Disclaimer: I do not own any part of The Chronicles of Narnia; it all belongs to the C.S. Lewis estate, Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media, 20th Century Fox, et al. I write these stories purely for enjoyment; no copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This is part of my continuing series of stories on the Pevensies' life in England, in between their Narnia adventures. This story follows both "Reduced Circumstances" and "Still Magnificent." I am assuming for the purposes of this story that 1) Deathwater and Dark Island happened where and when they did in the book, rather than the film and 2) that Caspian's offers to have Edmund carry Rhindon also happened, the first when Edmund and Lucy came aboard the Dawn Treader, and the second just before entering Dark Island. So, I'm mixing film and book here, trying to balance the two, with some events of my own invention as well.

Acknowledgements: My deepest sincere thanks to elecktrum for letting me borrow Peter and Edmund's titles as the Sword and Shield of Narnia. Her stories are an inspiration to us all! My heartfelt gratitude goes, once again, to Autumnia, for her help with the allusions to the Dawn Treader film, her insightful and enthusiastic beta reading, and her continuous encouragement. She has read through countless drafts of this story as it has developed and changed and never once grown impatient with my questions or perfectionism. I have found a new friend in the Narnia fandom.

Balancing the Scales

Finchley, October 1942

It was a beautiful fall day, and Peter Pevensie, sometime High King of Narnia and Emperor of the Lone Islands, was waiting to ambush his brother.

Peter was lying on his bed in the room he shared with Edmund, gazing out the window at the blue sky and watching the red and gold leaves drift past. It had been a difficult summer and autumn; he had studied for the university exams from May until September at Professor Kirke's, simultaneously trying to cope with his own painful feelings of isolation from the kingdom he had once called home. Lucy and Edmund's journey to Narnia had brought their country closer to him again, yet the joy of knowing that Narnia was cared for and that Caspian was ruling well brought its own kind of bittersweet pain.

At the end of September he had come back to their family home in Finchley to find his mother working herself to exhaustion at the munitions factory. He had been the only one at home until his three siblings returned for the half-term holiday three days ago, and the changes in each of them had left Peter with a heightened sense of all he had missed in the past few months. Susan seemed to waver indecisively between her family and her peers. She was still the beautiful and gracious Susan they knew when she was at home; she talked to her siblings about Narnia, helped their mother around the house, and mothered Peter, Edmund, and Lucy as she always had. Periodically, though, she would fly out of the house to parties and social gatherings, dressing older than her years and talking flightily of fashion and beaus. It worried Peter, for Susan had always been serious and considerate, compassionate, with strength of iron underneath the gentleness she was known for. Lucy was hurt and confused by her elder sister's conduct, and Peter was rebuffed each time he tried to reach out to Susan. His worries about his sister were one reason he was waiting for Edmund; he wanted his younger brother's opinion and counsel.

The second reason was more complicated. Edmund had been profoundly glad to have Peter home again; Peter had been slightly amazed that his normally undemonstrative brother (at least, undemonstrative in public when we are in England, Peter clarified mentally) had embraced him for several minutes when he stepped off the train, clinging to him as though they had just battled an army of Ettin giants. While Peter had worried over Edmund's unusual behavior, his concern had been temporarily swept away as Edmund greeted his mother and Peter was engulfed by Susan and Lucy. All three of his siblings had asked eagerly about his studies and the Professor, and his mother had been so happy to have her other three children back that the walk back to the house was filled with nonstop talk and laughter. The first two days they had been home, the four siblings were together during every spare minute they had, catching up with each other until the wee hours. During those conversations, Peter noticed that Edmund was occasionally quiet and uneasy, and was reminded of his greeting at the train station. Lucy had discussed it with him just yesterday afternoon when they were sharing confidences in the back garden:

"I think what happened to Edmund was rather similar to what happened to me," Lucy said cautiously. "It was very hard for us to be in Narnia without you and Susan, and there were moments when we felt . . . inadequate. I won't say any more, because beyond that I'm only guessing. Educated guesses, maybe, but guessing nonetheless. You might need to coax it out of Edmund, Peter, but he needs to talk. Whatever is distressing him, it has to do with you, or he would have told you long before now."

