Author's Note: This is it, guys! The final chapter of this arc. I apologize for the length of this one. I hope you have all enjoyed the ride, and hopefully there will be many more to come. I am already writing out my next arc, though it will be smaller and probably won't be published for a little while. Those of you who have stuck with this throughout the arc, thank you so much. You guys are amazing, and I hope, if you keep up with the rest of my works, I won't disappoint you in the future.
Disclaimer: I don't look like an old dead guy, do I?
Edmund only cried for a minute or less before regaining his composure. He apologized for his behavior, but his friends would hear none of it. They asked to hear his story, but before he could decide whether to tell them or not, they were interrupted by a knock at the door. Adem stood up to answer it, but Edmund beat him to it. He opened the door and jumped a bit, not expecting Peter to be standing so close.
"Is everything alright?" He asked, looking around the room gently.
Edmund nodded and stepped aside, giving Peter room to walk in. He did so and continued to watch the newest arrival with curiosity. Adem bowed politely, albeit nervously.
"My name is Adem. I was with Eamon…I mean…King Edmund on Tahj's slave ship."
Peter nodded, keeping his face fairly blank. "I never did hear what all of this Eamon business was about." He looked over at his brother with a raised eyebrow.
Edmund rubbed the back of his neck nervously as he explained his reasoning for changing his name. Peter's monotonous expression slowly turned into a thoughtful frown, but he said nothing as Edmund presented his case. It seemed reasonable and rational enough, and arguing for or against the name change would do nothing, so Peter remained silent.
"Is there something you needed me for, Peter?" Edmund's voice was as soft as ever and he watched the floor sheepishly.
"Nath said another fellow slave of yours was found. A girl by the name of Lamis."
Edmund's head shot up. Lamis had been the first one to be sold. She had been the quiet one that Jenae had bonded so thoroughly with. She had been the one whom he had spoken to the most often. He smiled a bit, nodded a polite goodbye to the three others in the room, and raced for the court. It only took a minute or two to reach his destination where Nath and Lamis were waiting for him eagerly. Lamis looked somewhat stunned and very pleased when she spotted him, giving a small wave and waiting for him to approach her. She bowed gracefully to him before catching him up in a hug. He returned the gesture and the two smiled silently at each other for a few moments.
"I assume you're ready to go home?" Edmund gestured with his head to the several groups of slaves lined up against the wall. Lamis nodded happily. "Do you know which group to go with?" She nodded again. "I hope you find your way safely, and I'll be sure to come and visit you."
With one last hug, Lamis made her way over to her designated group of slaves. Edmund was pleased to see that she would be traveling with Hanah. The girls seemed equally as happy about the situation as they hugged each other tightly.
Pleased with how smoothly things were going, Edmund went back to his throne and was surprised to see Peter in his already. He had missed his brother coming in and looked around to see if Lain and Adem had followed. Edmund soon spotted them in a far corner, watching the procession of captives with solemn faces. Following suit, the Just King sat quietly for the rest of the gathering, only getting up when everyone had filtered out and Peter stood first. Lain, Adem, and Nath began to approach the thrones, but Peter went down a couple of steps and stopped them.
"Could I have a moment with my brother alone please?" He asked, smiling gently. Nath nodded, and the three left the court room a bit apprehensively, followed by the Queens.
"Is everything alright?" Edmund frowned a bit as he stepped down next to his brother.
"It's time to decide what to do with Mahir. We've waited too long as it is."
"Oh…right…" Edmund had forgotten that he needed to pass judgment on the cruel man locked in the basement of the Cair.
"Let him go free."
"What?" Peter stared at his brother in shock.
"I don't want him anywhere near Narnian soil ever again, much less serving out his punishment on it, and I don't want his blood on my hands. Give him to the Tisroc. I heard a rumor that he committed a murder. Perhaps Calormen will have some fitting laws."
"Alright. Whatever you desire." Peter gave a small, proud smile. When Edmund gave a – though much weaker – smile back, Peter hugged him and headed off in search of Oreius to tell him what to do with their prisoner.
Edmund, figuring he was no longer needed, went off in search of his friends. He found them in Lain's room, whispering quietly amongst themselves. When he stepped in they immediately quieted down and looked at him with slight concern.
