Chapter 12

A/N: I can do nothing more than apologize profusely for the long wait for this chapter and I hope that those of you still tagging along for the ride enjoy it! To update you all, I have taken a job as the city editor at a daily newspaper, and in the executive editor's absence have been working more as a managing editor. SO, I have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to write! I will finish this story, there is just no way of knowing how long it will take! Please, do continue to prompt me via PMs if you don't see a post for a while. Thank you to Violet Fire Krazed, randomgal2009 and Fierce Queen for their PMs looking for an update. Also, thanks to Lady Yoko -- you and your friends' interest in my story as you noted in your review gave me the last push I needed to write this chapter. I hope you're still around!

"Peter, are you sure about this?" Helen asked anxiously as they left the Cair and slowly started making their way back to the festival grounds. Peter was leaning on Edmund, the younger boy supporting just enough of his weight to make it appear that Peter needed aid to walk, but still allowing the High King to move freely.

"It's the best way, Mum. Whatever Karis' plan is, if we do everything in our power to make him think that it's going perfectly, when he makes his next move, we'll be ready and we'll be able to counter him, and possibly gain the upper hand," Peter explained.

They were almost to the edge of the festival grounds when Edmund pulled Peter to a stop, drawing the others with them, and earning himself several confused looks. Edmund released Peter's arm and moved over to the rear of the closest tent. He reached into his tunic and pulled out a handkerchief, which he quickly dipped into a bucket of water that was sitting on the ground.

"What are you doing, Ed?" Susan asked in confusion as she watched her younger brother.

"Lending some credence to Peter's act," Edmund replied, coming over and – before Peter could stop him – wringing the handkerchief out overtop of Peter's head, soaking the blonde hair and causing droplets of water to bead on the High King's face.

Peter sputtered, more out of surprise than anything, before leveling a glare at Edmund. "What was that for?"

"To make it look like you're sweating," Edmund replied. "We don't know what symptoms you were supposed to be showing, and if the spy knows what to look for, you need to look somewhat ill. One of us should probably stay with you in the box at all times, and whoever it is can keep wetting you down, pretending to mop your forehead, but instead we'll be making it look like you're a little feverish."

Peter was forced to nod in acceptance of his brother's plan. They were both brilliant tacticians, but Edmund had always been better when it came to being sneaky and using what could be considered underhanded techniques. That was mostly due to the difference in the two brothers' sizes when they had first begun training under Oreius. Edmund had been so much smaller, Oreius had taught him many maneuvers that would allow him to hold his own in a fight with a larger, stronger opponent.

"Let's go and get this over with," Peter said with a sigh, resuming his position on Edmund's arm as Ed passed the damp handkerchief to Susan, who slipped it up the sleeve of her dress. He shuffled forward, doing his best to look tired, sore, and ill. As they made their way through the tents, word of their return spread rapidly, and by the time they reached the royal box, everyone had gathered to hear their monarchs speak.

Edmund made a great show of helping Peter down to his seat while the others retook their own places. Murmurs of concern rose as the citizens caught sight of the High King, who leaned back in his seat, apparently gathering his strength, while Caspian stepped forward and gained the attention of the crowd.

"My good Narnians and Telmarines," Caspian began. "As promised, there is word of the High King's condition. He has been checked over by the healers, and it has been determined that the accident did no lasting damage. King Peter is weary and somewhat sore as a result of his fall, but he will be fine in a matter of days. There is no cause for you to fear for him."

"Caspian," Peter said, lowering his voice and making an effort to sound scratchy and hoarse. Caspian turned away and Peter placed his hands on the arms of his seat and started to push himself to his feet. Edmund and Caspian were at his side in an instant, helping him stand and pretending to steady him as he shuffled forward. Murmurs rose again, but they silenced as Peter looked out over the assembly.