Peter frowned in thought as he recalled the moments when the light had gone out of Edmund's eyes. He had spent a lifetime and more watching and guarding his younger brother; he knew the nuances of Edmund's emotions better than his own. There had been outright anguish when Lucy had been telling him about their reunion with Caspian, and a flash of hurt when Edmund had spoken of Dark Island; had Peter had not been looking directly at Edmund, he might not have seen it. Edmund felt pain and perhaps guilt – but Peter still didn't know why, and that worried him more than anything. It had been a long time since Edmund had been afraid to talk to him about something; as stubborn as Edmund was, he usually let his older brother comfort him. In fact, there had been plenty of instances in Narnia when Peter was the only one allowed to comfort Edmund.

Just then, the click of the door latch interrupted Peter's thoughts, and he turned his head to see Edmund entering the room.

"Hello, Ed," Peter greeted him quietly.

Edmund stilled for an instant in surprise, then walked in and set a pile of books on his desk. He flipped idly through the pages, but Peter caught the slight nervousness in the motion.

"What are you doing in here by yourself?" Edmund asked, cheerfully enough. "You aren't burying yourself in books again already, are you? You've only been home from the Professor's for a few weeks."

"I brought a reading list home with me, but no, I haven't started on it yet," Peter confessed with a half-smile, sitting up and running a hand through his hair. "I should, and I will, but it's been so nice being home with Mum and now with you all that I've been rather selfishly enjoying it."

Edmund shook his head. "It isn't selfish, Peter. You worked hard this summer; I could tell just from your letters that you were spending every waking hour reading or discussing your reading with Professor Kirke. You deserve a rest, and we've missed you."

"I didn't read all the time, Ed," Peter corrected him good-naturedly. "The Macready would have had my head, for one thing. If I didn't leave the house at least once a day, she would be at my door threatening to withhold supper."

Edmund laughed and sat beside his brother, the shadows in his eyes chased away by the idea of the Professor's irascible housekeeper mothering his brother. "You mean she actually expressed concern for your well-being? That's quite the accomplishment," he teased.

"If threatening me constitutes concern, then I suppose she did," Peter chuckled. "She's really a very kind woman; you would just never know it from her everyday behavior."

"I'm sure you still studied yourself into exhaustion; I know how you are when you get involved in your duties, whatever world you're in," Edmund said, still smiling. "I'll have to thank Mrs. Macready and correct my impression of her if I ever see her again. What a dragon she was when we were in Coombe Halt – although come to think of it, now that I've known Eustace as a dragon, they're much more appealing than they used to be."

"I still find that part of your story fantastical, brother," Peter said incredulously, although not without humor. "To think of our cousin as a dragon is almost possible – but to try and picture him as reformed as you claim truly strains the imagination."

The lilting, musical speech of Old Narnia was not lost on Edmund, and his eyes grew softer still. "Wait until you see him, Peter," he responded, his tone fond as he thought of his cousin. "He isn't the same person at all. I had no idea there was so much fun in him. When he isn't under the influence of our beloved aunt and uncle, he is quite a decent fellow – though he can still be as prickly as a pear on the outside," Edmund conceded.

"Aslan has blessed him, and us," Peter said warmly. "I am happy for him. I will be so glad to see him again."

"I think he's eager to see you, too, but a bit nervous" Edmund agreed, grinning. "Having heard so many stories of the High King from Lucy and me, he can hardly believe we're talking about his own cousin."

Peter's cheeks turned faintly pink as he thought of which stories his siblings might have told Eustace. "Ed, please tell me you and Lu didn't make me into some kind of hero."

"No, of course not," Edmund said sarcastically. "Because defeating Giants and brokering peace with them, fighting an army of hags and werewolves, and beating back the Telemarines weren't at all heroic. Not to mention winning the Battle of Beruna."

Peter groaned. "Edmund, it was simply what had to be done, and you know that as well as I do. You were there, just as much in the thick of all of those events as I was – particularly that last one," he added, his tone becoming much gentler.

Edmund's face suddenly went white, and he looked downward, unable to meet Peter's eyes. "Yes, well, I didn't have to tell Eustace that part, did I?" he answered, trying valiantly to recover his bantering tone.