"Is everything alright?" Lain was the first to speak and walk over to him.
"Everything is fine. Peter just wanted to talk to me for a moment." Edmund gave a sheepish smile.
"About what?" Adem jumped and grimaced when Nath elbowed him sharply in the ribs.
"It is not your place to ask." The older boy whispered harshly.
"It was about Mahir." Edmund looked down.
"What about him?" Nath's eyes grew wide and he stood up straight, but it took Lain and Adem a few moments to understand.
"I had to decide what to do with him."
"You sentenced him to death, right? There's no other punishment he's worthy of."
"I…" Edmund squeezed his eyes shut. He didn't know how he was going to tell his friend that he let their captor go free. "I heard he committed a murder, so…I sent him to the Tisroc."
"You what?" Nath clenched his fists and Edmund shrank back. "Do you know what you just did? You just let him go free! You had him, he's probably in this building right now, and you just gave him permission to wander around and do whatever the hell he wants!"
"Nath…" Lain put a hand on his arm, but he jerked away.
"The Tisroc on his golden throne isn't going to give Mahir a lick of attention. The man enslaved and tortured their worst enemies, including you! You really think the Tisroc is going to do anything after a sterling performance like that? Unless it was the emperor's own son or right hand man, Mahir is going to walk a free man! He's not going to be punished for his crimes, and even if he is, it certainly won't be with the proper penalty of death! For all we know, the bloody Tisroc will appoint Mahir as his new advisor!"
"Nath, stop it! That's enough!" Lain and Adem got between him and Edmund.
While Nath had been screaming, Edmund had backed himself into a corner and was currently cowering and covering his head. His entire body shook with fear as he waited for Nath to strike. He didn't see the realization of what Nath had done cross the nineteen-year-old's face, nor did he see Lain rush for him. He jumped and screamed when she touched him and struggled to curl up deeper in his corner.
"What is going on?" Peter's voice echoed down the hall. The sound of his footsteps filled the room as he ran, and everyone jumped when the door flew open. "Edmund!" The blonde King raced for his frightened sibling, sitting down next to him and pulling him into his lap quickly. "What happened?"
Edmund buried his head in Peter's shoulder and clung tightly, struggling to calm himself down and failing miserably. Peter looked up at the other three people in the room, searching for answers. When he laid eyes on Nath, who was still staring at the younger king in shock with a guilty look on his face, Peter tensed.
"What did you do?"
"Please, it was an accident. He didn't mean to." Lain stepped between Peter and Nath, desperately trying to protect both sides.
"Stand aside, Lain. Now." The girl trembled but followed orders and joined Adem against the far wall. "Tell me exactly what you did, right this moment."
"I…I didn't mean to. I forgot how jumpy the kid was." Nath's voice shook as he spoke.
"His name is King Edmund." Peter's voice was solid ice.
"Edmund, yeah, I – "
"Right, sorry. King Edmund. I…I know. I just…he told us that he was sending Mahir back to Calormen. He…he's letting Mahir go free, basically, when he should have sentenced him to death."
"Don't you dare think yourself in the position to decide what my brother should and should not do."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I just think that he deserves death and nothing else, but he's not going to get it. I've waited years to see that man die, and now he's going to just walk away from this without a scratch, and I just lost my nerve. I'm sorry."
"Yes, you are." Peter stood, lifting his still-trembling brother along with him.
"Edmund, I didn't mean it. I'm sorry. Please." Edmund looked over at Nath, still pale with fright, and said nothing.
He remained silent as Peter carried him out of the room and set him down in the hallway. His brother ushered him to his room and the two sat on Edmund's bed, as close to the other as they could get without sitting on each other. Edmund, whose trembling had subsided for the most part on the walk, rested his head on Peter's shoulder and clung to his shirt sleeve weakly.
"Are you alright?" Peter's voice was soft and gentle, though it was obvious that it took some self control to keep it that way. Edmund nodded slowly. "Did he hurt you?"
"No." His voice was weaker than usual, almost inaudible.
"Yes he did, but don't worry. I'm sending him home at dawn."
"He doesn't have a home to go to," Edmund's voice cracked as he struggled to keep from crying. "He lived in Galma. Everyone he knew, including his parents, is either dead or enslaved somewhere, and those who are still alive probably don't remember him."
