the castle itself, then you are a traitor to the Crown and will be dealt with as such."
"Peter!" Susan started to interject, but the General halted her words with a tightened grip on her arm.
"Please do not interfere, your Majesty," he spoke loudly, his voice carrying across the courtyard. Susan looked at him angrily.
"That man is a friend!"
"That man is a traitor and must be treated thusly," the General maintained, and much to her frustration neither King was paying her any heed. Instead Caspian was staring down at Rhince.
"Is this your decision, Telmarine?"
"Aye, your Majesty…"
"So be it. General Tenneth," Caspian called the older man, who stepped away from Susan and marched across the courtyard, limping slightly. As he reached the steps, Tenneth grasped Rhince by the collar and hauled him to his feet, dragging him up the steps and past the two silent monarchs. Susan pushed through the crowds, no longer held back by the General. Realizing what was about to happen, she cried out his name to stop him, but Tenneth simply paused and looked at his King. With bleak eyes, Caspian merely nodded. Rhince gave one strangled cry, which was cut off as he was drug to the battlements and flipped over. There was no sound as the man plunged to his death.
The blood drained from Susan's face as she stumbled, horrified at what she had just seen. A hand reached to steady her. It was Mari, her lady in waiting. The other woman seemed shocked, but not upset, instead watching Caspian proudly as the rest of the prisoners in the courtyard immediately burst in incoherent babbling. The names Baerd, Scythley, along with a few other lesser Lords were the most heard, causing the men to pale beneath the accusations. Neither Lord Donnon nor the Duke of Galma was accused, and both men stood quietly, content to watch the others squirm. The death of Rhince didn't seem to affect either man.
"Silence!" Caspian's voice cut through the cries, and the frightened men fell silent. Caspian turned to the Lords accused, raising an eyebrow. "Do you have any defense for yourselves, my Lords?"
"Sire," Baerd bowed as low as he could, his hands wringing nervously. "It was only for my own protection. There were never any thoughts as to any kind of political coup for the throne…"
"I should hope not," Peter said mildly. Susan was shocked at his apparent lack of concern at the killed Telmarine. The High King of Old would never have let that happen.
"The other Lords had brought in their own men and for my own protection--" Scythley started, but Caspian cut him off.
"That will no longer be an issue, my Lord. From now on, royal decree is that no single Lord of the Council is to have more than ten armed guards with him at any time on palace grounds, unless otherwise dictated by the crown."
"Ten?" Baerd stuttered, wild eyed. "Your Majesty! Only ten will not sufficiently protect any of us from the maneuvering that has always been part of the Council."
Caspian smirked, jumping on that as soon as it was out of Baerd's mouth. "Then it would be wise for the Council to realize that its safety is in providing the service for which it was originally intended: aiding and advising the Crown, as opposed to advancing issues to its own benefit. However, in the interest of keeping my countrymen at ease, at the High King's approval, I will insist upon having a close personal guard of Narnians set to each Lord, allowing him the safety precautions necessary." Peter nodded agreement, his blue eyes smirking.
"Your Majesties, that is unnecessary…" Scythley protested weakly, knowing exactly what Caspian and Peter were doing, but unable to stop it. With Narnians close, it would be that much harder for the Lords to plot in secret.
"The Crown insists," Caspian said decisively. He turned to the rest of the gathered Lords. "This is now royal decree. However if any of you find the position too much of a burden or a risk, then by all means neither the Kings nor Queens of Narnia will take insult. Your lands and swords will be returned to the throne from wince they were initially leant, and you will be allowed to retire in comfort. Should you choose to remain, I would remind the Lord of the Council that this is no longer the place that it once was. This is a new Narnia, and we do things differently now."
At his words, strong tawny wings beat up into the air from behind him. A Griffin rose from outside the castle wall, an exuberant looking Rhince seated on his back. Susan felt relief rush through her, than felt foolish. She should have known that neither Peter nor Caspian would have ever done something like that. The Telmarines hadn't known however, and it seemed as if Rhince had been quite the skilled actor. Realizing they had been simultaneously duped and cut off at the knees, the Telmarines could only stare at their Kings in shock and angered awe. Peter rose and went to Caspian's side, a smile tugging his lips as he asked the assembly.
Caspian was seriously considering sinking into his bath and staying there forever.
The stress of this long day had left the muscles in his back tensely knotted, and no matter how many times he rotated his shoulder blades, they stayed as such. His manservant, a sweet tempered Faun named Lunus, had already drawn him the water and doused it with dried herbs and flowers. The scent was spicy but not unpleasant, and even in the next room over he could feel a slight drowsiness overtaking him. Mentally noting to give the blessed Faun a raise for his thoughtfulness, Caspian entered his bath.