"I would like to thank all of you for your concern for my well-being," he began, forcing himself to roughen his voice and silently praising his oration tutor for teaching him how to make a speech no matter what he sounded like. He cleared his throat roughly. "As King Caspian has mentioned, I sustained only some bruising and scrapes as a result of my accident. I am most fortunate that it wasn't any worse, and I have no doubt that it is due to Aslan's grace." He blinked several times, feigning weariness. "The rest of the day's events are still scheduled. I am pleased to announce that, after some deliberation, it has been decided to award the victory in our jousting bout to King Caspian, exactly as it should be. He unseated me fairly, and I am quite pleased to award him his deserved honors." He turned to Caspian and offered the other King his hand. "Congratulations, Caspian. I am most impressed with your skills and look forward to facing you again sometime."

It was obvious that even though this was what they had agreed on, Caspian was still uncomfortable with the idea of claiming the title of victor when he believed that Peter should have won. But after a moment he clasped Peter's hand and managed a smile, to a roar of approval from the crowd. Peter released his hand after several seconds and turned back to the crowd. "Again, thank you for your concern, and please, continue to enjoy the rest of the festival and tonight's feast, when the winners will be awarded their prizes."


The forest outside Cair Paravel...later…

"Captain, I bring word from the palace."

The crow flitted about, finally landing on a rock outcropping beside a swarthy man dressed in varying black fabrics and hard black-dyed leather bits of protective armor. The man looked warily at the creature, still not comfortable around these Narnian beasts. He would be happy when Karis rid his new kingdom of the foul abominations.

"Has the spy done his duty, then?" He finally said, glancing in the direction of Cair Paravel, not yet visible.

"He has. I witnessed the False High King's illness myself," the crow said, twitching its head to the side. "It was enough to hinder his jousting and he was knocked from his horse, injured, but not overly so. He has an air of illness about him."

Nodding, the man turned to the crow and waved a hand. "Your services are no longer needed here," he said. "Travel to the castle and alert our Lord that the plan will be executed tonight. We will return as soon as we have them."

The crow said nothing more, but inwardly wondered at the term "them". He had thought the only one targeted by Karis was King Peter – but apparently he had been wrong. No matter, soon this would all be over and their Lord would have his throne.


Festival grounds ….same time

Peter swiped at his brow, feigning the act of wiping sweat. He had been consciously forcing himself to act sick, not wanting to alert the spy, whomever he was, that there was anything amiss in Karis' plan. Whatever the plan was, they had to do their best to keep it intact.

They needed the element of surprise this time, since an outright confrontation on Karis' terms had nearly been catastrophic. Peter wasn't about to let that happen again, not when his family and friends were in danger.

"Here."

Helen sat beside her son, handing him a goblet of water. He smiled lightly at her and took it, cradling it in both hands. "Thanks," he mumbled, looking back out over the festival grounds where the other Pevensies, Quentin, Caspian and some of their other friends were mingling with the people and wandering among the artisan tents. More than anything, he wanted to join them. Like his siblings, he'd always loved the festivals that surrounded these tournaments. There was so much to see and do, and it had given them much needed time together, with no pressure on them to make decisions.

Instead, here he was, sitting in the royal box, with someone they trusted to attend him at all times, surrounded by guards. It would add to the illusion that he was ill, but it was beginning to get very boring.

"Peter," Helen said, leaning back in her seat and casting her gaze out over the grounds, picking out each of her children in turn to assure herself they were well. "There are a few things I must ask you," she continued. "And I want you to be honest with me. We are going to be sitting here for a while and I think it's the perfect chance for you to tell me about your previous times here. For instance – the story about the duel with Caspian's uncle. You only told me the most basic facts, but now I want the whole story."

Peter cringed. "Oh, um ..." he looked down into the half-full goblet in his hands. "Are you sure you want to hear? I mean, it's in the past and what's the point of upsetting you with the details now?"

Leaning forward, Helen peered up into Peter's eyes. "Let me worry about my own feelings, Peter," she said quietly. "I'm asking you so that you can get it off your chest. Telling me is not the same as Edmund, Susan or Lucy. Or even Quentin. With me, you needn't be the brave or older one. It must be hard, since you are seemingly the main interest of this Karis. You wanted to lean on me? Then talk to me."

For a moment, it appeared Peter would not do so. But Helen knew her son, and she knew that no matter the front that he put on for the others, he was deeply troubled by something. Since she didn't know what, exactly, bothered him, she was determined to get him to talk, so she picked something out of the blindingly overwhelming flood of information and hoped that would get him started.