"Then what do you want me to do with him? Whatever you want, I'll make it happen."
"Let him stay. He didn't mean any harm," Edmund took a shuddery breath, struggling to keep his voice at a level where it could be heard. "I destroyed the one thing he's wanted since he was fourteen years old. He had a right to get angry, and he had a good point."
"What point? There was nothing good about what he said to you." Peter's voice was beginning to grow livid again.
"He said that, with what Mahir did, especially to me, the Tisroc was more likely to make him his right hand man than he was to give him any sort of punishment for past crimes."
"I suppose that is a possibility, though I think the Tisroc's dislike toward us is overly exaggerated in his subjects. I'm not so sure that he wouldn't pass punishment. All Nath has seen is the radical side of the spectrum, the pure loathing the Calormenes have for us. You must remember. The Tisroc isn't as cruel as his men are. He is more reasonable, and though he does want us overthrown, I doubt he will be very fond of one of his men ruining what relations we do have with each other. If he wanted us tortured or dead, he would want it done on his terms, when there was more to gain than there was to lose, and only if he had leverage over us.
"Something tells me that when he hears one of his subjects, a disloyal criminal at that, bought and tortured a King without the Tisroc's permission and express supervision, he won't greet them too kindly. Despite our differences and feuds, the Tisroc knows well that he needs us alive and willing to cooperate, and for us to cooperate, there needs to be a sense of trust and benefit. The fact that a minor citizen could have destroyed everything will enrage the Tisroc more than you know, and more than Nath can comprehend. So worry not about your decision. Mahir will meet his proper fate. I promise it."
Edmund gave a weak smile. "Thank you, Peter."
"You're welcome, little brother." Peter nuzzled Edmund's forehead lovingly and stood up. "I'm going to go have a word with Nath."
"Try to be nice."
"I'll do my best, but I'm afraid I can't promise anything."
Edmund followed Peter with his eyes as his brother left, and once he was gone, he fell back on his bed. He lay there, legs hanging over the edge and staring up at the ceiling, for more than fifteen minutes before he heard his door open. Instinct kicked in before common sense and Edmund dashed for his sword hanging on his wall. He had it halfway out of its sheath before he looked up at the intruder. Lucy was staring at him with one eyebrow raised, safely out of his reach.
"I'm glad those reflexes didn't fade with time." She said, smiling.
"Me too. I was afraid they had. It's good to see I was wrong."
"Very," Lucy nodded and sat next to him when he had placed his sword back where it was before. "Lain came to get me. She said something had happened between you and Nath, and she was worried. Is everything alright?"
Edmund pressed his lips together tightly and nodded. "Nath wasn't pleased with my decision about Mahir and he yelled at me. I behaved poorly and scared Peter."
"What do you mean?"
"I," Edmund gulped and closed his eyes. "I'm not the same as I was, Lucy. I'm not as strong as everyone thought I was. Mahir changed me, and now even a raised voice makes me flinch. Nath was enraged, and made it quite obvious, and I just kept waiting for him to hit me. I curled up like a helpless mouse and just waited for it. If he had hit me – not to say that he ever would – I don't think I would have stuck up for myself at all. I would have just taken it and waited for it to be over. Never mind whether I deserved it or not, or whether it hurt or not. I don't know how, but Mahir changed my instincts. He made me turn from a fight animal into a flight."
"No he didn't." Lucy's voice was gentle but assured.
"What?" Edmund looked over at her slightly.
"He changed your reactions, but he didn't change your instincts. All you've known since you were taken is pain and fear. Give yourself time to settle, and when the time calls for it, you'll see what he really did."
"You've been taking too many rhetoric classes, Lu. You're starting to talk in riddles."
She smiled softly. "You'll see what I mean soon enough. You were gone for six months. You can't expect yourself to recover in a matter of days. But trust me. You are the same as you were, Edmund, whether you can see it at the moment or not. Aslan changed you for the better and nothing can undo that change. You understand?" He didn't, but he nodded just the same. "Good."
Lucy kissed him on the forehead gently. The two sat in silence for a moment, but as Lucy stood up to go, Edmund grabbed her wrist gently and pulled her back to the bed. She watched him curiously for a moment, waiting for him to say something.
