With a sigh of deep contentment Edmund lifted his crown from his head--leaving a tonsureish mark in his thick dark hair--and set it on the polished oak table. "It's not all that uncomfortable," he said in reply to Susan's raised eyebrow. "I'd rather not wear it while we're alone, is all."

"I'll take mine off too," said Lucy, laying her crown beside Edmund's. She giggled. "Now we don't look so royal."

"You two never did, even with your crowns on," Susan said, her eyes teasing. "I like the feel of mine on my head, thank you very much. And you--" with a deprecating glance at Peter-- "have to wear yours all the time, being so brilliantly magnificent as you are."

Peter smirked. "I'm ready for company, sister of mine. It's been four years since we were crowned, and have we ever had an afternoon to ourselves since then/"

"Yes," Edmund said. "There was the time when I was sick and you spread the rumor that it was bubonic plague and our loyal subjects, not having studied English History--"

"All right, all right," said Peter quickly. "Anyhow, you know what I meant. You can relax if you want to, but I'll be ready for any emergency."

At that most opportune of opportune moments the Doorkeeper entered. He was bearded (being a dwarf), bald (being an elderly dwarf), and with a somewhat caustic temperament (being an elderly dwarf who took his meals late). "Two visitors for Your Majesties," he announced.

"Very well," said Peter, resigning himself to the emergency. "Let them in. No--no, wait--come closer."

The Doorkeeper obeyed. The High King sniffed. Queen Susan rolled her eyes.

"Oh, no," Peter gasped. "Aslan help us, it's perfume!"

Edmund, his crown halfway to his head, stared at Peter.

"I can't," Peter said, trembling. All his kingly brilliance and majesty had vanished in a single moment. "I can't face any more of them, not yet…Why, only last week they--"

"Get behind the tapestry, both of you," said Susan quickly. "Lucy and I will fend them off…think of something."

Peter shot his sister a grateful glance and, with Edmund on his heels, disappeared behind the tapestry that covered the entrance to the Dank Hideaway.

Susan and Lucy had hardly enough time to replace crowns (Lucy), smooth gowns (Susan), and exchange stalwart glances (both of them) before the door was thrown open.

In the darkness of the Dank Hideaway Peter and Edmund huddled together, just close enough for Protection but not close enough for Unmanliness. The sliding door was large and the double walls were thick; they could hear sounds from outside the room but only just, as if in a misty dream.

"Do you suppose they'll be able to outwit them?" Edmund whispered anxiously. "The Sues are only getting smarter. Remember the one with the--"

Peter shuddered. "Don't remind me. Are there provisions in here in case--in case the girls--"

"There should be," said Edmund, feeling about with his hands. "Something hard here--varnished--probably inedible. A squishy substance that could conceivably be jam--bet what you like I'll have jam stains all over my tunic when we come out. And this--this could be cheese. Ah. Ugh. Cough. Yes, it certainly is cheese."

"I wish I could hear what's going on out there," said Peter, biting his lip in the darkness. "I mean, I can hear noises, but I can't make out what they're saying…wait!"

"Hmm?" asked Edmund, his mouth full of jam.

"I think they're coming past the tapestry. Quiet."

Edmund crept up beside Peter. Carefully they placed their ears on the edge of the secret door.

"No, I've never seen you in my life," came a panicked cry that could only be Susan's.

"My love, my own, surely you are mistaken," answered a smooth male voice. "We met in a far-off country and by the light of the glowing moon we plighted our troth. See, I have come from across the seas to claim you!"

"This can't be happening," Peter groaned.

"Sword--my sword," Edmund gasped at the same time.

Blindly Peter groped for the secret door-handle; ineffectually Edmund fumbled for his sword. One minute and several muttered curses later they were out in the (comparatively) blazing light, holding their swords high and yelling incomprehensible threats.

The dark-haired, high-cheekboned, sleekly-muscled intruder dropped Susan's hand and stared at the furious warriors in astonishment. His accomplice (soulful blue eyes, long golden hair) gulped and put his hands up.

Ten minutes later the Royal Family of Narnia slumped on their individual couches, exhausted but triumphant.

"I'm sorry, Su, really I am," said Peter for the fourth time.

Susan shook her head. "No, it was my fault. I had the brilliant idea that we girls would fend them off, remember?" With an ironic smile she added, "They must have thought we sent you away so we'd be alone to receive them."

"What I don't understand is why they were wearing perfume," Edmund said. "It was a particularly Sueish scent, too."

Peter sighed. "Those were Stus, Ed, not Sues. And that perfume was actually cologne. Pity they're so similar I couldn't tell the difference."

"I wish there was some way to stop this from happening," said Lucy softly. "The Sues just keep getting bolder."

"We could post double guards around the castle," Susan suggested.

"Nope," said Edmund. "Wouldn't work. Other countries would get wind of it and think we're turning hostile."

"So much for that," said Susan, and relapsed into temporary silence.

"If we had a detector," said Peter, "that sensed perfume--or cologne--and let of a loud and bone-chilling beeping noise, something like the sound of an alarm clock at 5:30 in the morning…"

"Nothing doing," said Edmund. "They're too smart for that. They just won't wear perfume."

"Or cologne," said Lucy. After a pause she added, "We could just have all our visitors go through a vigorous checkpoint at the drawbridge."

"No way," said Edmund. "Do you think the Doorkeeper--or anyone else, for that matter--has that kind of time?"

"Since you're so cleverly exposing all the flaws of our ideas," said Peter, with stinging sarcasm, "why don't you enlighten us with one of your own?"

Edmund opened his mouth and shut it several times. Then he said, rather hurriedly, "We could all move to a quiet cave in Archenland until the Mary-Sues die out…"

"NO!" burst from the lips of Susan, Peter, and Lucy as they turned to glare at him.

____________

That night Peter had a dream. A nightmare. In his dream--nightmare--he was walking through the forest of Lantern Waste in the twilight. It was a beautiful evening, cool and clear. Breezy. That's the right word, he thought to himself. Or is it?

On the horizon he could see something not so breezy: flames. Dragon breath. "Not good," Peter said aloud, and turned to run.

Often in dreams--nightmares--when the hapless victim tries to run from danger his feet refuse to move. Our hero had the opposite problem. His feet moved too quickly.

Unable to slow his pace, he crashed through bushes and trees, rivers and streams, desperately trying to escape the flames that were closing in around him.

Giant dragon. Really giant dragon. And blast it, I haven't got my sword.

Fumbling desperately with his belt, Peter groaned aloud. This couldn't be happening, and him without his sword, and Edmund with jam-stains all over his tunic … Finally his fingers closed around a smooth rounded object. He brought it up and stared at it, shocked.

A bottle of glittering nail polish.

Peter woke from his nightmare dripping sweat.

TBC