Her intuition proved correct as, after several moments, he started to speak. "It was hard," he began, peering hard at the knee of his breeches and picking at a piece of lint only he could see, apparently. "Aslan appointed me the High King, so everyone always looked to me as if I would know what to do. But, I didn't always." His words came slow -- as if he were forcing them. Despite wanting to confide in his mother, part of him still felt like he had to hold it in and be the man.

Expressing emotions wasn't easy, especially after fifteen years of keeping them tightly bottled up in order to remain the strong one for his siblings.

"Caspian had summoned us back to Narnia because he was desperate and feared for his life," Peter began, deciding to start somewhere easy. "He didn't know that by using Susan's horn, it would summon the four of us. During the time it was in Su's possession, she only used it if she got into trouble during a campaign, and it always summoned the Narnians to her. Over the years that had passed here since we left, a variety of legends started to surround the horn. Some said that it would summon us out of the past, others said that it would summon Aslan. Caspian wasn't expecting us."

"He didn't know the legends?" Helen asked.

"Not really," Peter said. "Cornelius only had time to give it to him and tell him to only blow it at his greatest need. So when we showed up a few days later, Caspian was shocked. Even if he knew that the horn might summon us, I think he expected that it would be our older selves that would come. But we were almost the same age that he was, so there was a little bit of tension in the beginning. It didn't help that I was still recovering from fighting in the war at home.

"We did everything we could to gain an advantage, but we were badly outnumbered, so we took a somewhat desperate gamble. By staging the raid on Miraz's castle, we hoped that we could capture him and end this peacefully, with minimal loss of life." He looked up at his mother's face, and he could see her worry there. "It probably wasn't the best of ideas, but we were all bound and determined. We had to win, because losing would cost Caspian and the Narnians their lives – and it would also completely destroy Narnia and Ed, Su, Lu, and I were not about to allow that to happen. We didn't count on my being reinjured and losing the ability to walk.

"When the idea of challenging Miraz to single combat came up, I was still unable to walk," Peter said, looking away from his mother, out to where Edmund, Quentin and the girls were watching a pair of Fauns sparring. "Ed was convinced that I would recover right before the fight, but I was so afraid that I wouldn't heal in time to fight and I'd have to watch Ed fighting and pretending to be me. It was ..." he faltered, suddenly bombarded by memories of Greece.

It was startling, since he had gone at least a week since his last real jolting memory from his war time experiences back home. For the most part, he had thought that being here in Narnia, both when they were fighting Miraz and now had helped to purge those memories from his mind – since most of his nightmares at school had revolved around the failed raid on the castle.

"Peter?" Helen said, reaching out in concern. "Please, tell me."

Gulping, Peter bit his lip and then nodded. "I felt helpless, Mum. Like I had back in Greece, when we were retreating. All these men I knew, falling around me. And I couldn't do a thing to help them. I was powerless. Just like I was powerless to help Ed in the hours leading up to the duel with Miraz."

He huffed, "I don't like feeling powerless."

Peter was momentarily surprised when his mother chuckled. He peered at her in question and she smiled lightly. "I'm sorry, it's not funny, but hearing you speak like that reminded me of a time when your father didn't want to let you go to sleep-away camp. He didn't like the idea of being powerless in the event you got hurt. I often feel the same when I see you kids off to school. It's never easy to let loved ones take their own steps in the world, Peter. And harder still when you know those steps are taking them into danger."

The young King nodded in understanding. "That must have been how you felt when I was drafted," he said quietly. "I hadn't thought of that, actually. You probably understand what I'm talking about even more than I realized."

She nodded grimly. "Probably." She looked out over the tournament field to her other children. "So, Edmund didn't fight, obviously. You got better?"

Peter haltingly continued his story, and gradually, as he spoke his words began to come faster and faster – perhaps a little desperate, as if they had been waiting ages to be spoken.

He told his mother about how he had feared he wouldn't be strong enough, smart enough or brave enough to protect his siblings and his people Not just during the war with Miraz, but al during the fifteen years of their rule, and most especially the early years, while they had still been learning to be Kings and Queens. He spoke of how he had feared he wouldn't be able to hold Miraz off long enough to give Lucy the time she had needed to find Aslan.