"When do you think I'll be me again? The real me. And no riddles this time." He gave a halfhearted smile.
"I think," She sat in silence for a moment, plotting out her answer carefully. "You will be you again soon. Very soon. You're strong, and you have always adapted quickly. Now will be no exception."
Edmund's smile grew into a more honest one. "Thanks, Lu." He kissed her on the forehead as she had with him. "I really missed you."
"I missed you too. I'm glad you're home." She smiled brightly and poked his shoulder. "But next time, try to have a little more sense and wear the clothes that are more befitting to you and your role."
"Yes ma'am." Edmund's smile continued to grow.
"Good. Now if you'll excuse me, Mr. Tumnus is waiting for me. He's going to teach me to play the pan flute!"
Planting a final kiss on Edmund's forehead, Lucy bounced out of the room and down the hall. Edmund stood, planning on going on a search to find his brother and save Nath, but before he could adjust his clothes properly, his door swung open again.
"Lucy, what are you doing back so soon?" Edmund asked with a slight smirk. When he got a good look at her face, everything positive, including blood, drained from his face. His eyes widened a bit and he took a rushed step toward her. "What happened? What's wrong?"
"Peter needs us."
She grabbed his hand and pulled him down the hallway at a breakneck pace. The two rushed to the court room where Oreius, a large amount of soldiers, and several various woodland Animals stood gathered in front of the thrones. Susan was already in her seat and Peter was just beginning to lower himself into his.
"Edmund, Lucy, there you are." He greeted them. His voice was heavy with worry and he looked down at the clump of citizens before him.
Edmund and Lucy remained silent as they sat in their thrones, watching everyone with concern. Every face in the room looked grave and each of the visiting Animals looked terrified. Peter waited patiently for his siblings to get settled before speaking up.
"What is the urgent message you've come to deliver?" He asked, directing his attention to the front-most Animal.
The Blue Jay ruffled his feathers nervously before speaking up in a light, though stressed, voice. "My Kings and Queens, my fellow friends and I spotted something we thought needed immediate attention. We saw a Werewulf running through the Western Wood, and he did not appear to be alone. Some of my kin followed him, but only one returned, and she was gravely injured. Before she died, she told me that a significant force of Fell Beasts, at least thirty that she could see, had gathered in the Shuddering Wood along the banks of the Telmar River."
"Fell Beasts?" Susan gasped, horrified. "I thought they had all been flushed out years ago."
Everyone had been thinking the same thing. Battles with Fell Beasts had been common during the first three years of reign, but by the end of their fourth year as Kings and Queens, the battles had all but ceased, save for a stray Boggle or Werewulf once in a blue moon. To hear of so many gathering together so long after the Witch's reign had ended would have been thought impossible just moments before.
"Those Animals gave their lives, my lady, and no single predator could have taken down so many with such swiftness and accuracy."
"King Peter, what do you suggest we do?" A Cardinal's deeper voice spoke up. Blue Jays and Cardinals generally disliked each other, and to see two so close together easily proved the validity of their concerns if nothing else did.
"I will set out with a band of troops in the morning, and you, my good Birds, will lead us to the camp if you so wish. If not, say so now and you can show me where they are located."
"We will lead you, Sire." The Blue Jay said with a bow. The Cardinal bowed as well, soon followed by the rest of the Animals.
"If any of your party wishes to join us, they are welcome, but they are just as welcome to stay at Cair Paravel with the Queens and King Edmund."
"With the Queens and Queens only," Edmund frowned and looked over at his brother, then back to his subjects. "I will be joining you."
Peter and the girls looked over at their brother, each with a different expression. Peter looked worried, and somewhat irritated and defiant. Susan was quite concerned and hesitant about the idea. Lucy looked on with a blank face, but her eyes shone with pride.
"Dismissed. Blue Jay, Cardinal, please follow us to the library so you can instruct my brothers as to what paths may be best to take." Lucy interrupted the awkward silence.
With another bow from every soul in the court, Animals and Creatures filed out neatly, the two Birds staying behind and waiting patiently.
"If you would follow my sisters, my brother and I will meet up with you shortly." Peter said kindly.