A chill crept over Peter that had nothing to do with the autumn air. He had prayed that his brother had conquered his lingering fears of Jadis during their second trip to Narnia; he had done far better than Peter himself in that regard. Nevertheless, only something to do with the Witch could make Edmund turn so pale, and clearly it was the more recent past that had come to mind, rather than Beruna.

Well. Marginally easier subjects first, then.

"No, I don't suppose you did, though I would have greatly preferred it if you had," Peter rejoined, striving to keep his tone light. "Listen, Ed, I wanted to ask you about Susan. I know you don't see her while you're at school, but has she confided in you at all? Mentioned anything in her letters?"

The relief that spread over Edmund's features was unmistakable, though his brow remained wrinkled in concern as he thought about his elder sister. "Not directly, Peter. You've seen it too, then?"

"Yes, although it's more a feeling I have than any tangible evidence," Peter said in frustration. "She is our Su, except –"

"– when she isn't," Edmund finished. "I know."

"Lucy's worried, and frankly so am I," Peter declared. "But I can't find anything outwardly wrong, except that it isn't like Su to go running off to parties and fuss about her appearance – she was always beautiful, but she never had to prove it to anyone. Why the change? Why is she cultivating the loyalties of people who scarcely know her? Why is she suddenly so concerned about what others think of her?"

"We've each had to find our own ways of coping, being back here in England, and maybe Su feels that the way to do that is to develop more friendships outside of the family," Edmund said meditatively. "The letters she sent me at school always sounded a little . . . adrift. She may be searching for an anchor."

Peter's expression was pained. "Why not come to us, then? We have always been each other's anchors, Edmund."

"We have," Edmund assented. "However, I don't think it's us she needs to feel anchored to. It's here, Peter. This land, this place, these people. She will always be connected to us, and she knows that. I think that is why she is still our Su when she is home. Having other friends and outside interests might be her solution for trying to grow closer to this world."

Peter sighed, his shoulders slumping as he ran his hands over his face. "I hope you're right. I hope it helps her. It unsettles me, Ed."

"It unsettles me, too," Edmund agreed gravely. "I don't like it any more than you do, but I think that we have to let Susan find her own way for a little while. She knows she is loved; she knows we are here for her. She will come back to us eventually."

"I said the same thing to Lucy," Peter noted wryly.

"Then trust your own instincts, Peter. The three of us may be overreacting to Susan's choices; we're all a little unsure of ourselves, being back here and knowing that none of us can return to Narnia. It will take some time to find our footing. Su might be right, come to that; we all have to live here from now on, and having other people to turn to could benefit each of us. I will be the first to go to Su and talk to her if I think she's gone too far, or if she appears to be losing herself," Edmund promised.

Peter looked at his brother with an odd smile. "Always Edmund the Just, even here," he observed affectionately.

Shadow covered Edmund's face again, as swiftly as a cloud crossing in front of the sun. "Not always, but I do my best," he said tiredly, attempting to sound reassuring.

Peter steeled himself. He had seen the change in his brother's visage, and knew that this might be his best chance to get Edmund to articulate whatever he was hiding. He laid a hand on Edmund's arm.

"Ed, what's been bothering you?" Peter asked softly. "Something about your voyage with Caspian has been eating away at you; I see it every time you and Lucy talk about it, and almost every time you're in the same room with me. What are you so afraid to tell me?"

Edmund flinched, his muscles jumping under Peter's fingers, and he sat in silence for several minutes. Peter waited, knowing that Edmund was using every bit of willpower he had to try and contain the emotions roiling in him. Peter wanted him to talk, not close himself off, but it was never wise to try and push Edmund too hard. He had to speak on his own terms.

"Lion's Mane, Peter, do you have to be quite so perceptive?" he murmured finally.

"Years of practice," Peter retorted succinctly. "And you're one to talk."

He got a little grin out of Edmund for that comment, before his brother took a long breath and stood up, pacing slowly around the room as he tried to organize his thoughts. "All right. Where do I start?"

"How about by telling me what happened when you first saw Caspian again?" Peter suggested.

Edmund stopped and stared at him. "How did you know –?" Peter merely raised his eyebrows, and Edmund resumed walking, muttering something about impossibly irritating elder brothers and their endless scrutiny.