Peter also told her how hard it had been when he had known Edmund was watching him, fearing for him. "I always hated worrying them," he said quietly. "And I could almost feel Ed's fear. He was petrified he was going to lose me. And … there were moments I was just as frightened he would. But I wasn't afraid for me, for my life. I knew that Oreius had taught me well, and compared to what I saw in Greece, the wars and fighting in Narnia don't seem as bad. I was afraid for them, for what would happen to them and for what they would be feeling if I failed."

Chancing a glance at the woman, he was surprised to see not horror but understanding in her eyes. "Mum?" He said, not sure how to ask her what she was feeling, but wanting to know why she wasn't reacting as he had expected – as she had so often since arriving in Narnia.

Helen took a deep breath. "Sorry," she said, "but you just remind me so much of your father." She wrapped her hand around his hand, where it was resting on the arm of his chair. "I didn't realize it, but you have grown up so much, Peter. What you felt, and still feel, is no different than what a parent feels when responsible for a child – but on a much larger level. I must say, Peter, I am beyond impressed with how you have handled yourself. You are still so young, yet you have taken up your mantle of leadership with far more grace and skill than some of our world's great leaders. I ..." she faltered, but then drew herself up. "I have full faith in you, Peter. You will get us through this, with Ed, Susan, Lucy, Caspian – everyone's – help."

Hesitating, she added, "Even that Aslan fellow you mentioned."

Peter's head snapped up at that. "How do you know that?"

Smiling, Helen didn't meet his eyes. "Oh, we had a little chat," she said nonchalantly.

Peter gasped beside her, blurting out an incredulous "What?" and then "Explain!" that had her chuckling.

"In the courtyard after we had one of our spats," she said. "He told me that you and your brother and sisters were still the children I knew, but I just had to look more closely – pry up the King and Queen layers that you took on when we arrived. You always were a smart boy. A natural leader. I don't know why I chafed at it here. You can do no more or less than be yourself."

He nodded, relieved, for some reason, to finally really feel that his mother believed in his abilities and fully supported him. A weight lifted off his chest and he felt lighter than he had since arriving in Narnia.

Maybe even lighter than he had in years.

Now, someone knew how he had struggled with being the oldest – the High King. Even more, it was someone who understood it in a way that only someone who had held such lofty responsibility could understand. And what loftier responsibility was there then holding the life of your children in your hands day in and day out?

"Mum?" Peter finally said, drawing her gaze toward him. "Thanks..."

She patted his shoulder and then pressed a hand to his head. "Must keep up the facade," she said, putting on a worried expression and pretending to urge him to drink more of the water he still held.

Little did they know that the peace they felt that moment, was soon to be shattered.


Forest outside Cair Paravel… that night

The brush rustled and the captain raised his crossbow in front of him. He didn't fire. He was waiting for someone, but wasn't sure this was that person just yet. Caution was key. They didn't want a Narnian or Telmarine to stumble on them and raise the alert.

A figure finally managed to press through the jumble of branches, muttering an oath under his breath. He looked up sharply when he found himself face to face with the captain's sharp arrow.

"C...Captain Salzan?" The man, a Telmarine, stuttered. Salzan studied his trembling, flour-covered form for a moment before he nodded an affirmative and lowered his crossbow. "I … the King and his brother and friend are in their quarters. I have made sure the entrance is clear, but getting to them will not be easy."

A feral grin crossed Salzan's face. "Easy is boring," he said. "I like a good challenge. You get us into the palace, we'll take care of the rest. Our force is strong, and larger than they will expect. We need only fight long enough to accomplish our task."

The Telmarine nodded, wringing his hands together in front of him. "And me?"

Salzan smirked. "Say nothing. Remain here and do as you have been. Our Lord may have need of you at a later date." He watched the man nod. "You will lead myself and my squad into the palace." He turned to a man beside him, tall and lean with blond hair and beard. "Go now, Pikall, and start creating mayhem. It is what you do best."

Pikall snapped a crisp salute of sorts and smiled. "It is, Captain. We'll make lots of noise."