Susan and Lucy took the hint and led the Birds to the library while Peter and Edmund remained seated. Once they were gone, Peter looked over at his brother sharply.
"What on earth has gotten into your head that you think you'll be joining us?" He asked.
"Lucy." Edmund said simply, shrugging lightly.
"Edmund, you're still weak, and look how thin you are. You haven't put on a pound since returning to the Cair. I am not letting you wear armor and wield a sword when you can't even stomach a full meal. You are not coming and that's that."
Edmund glared at his brother. "I can make my own decisions, Peter, and if I don't do something soon I am going to go insane. All you have done this past week and a half is coddle me. You haven't given me a chance to lift my sword, let alone prove if I can still use it or not. I need to go."
"You are not going, and you are not talking your way out of it."
"The only way you are keeping me here is if you chain me to the Cair yourself and personally make sure I stay there. If you go, I go, and you will not stop me."
Peter sighed in defeat. "Edmund…"
"We both know I need to do this, so save it, Pete." With that, Edmund left the court room and headed for the library.
The Blue Jay and Cardinal were very helpful and had managed to locate exactly where the Fell Beasts had congregated. No one was quite sure as to why they were all meeting up or how so many of them had survived and found each other, but no one was short on theories. Edmund and Peter remained quiet during the meeting, listening to what people had to say but not putting in their own ideas unless directly asked. They all remained in the library for several long hours until dinner beckoned them to the balcony.
As they ate, all four siblings stayed quiet. Edmund picked at his food listlessly for nearly ten minutes before standing up without a word. Ignoring his uneaten dinner and the looks his siblings were giving him, he strode back to his room and took his sword off of its hanger on the wall.
After making sure Peter had not followed him, Edmund slipped out of the Cair and went to the training grounds. He closed his eyes and sighed as he felt the sturdy turf beneath his feet. Taking a deep breath, Edmund opened his eyes and began to slice the air with his sword, practicing steps that were all too familiar and yet felt so foreign and stale. The practice was much less fruitful than it would have been with a partner, but by nightfall Edmund had exhausted himself and was ready to head back to his room. He turned and jumped, readying his sword instinctively when he saw someone standing right in front of him. It only took a moment to realize it was Peter, and as soon as he was certain, he glared.
"You should know better than to sneak up on an armed person," Edmund scolded. "I could have killed you."
"You didn't." Peter's voice was soft and thick.
"Peter? Are you alright?"
His only answer was Peter drawing his sword. Edmund took a few steps back, utterly confused. He was exhausted as it was. He didn't want to have to duel with his brother. Peter either didn't catch his brother's dread or he didn't care about it. Either way, he swung and Edmund blocked, shocked at how much force Peter had put behind his attack. The two faced off for nearly a half hour before Edmund couldn't take it anymore. Putting everything into one final move, Edmund swept forward and disarmed his brother. He pointed his sword at Peter's throat and stood there for a moment before backing down and sinking to the ground. Peter sat next to him, both of them panting heavily.
"What…the hell was that…all about Peter…?" Edmund put his head between his knees and tried to calm his breathing.
"I needed to see if you were ready."
The two sat in silence until both had recovered from the duel. Peter was the first to stand up and offered out a hand to Edmund. He took it gratefully and stood, giving his equilibrium a moment to recover before beginning to walk up the hill to the Cair.
"Do you think you could do all of that with armor on?"
"Are you going to ride Phillip?"
Edmund paused for a moment before falling back in step with Peter. "I hadn't really thought about it. I'll go ask him and meet up with you in the morning."
"No, I'll wait for you outside."
"Alright. I'll hurry."
Edmund split away from Peter and headed for the stables. He found Phillip easily enough and leaned against the stall door as he explained the situation. The Horse listened intently, and when it came time for him to decide whether to go or not, he was rather swift about it.
"I will not have you riding any other beast into battle. I am ready for it." Phillip nudged Edmund's shoulder supportively.
"Thank you, Phillip. I owe you one."
The Stallion smiled a bit. "We both owe each other many things. This is not one of them. Now go. It is getting late and you said we are riding out at dawn."