The King thankfully stripped his clothes off, thinking as he slid into the steaming water about how the many layers were so unnecessary. Half the time he felt as if he looked like a primped up fool, near gaudy despite his efforts to simplify his attire. Ahh, if he could just be in the woods again, with only a brigandine to cumber his movements… Out of them all, it seemed like Su was the only one that actually enjoyed all this finery. And after listening to Lucy describe the process her sister went through to prepare herself for state occasions, Caspian was thankful that he merely had to bear tight collars and the occasional ruffle.
Oh, how he despised ruffles.
"Your Majesty?" A quiet knock on his door brought him from his thoughts. It was Lunus. "Her Majesty Queen Susan is requesting an audience with you."
Caspian sighed and nodded, instructing the Faun to let the Queen know he would meet with her momentarily. However he did not hurry as he normally did when going to see Susan. In fact, as he dried off and dressed slowly, Caspian had to admit that he was slightly dreading seeing her. He had deliberately kept his eyes away from her during the afternoon's activities, knowing that if he had seen her distress he would have weakened. But her reaction had only made the farce that much more believable, as cruel as it had been to her. He and Peter had argued the issue of her involvement more than anything else that morning, neither one wanting to upset the Queen. However Susan was no actor, and her honest reaction had only helped save lives in the end. Steeling himself Caspian made his way to the kitchens, where he had been asked to meet her, fearful of encountering harsh words from the Queen. He poked his head around the corner, and he was unable to keep from smiling at what he saw.
The Queen was currently stuffing her face full of berry tart. Usually a polite and slow eater, Su was shoveling the dessert into her mouth at a rapid pace, not even slowing down as he bowed to her and seated himself across the table.
"You asked to speak with me, my Queen?" Caspian said softly, trying to keep his expression smooth. It was hard to do as she licked her fingers clean. Susan gave him a look that could have meant anything.
"I think I'm mad at you, Caspian," she told him in a confused voice as she continued to eat. "But I'm also proud of how you managed to handle things today. Peter filled me in later, and in essence I agree with what you did, if not exactly with how you did it. But letting the men remain any longer could have been bad. And you've effectively leashed the Council, which is a very good thing. However you also scared me half to death, thinking you had willing killed Rhince. So I think I'm mad at you. But I'm not sure."
Caspian was uncertain how to respond to that, so he continued to sit, waiting for some clue from her as how to proceed properly. But since she was just eyeing him silently over her tart, Caspian figured he had to say something.
"I'm…sorry?" he tried hopefully.
"Are you?" Susan raised an eyebrow dubiously.
"For upsetting you, yes. For the rest of today, no. If it makes you feel any better, I nearly broke when I heard you cry out. I wanted to tell you everything was alright, but there was no way I could. I am truly sorry that you were upset, my Queen."
"Hmmm. I accept your apology." She went back to eating.
"May I have a bite?"
"No." Susan tugged the tart closer stubbornly.
Caspian smiled at her and reached out to take her hand. "You are upset. It's okay to admit it to me," he told her gently. "I would be too."
"No, you would be understanding and wonderful, and not stuffing yourself with tart. Watch me get fat, too. Stupid men." At her words, Caspian laughed outright and stood, moving around the table to stand behind the Queen, who was scooping the last bit from the plate.
"Your heart is the most precious thing in Narnia," he whispered in her ear, brushing a kiss across her temple. "Not your midline, which is shapely enough to withstand even the greatest efforts on behalf of the conquered pastry. Is there anything I can do to ease your discontent, dearest?"
Susan reached back a hand and buried her fingers into his hair, drawing his head back down and tilting her own so that he could place soft kisses down the side of her throat.
"Slay me another berry tart?" Susan murmured, leaning back in his embrace.
"Whatever my Queen wishes."
"I may still be mad at you…" she said breathlessly moments later, losing herself in the way his arms felt around her.
"I am doing my best to rectify that."
"Hmmm… Caspian? The tart?"
"You really are a knave, aren't you?"
His warm laughter against her skin was his reply.
The castle loomed over their heads, blotting out the setting sun and leaving them in icy darkness. In front of them stood a story high set of heavy wooden doors, each slicked over with a thin layer of ice.
"Are you sure about this, your Majesty?" Trumpkin asked Edmund. "They say you never went back in, during the Olden Times. You sure you want to start now?"
Edmund Pevensie, once Traitor of Narnia, just gave the Dwarf a tight smile before he took a deep breath and pulled the door open. It swung easily, as if it had been waiting for them to return. For him to return. Taking another deep breath, King Edmund the Just led his comrades into darkness.