Caspian's study …

He had fallen asleep in his study, as he had done numerous times since his beloved's kidnapping. And he had been having a rather pleasant dream. Miriam had been safely found and rescued and they were standing, side-by-side, at the dais in the throne room facing a crowd of friends and subjects.

And they were married.

Finally together.

The dream was broken when his study door was suddenly shaking under a heavy pounding hand. Caspian jerked awake in time to hear someone call out, "My King? Caspian?" A moment later it burst open, most unusual conduct, and Glozelle nearly tumbled into the room. "King Caspian! Thank Aslan you are well! The Cair is under attack and when I could not find you in your room … I feared …"

Caspian jolted up so fast his head spun. "What?" he shouted, standing quickly. "Attack? Where? How? For what purpose?!"

Glozelle waited for the young monarch to join him and then hurried out into the corridor. His study was near the library, half-way across the castle from his bedchamber where his armor was so Glozelle hovered close to his liege in case of attack.

"There are raiders within our walls," he said. "How they got in, I cannot say. I went to your chambers, straight away, but found them empty..."

Caspian interrupted him. "The Kings and Queens? Are they well? Their chambers were near mine."

Glozelle frowned. "I found them heading for your chambers, my liege. They all appeared to be well, including Sir Quentin and Lady Helen. I told them about the fight in the courtyard, and they headed in that direction while I came to find you after we realized you hadn't been in your rooms tonight."

Swearing under his breath, Caspian chided himself for not being in the residential area tonight. They had known that Karis had had a reason for poisoning Peter. He should have known it was to weaken him to attack. But I never thought he would attack the Cair directly, Caspian thought to himself. He can't expect to overtake us, can he? He would need a vast army.

A brief flicker of fear ran through him that perhaps the man had such an army, but it died just as fast. If he did, he would have used it at the meeting. No, Karis didn't have such an army. So why would he risk coming to the Cair?

Bursting out into the courtyard, Caspian was shocked to find the fight over.

Peter and Edmund were both examining each other for injury, Susan was hovering beside Lucy and Helen, and Glenstorm was tending to a small wound on a fellow Centaur's flank. His eyes narrowed. Something was missing.

"Caspian!" Peter called out. "We are glad you are well!"

The young King nodded, eyes narrowed. "I am, I was in my study," he said. "Peter … where is Quentin?"

The High King's eyes widened in horror and he spun around. "Quentin!?"

Everyone else in their immediate vicinity began to spin around and look for the red-brown hair of Peter's best friend. But as the seconds passed, it became apparent he wasn't there. "When was he last seen?" Peter said quickly, panic simmering just below the surface as his worry for his friend grew.

"I saw him just before we came down here," Edmund said. "I gave him one of my swords. He didn't have any arrows left, and I didn't want him to be defenseless. I thought he was right behind us!"

Caspian turned to Glozelle and Glenstorm. "Search the Cair, quickly."

The two nodded and rushed off.

"We'll find him," Caspian said, this time to Peter. "Are you all right? Was this some kind of failed attempt to kidnap you?"

Peter nodded. "It must have been. There were two forces. One attacked here, the other actually attacked our chambers. We were able to rout them before they could take me, but it was readily apparent they had come to do so. When their leader saw I was far from incapacitated, he called a retreat. We chased them down here, but they didn't stick around."

"And there were no wounded to question," Edmund added. "Only dead. We did not suffer any deaths, thank Aslan." He turned to Peter. "There is something that is bothering me, though. I don't recall seeing that man, the one who seemed to be leading our attackers. I don't remember seeing him down here."

Helen's hand raised to her face. "Oh dear." She looked at Peter. "There was a man. In the corridor, just beyond our rooms. I thought he was one of the Telmarines, but … it could have been that man you described, Peter. Do you think he remained behind for some reason?"

Peter swallowed. "He might be in the castle still. We must be careful. We should go somewhere less out in the open to continue this conversation." Turning to Caspian, he added: "We'll fill you in on all that transpired in your absence. Maybe you will see something we missed."

The others readily agreed and followed Peter and Caspian toward the latter's study.

The High King's heart was thudding heavily in his chest.

Where was Quentin?


Earlier...

Edmund shook his head and Peter smacked his with a palm. Quentin smiled loftily. "Check. Mate."