Edmund obeyed quietly, giving his Horse a tight hug before departing. Peter met him at the doors to the Cair as he had promised and the two walked side by side to their rooms. Rather than part ways in the hallway as they usually did, Peter followed Edmund into his room and got into bed with him.
"What are you doing?" Edmund asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Protecting you from the nightmares. You could do with a good night's sleep."
Edmund smiled a bit and snuggled close to his brother. "Thank you."
If Peter ever replied, Edmund was asleep by then and never heard it.
Dawn was just beginning to break on the horizon when Peter gently shook his brother awake. He groaned and mumbled some incoherent nonsense, but sat up without making too much of a fuss otherwise. Still half asleep, Edmund let his brother help him into his armor and strap his sword to his waist.
It wasn't until after everyone had bid farewell to their loved ones and the Queens and they were well out of sight of Cair Paravel that it really hit Edmund. He was half-starved, weak, and lax in his training, yet he was following his brother blindly into a battle. Peter had been right. He should never have come along. But his stubbornness and desire to prove himself had clouded whatever judgment he had had, and he was going to be killed. There was no getting around it. He would be overtaken the moment Peter was no longer within reach. Just because he had faced Peter and beaten him the night before didn't mean he was ready to face a pack of ruthless Beasts. He was completely insane for ever thinking he could.
The trip to the Shuddering Woods took most of the morning and afternoon. Dusk was only an hour away by the time they entered the Woods. They moved swiftly but silently, hoping to catch the Fell Beasts by surprise. When they came close to their destination, the Birds alerted them and they all prepared themselves for battle. Edmund lowered the visor on his helmet and gripped his sword tightly. Phillip stood completely still, bracing himself for the awaited charge.
It never came.
Before Peter could give the order, the troops were ambushed from the rear by a flurry of dark colors. Battle broke out instantly, sending the woods into utter chaos. Edmund and Phillip remained close to Peter as they struggled to get to where the action was. A large Werewulf charged for them, and panic welled in Edmund's chest. He wasn't ready. His instincts screamed at him to flee, and he desperately wanted to obey. His heart raced and he clutched Phillip's reins as tightly as he could. Peter and his stallion charged at the Werewulf.
Edmund watched, horror-stricken, as the creature knocked his brother off of his mount and ran for him. Something snapped inside him. The fear, the desire to run, the sheer terror of getting hurt was swept away in a wave of protectiveness over his brother and a will to defend his country. With a guttural howl that rivaled those of the Werewulf itself, Edmund leapt off of Phillip and charged. He dove between the wulf and his brother just before Peter was bitten. Teeth met metal and the young King flew into the ground. He could hear Peter cursing just a few feet away and looked up just in time to see the Werewulf heading for the High King once again. He spotted Peter, who was still on the ground with his arm trapped under the root of a tree leaving him utterly defenseless.
Refusing to allow this creature to kill his brother, Edmund once again rushed between the two, sword at the ready this time around. Once he was in the monster's path he charged at the Werewulf and the two met head on. Peter's scream melded with Edmund's and the wulf's, and Edmund tumbled to the ground, pinned to the black hybrid.
Peter's voice forced the frail fighter into action. He pulled away from the mass of fur as quickly as he could and readied himself for another attack, but the Werewulf did not move. Blood pooled beneath the fiend but did not flow from the injury Edmund had inflicted. The wulf was dead. Empowered with a new rush of adrenaline and finally battle-ready, Edmund freed his brother from the tree root and mounted Phillip before any words could be exchanged. He made sure Peter was able to get onto Lyst, his stallion, before taking off into the gale.
Edmund and Phillip rushed for their next opponent. A Siberian Tiger leapt into their path, growling at them menacingly. The three stared at each other for a millisecond before the Tiger pounced. Phillip turned instinctively and Edmund used the new opening to plunge his sword into his adversary. The Tiger fell to the ground with a terrible thud, nearly dragging Edmund along with it. It writhed in pain as blood poured from the wound in its throat. As quickly as he could, Edmund drove a merciful blow into the beast's head, killing it instantly.
It wasn't a full two seconds before Edmund was engaged in battle once again. This time it was a Black Dwarf from one of the rogue clans in the North. He swung at Phillip's legs with his axe, missing by mere inches each time. Edmund leapt off of his Horse and charged at him, blocking a blow with his sword. The Dwarf forgot about his target and focused on Edmund, holding his own for a full, grueling minute before he screamed in pain and collapsed on the ground, dead. Phillip stood before Edmund, snorting in rage at the corpse of the Dwarf whose neck he had broken.
"Edmund, get on!" He shouted, helping his boy onto his back as quickly as he could.
Once Edmund was situated into the saddle, the two were off. Edmund swiped at any Fell Beasts that came close to him with his blade but didn't fully engage one particular opponent until they had reached the opposite side of the excitement a few minutes later. That was where most of the Beasts were congregated, and several seemed to be lost without partners to duel with. Standing just to the edge and just far enough away that no one bothered her was a Hag. She was smirking with pleasure and chanting something Edmund couldn't hear. He saw a nearby soldier stiffen and be struck down by his challenger and he knew he had to bring the Hag down.
"Phillip, her!" Edmund pointed to the Hag and Phillip immediately bolted for her. Edmund dismounted, dragging a shout of protest from Phillip. "Help Peter, leave me!" Edmund had to scream to be heard over the noise of clashing metal.
He turned, not bothering to find out if Phillip had obeyed or not. He drew his sword and the Hag stared at him, continuing to smirk. He sidestepped around her and the moment she began to speak, he lunged. She dodged his blade, the sword slicing the hem of her cloak. She laughed cruelly and touched Edmund, sending sparks of pain searing through his chest. He screamed in agony and fury and took another swipe at her. She touched him once again, in the same spot, and once again he screamed. The more he tried to attack her the faster she dodged his blade and tapped on his tabard with her nail. Edmund took one final jab at the Hag and felt metal meet flesh and bone. He watched as his blade drove straight through the woman's heart, sending her collapsing to the ground, dead. The moment he was certain she would not arise again, pain enveloped Edmund and darkness overcame him.
Mahir rushed for him, his face twisted and red with fury. Blood soaked one side of his head and his clothes were torn.
"Has anyone seen my brother?"
Edmund struggled to get away but he couldn't move. His master pounced on him, forcing his elbow into Edmund's neck.
"Edmund, Edmund where are you? Answer me!"
He struggled to breathe, to move, to think as pain and suffocation drove him to the edge.
"King Peter, over here!"
Nothing was working. Nothing would move. He couldn't do it. Even thinking sent enough pain through his body to make him want to beg for death.
"Edmund, wake up. Oreius, get some help, quickly! Hang on, Edmund. Just hang on."
Mahir drove his elbow deeper into Edmund's throat. His blood flowed from his body and onto Edmund's, pooling around his sides and on his chest. His chest. It hurt so badly.
"Where's the cordial? We need Lucy's cordial!"
Make the pain stop, Edmund tried to beg. Please. Kill me. Just make it stop.
"Help me get his armor off."
With one final shove of Mahir's elbow, Edmund slipped into darkness and hoped he would never have to awaken again.
Of course he didn't get his wish.
"Edmund, can you hear me? Please say something."
He couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't think. How could he be expected to say something?
"We need to get him back to the Cair. That Hag did something to him."
"Wait, Sire. Just give him a few minutes. The curse is only temporary and should pass soon. Moving him could cause further damage and pain."
Edmund wished they would just leave him there to die. The pain was unbearable and the inability to take the edge off made it worse. He was shocked to find, however, that the second voice was right. As the minutes slowly ticked by, the pain eventually began to ease. Edmund found himself able to breathe again. It was shallow and slow, but it was something.
"Edmund? Can you hear me?"
Edmund tried to move but pain sent him reeling with the effort. His breathing sped up and he squeezed his eyes shut, clutching the grass desperately. Wait. He moved. He could move. Hesitantly, he tested his eyes first. He shifted them back and forth under the eyelids, and when that caused him no further pain, he slowly opened them.
He was engulfed in a soft darkness surrounded by dull red lights from torches. His brother's haggard face was before him, surrounded by Phillip and the soldiers looking over his shoulder. Edmund groaned and turned his head, trying to block out the pain somehow.
"Edmund?" Peter carefully turned his head back up and stroked some hair away from his forehead. "Are you awake?" Edmund gave a jerky nod and looked up when he heard several voices sigh in relief.