Peter sighed heavily and bowed his head. "You win. Again. There's no beating you, Quentin," the young man said, shifting back in his seat at the small table at the foot of one of the beds in the chamber. "Maybe Edmund here wants to try?"

But Edmund raised both hands and shook his head. "No way, not going to let him embarrass me, Peter. I'll leave that to you. Honestly, that was one of the shortest games of chess I've seen in a long time!"

Quentin fiddled with the black knight. "Oh come on," he said. "It wasn't that bad."

But they all knew – it had been. The High King just wasn't on his game tonight.

Peter pushed his chair back and stood, stretching gingerly. "I'm getting a bit tired," he said. "Perhaps we should turn in? It's been a long day."

As his brother stepped into the washroom, Edmund met Quentin's concerned gaze with one of his own. Pursing his lips, he watched the door close behind Peter before speaking quietly. "Lu's cordial is magical, but I expect Peter's probably a bit sore still. We should turn in."

Quentin nodded, standing and stretching like his best friend had done moments ago. "I could do with a little sleep," he said. "It's been a heck of a day. You guys are used to all this excitement, but I'm not. Most of my days consist of reading and running errands for my mother. Or school."

Edmund smiled. "It takes some adjusting," he said. He might have continued, but Peter came back out of the washroom then and the dark-haired King tuned his attention to his brother again.

"You look wrung out, Peter," he said. "Maybe you ought to sleep in tomorrow. It'll only bolster our ruse that you're ill."

Peter sat on the edge of the brothers' bed. "I might do that," he said. "I'm beat."

Edmund waited until his brother and friend were both sitting on their beds before he moved off to douse the candles in the room, casting the room into darkness. Streams of moonlight stabbed through the room from the windows, but not enough to make sleeping difficult.

The light was the boys' saving grace when moments later, the door slipped open and a posse of armed men crept into the room. They made next to no noise, and if Peter hadn't been half awake still, they might have gone unnoticed.

When he saw them, he nudged Edmund beside him and the dark-haired boy turned toward him sleepily. In doing so, he too noticed the movement in the room. Quentin, in the bed by the windows, seemed to be oblivious.

That could prove problematic, Peter realized. Quentin would be defenseless.

What he didn't know was that Quentin wasn't oblivious. He hadn't realized what the feeling was, but something had been keeping him from sleep. A feeling of foreboding. That something was different tonight.

When he saw the creeping men, he realized it was the lack of servants' footsteps or hoof-beats in the corridor. He had perceived it every night thus far, but not this night. Now he knew why.

While he was aware of the trespassers, he wasn't within reach of a weapon. He thought Peter and Edmund had their swords within jumping distance, but he wasn't entirely sure. He expected he'd find out soon enough.

As the men reached the bed with the two Kings, the brothers erupted in a shower of blankets and lunged for their weapons – Edmund grasping his two swords, Peter gripping Rhindon and his shield.

Their movement and element of surprise gave Quentin time to slip from his own bed and reach the bow and quiver full of arrows he'd been given by Glenstorm. With shouts to alert anyone in the vicinity, Peter and Edmund launched quick and blinding attacks in the wane moonlight, taking down two men immediately.

At the sound of fighting, activity burst into life in the hallway and more men streamed into the room. Quentin used his bow and began to take them out as they breached the boys' room. Even though he failed to actually kill any of their attackers, he was able to wound them enough to slow them down and allow Peter and Edmund a chance to finish them off. It wasn't long before he was out of arrows and had to dodge an incoming sword.

Thankfully, Edmund saw his plight and with a cry of "Quentin, here!" tossed the other dark-haired boy one of his own swords. While Quentin had been far from talented with the sword on the training field, Peter had insisted he at least have a basic knowledge of wielding one.

It was the only thing keeping him alive right now, so Quentin made a note to himself to thank his friend for insisting.

Quentin's thoughts strayed to the women down the hall. Were they all right? "Peter!" He called out, when the men in the room had dwindled enough to give him a chance to do so. "The girls! Your mum!"

Peter jolted and slammed his shield into the face of the nearest warrior, felling him like a sack of potatoes. "Go!" he cried out. "We need to take this fight out of the room. There are too many things to trip on. And we need to get to the girls and Mum!"