"Should I not be?" His voice was hoarse and stale.
"I…I don't know. Do you hurt?" Edmund nodded once again. "Where?"
As carefully as he could, the younger King gently rested a hand over his chest. He gasped and squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, his muscles tightening instinctively. He tried to scream, but the sound wouldn't come. His entire body went rigid and he could practically feel himself dying in his brother's arms.
"Edmund!" Peter didn't even attempt to hide the panic in his voice. "Oreius, the cordial! Now!"
Through the haze of his injury, Edmund felt the warm sweetness of Lucy's fireflower juice slide down his throat. The pain slowly subsided until it was no more. Edmund looked down and saw that his chest was completely naked, and at the very center of his breastbone was a large, terrible-looking black welt with slithering tendrils draping over the expanse of his chest and stomach. The tendrils were beginning to recede, but very slowly.
"Don't worry, you'll be alright. It's hard for the cordial to work against magic, but it will if you give it time."
"How much time?"
"I'm not sure. At this rate, maybe a few hours?"
Edmund groaned and closed his eyes. He didn't want to be in pain for a few hours. He wanted it to go away now.
"I can't decide if what you did was really brave or really stupid."
"Then don't decide." Edmund muttered.
"You saved countless lives by doing what you did, but you could have been killed."
"So I hear."
"Would you quit being so sarcastic?" Peter chastised, but his voice was light.
"No thanks. I've missed sarcasm."
Peter blinked then slowly smiled. "I've missed it too. Come on, let's get you home."
It took a lot of careful adjusting, but eventually a litter was made and Edmund was gently placed on it. The going was slow and steady, and by the time the troops had exited the Shuddering Woods, Edmund was able to ride Phillip on his own with only a fair amount of discomfort rather than excruciating pain. The group made up camp at the ford at Beruna, and when they set out the next day, Edmund was almost completely healed and in good spirits for the first time since getting home.
When they reached the Cair at midday the next day they were all greeted by the Queens and some members of the court. Hugs and welcomes were spread all around, as was word of their success. They had only lost two soldiers, though most had been wounded. Those who needed attention were brought to the medical wing and those that didn't were free to go where they wished. Edmund sought out his friends who were waiting for him eagerly in Lain's room as always. They smiled and hugged him tight when they saw him.
"I'm sorry I couldn't join you," Nath said, head low. "I wanted to, but Lain insisted I stay with her. And I'm sorry about what I said before."
"It's alright," Edmund smiled and put a hand on Nath's shoulder. "Mahir was sent to the Tisroc with several guards and a detailed account as to what he did and to whom. He'll get what he deserves, I promise."
"We're glad to see you're alright." Lain said, hugging him tightly.
"We have some news, though." Adem interrupted the happy moment.
"What sort of news?"
"We're going to head to Archenland tomorrow. I've put our location on a map so you can find us if you ever want to visit, and of course we'll know where to find you if you ever want us to come by."
"You are all welcome any time." Edmund continued to smile, but it was much sadder than before.
"Lain and I were neighbors, and Nath will be staying with Lain, so we'll all be in the same place."
"That's good to hear."
The four friends spent the rest of the day with the High King and the Queens. They were given tours of Cair Paravel and horses as parting gifts. Eventually the night came and went, and it was time for the once-captives to head home. Edmund watched them ride away with six guards until they could no longer be seen. Once they had vanished, he turned to go inside, but was stopped by his brother. Peter wrapped an arm around his shoulders and gently led him down to the gardens.
"How are you?" Peter asked, his voice soft.
"Better than I have been." Edmund answered, equally as quiet, though he now had a choice in the matter.
"Are you all fixed up now?"
"Perhaps not, but I'm certainly close. I will be soon, though. I promise."
Peter smiled and tousled his brother's hair. Edmund laughed and pushed Peter to the side, breaking away from his hold and running through the dead corn fields. Peter gave chase and the two romped with each other until darkness fell. Only when they could no longer see their hands in front of their faces did they go back to the Cair, and even then they still had enough energy to race each other. The two parted ways at their bedroom doors, and for the first time since being found by Peter, Edmund slept alone and didn't have a single nightmare.