Edmund acknowledged the command by moving toward the door. Quentin, who was next to it anyway, bodily knocked into a man coming through, flinging him to the ground, and scrambled through the now-unblocked entry.

The hallway was in just as much disarray as the boys' room had been, only most of these foes had been taken down by arrows. Peter stepped out the door behind Quentin and looked toward his sisters' and mother's room.

He spied Susan, whipping off arrows at approaching men. Helen, who had also been given a bow and arrows by Glenstorm at her daughter's insistence, was doing the same, only slower. Like Quentin, she was mostly only wounding them, but it was enough. It was strange to see their normally docile mother with a fierce look of concentration and anger on her face. But this was the first battle where she had seen her children really fight and it was obvious she was in a protective mode.

What surprised Peter nearly enough to make him miss a sword thrust at his shoulder was Lucy. His little sister, who usually stayed out of battles, or used her dagger for protection, was in the thick of things swinging a long staff.

And doing it with impressive speed, precision and deadly results.

As he sidestepped another sword thrust, he had to push his thoughts of where Lucy had learned this new skill out of his mind. The men in the hallway were dwindling now, and he and Edmund jumped toward the few remaining men, taking them down quickly and with little effort.

When the danger appeared to have been routed, the two groups met and exchanged hurried greetings and perusals for injury. No one had been hurt, thankfully, and Peter breathed a small sigh of relief at that.

"How did they get in?" Edmund fumed, pacing in the hallway. "They should never have made it this far into the Cair. It's unbelievable. If we hadn't stayed up so late playing chess, who knows what could have happened!"

Peter nodded lightly. "How they got in will need to be determined, but right now we need to find Glozelle and Glenstorm – and Caspian. We don't know who this attack was really after, though I expect it was the second half of the plan that involved poisoning me. It would have been easier to capture me if I was unable to fight back."

The High King returned to the boys' room and grabbed his sword belt and sheath. He picked up Edmund's and went back into the hallway, handing it wordlessly to his brother. The boys didn't sheath the weapons, but instead led the way toward the Telmarine King's chamber.

They hadn't gotten far when Glozelle whipped around the corner, sword out and hair in disarray. He was half dressed in armor, which appeared to have been hastily flung on over sleep clothes.

"Thank goodness you are all safe!" he cried upon seeing the four Narnian royals and their mother and friend. Looking past them, he saw the remains of battle and sucked in a breath. "The attack happened on two fronts then," he said in alarm. "There is a battle raging in the courtyard. We need to get more warriors down there. I came to find King Caspian."

Peter pushed open Caspian's heavy wooden door and stepped in.

His eyes narrowed. "He isn't in here," he said. "The bed looks untouched."

Glozelle slammed a fist into the doorframe. "He's been taken!"

But the High King shook his head slowly. "I don't think so," he said. "This room looks untouched. Caspian would not have gone down without a fight. Is it possible he was not in his room when the attackers breached the Cair?"

The general frowned. "He has had trouble sleeping of late. I will check the library. And his study. He may be in one of those two. They are far enough from the two battlefronts that he might be unaware of an attack. We didn't have time to raise the alarm."

Peter nodded. "We will go to the courtyard and try to help route these attackers."

The group parted ways with Glozelle and hurried through the corridors toward the courtyard.

Completely unaware that Quentin was no longer in their midst.

Bringing up the rear of the group, Quentin had stopped to grab some arrows so he wouldn't be going into the courtyard unarmed. He hadn't felt the presence suddenly looming up behind him, nor perceived the raising of a sword above his unprotected head.

He was briefly aware of a flaring pain when the hilt impacted with the back of his head. And then he was aware of nothing.

A man's white-toothed smile gleamed in the hallway. "It's not the High King, but the younger King will have to suffice," the man whispered. "Karis can use this boy to get to his brother. Surely High King Peter will not let his brother remain a prisoner."

Stooping, he lifted Quentin easily, flipping him up over his shoulder. And stealthily, he slipped through the corridors and from the Cair. The sounds of battle in the courtyard ceased as he made his way into the forest. It didn't matter what had happened down there – they had achieved something close to their objective.

Kidnapped one of the royals.