After completing several turns around the room, Edmund sat down beside Peter again. He placed his elbows on his knees, ran his hands through his hair, and looked directly at Peter as he spoke. "He tried to give me Rhindon."

It was Peter's turn to stare, shocked into speechlessness. It was not so much the act itself that stunned him; from Caspian's point of view, it would have been a perfectly honorable thing to do. Edmund was one of the kings of Old Narnia; in the absence of Peter himself, Caspian would have naturally offered the sword to Edmund. Thinking about the possible repercussions of that offer on his brother's state of mind, on the other hand . . .

Edmund nodded slightly as he read Peter's expression. "There's more, brother mine, but that was the beginning. When Lucy, Eustace, and I were hauled up on deck, all I could feel at first was joy. Caspian embraced us, introduced us to the crew, and when they all knelt in front of us, I almost couldn't breathe for happiness. I know Lu couldn't either. We were home, and even though these were Caspian's subjects and not ours, they knew us, they loved us. They remembered us, which was more than we could have said on our second trip to Narnia. Caspian is keeping his promise, Peter. The Narnians know their history again, and they cherish it. Even the Telemarines who live among them respect that history."

Edmund's gaze had become distant, seeing the deck of the Dawn Treader, and Peter felt gratitude well up within him as he thought of his country mending itself under Caspian's careful leadership. He gave yet another a silent prayer of thankfulness that Aslan had found a man so suited to leading a new Narnia, one that had entirely different wounds from those that Jadis had left. Having humans – particularly Telemarines – and Narnians living together in peace required skills and perspectives that Peter and his siblings did not possess; Caspian, by the very nature of his upbringing, understood those conflicts better than anyone.

"After getting dried off and cleaned up, we went to Caspian's cabin so he could tell us about his search for the seven lords," Edmund continued. "It was surprising to Lu and me that there wasn't any sort of fighting to be done, for you know that always seemed to be what called us. We hadn't any idea of what we were getting into then, and as it turned out there were plenty of tight spots, but in any case – after Caspian had finished explaining and Drinian had taken us through the map, Caspian went to one of the cupboards and pulled out the Gifts."

Edmund paused, but his voice still shook just a fraction when he spoke again, and Peter wordlessly reached out and squeezed his hand.

"It was then when it hit me, Peter. Seeing Lucy's cordial and dagger and Susan's bow was bad enough – Caspian had left the horn at the Cair with Trumpkin – but I realized right then that Caspian was wearing Rhindon, and it hurt more than I could have imagined that you weren't there to carry it."

Peter opened his mouth to speak, but Edmund held up a hand, stopping him. "You don't have to say it. I know, and I knew it then too. You gave Rhindon to Caspian because he was the new and rightful king of Narnia, which was absolutely what you should have done. It gave him legitimacy that only you could have given him. That was why I refused the sword when he offered it that first time. It was his, and in the eyes of the Narnians he rules, it has been his. It wasn't right for me to bear it as my weapon; it would have undermined his authority in ways that could have been quite disastrous. Things became . . . confusing enough as it was."

Peter frowned slightly, temporarily stowing away two small bits of information. "Yes, but it was also a very honorable thing for Caspian to do," he pointed out, repeating his own earlier thoughts. "You are Edmund the Just; in terms of lineage, Rhindon would belong to you before Caspian. Since you returned to Narnia, Caspian would have felt bound to give you Rhindon back as your own."

Edmund's countenance altered again, and Peter caught his breath at the distress displayed on his brother's face. "There are very few occasions when I would deem it my right to claim the sword of the High King, Brother," he said, his voice trembling with a strange mixture of grief and anger. "Simply returning to Narnia without you does not give me that right."

Peter longed to know what was behind Edmund's tone, but he needed more information. He decided to utilize the less troubling of the two clues Edmund had given him. "So you refused Caspian's offer of Rhindon, as you should have. I agree with you that it would have been problematic to accept it. Why were things still strained between you? Caspian is like another brother to us."

The corner of Edmund's mouth turned up as he recognized Peter's strategy; his brother was talking to him in the same manner he had utilized to work through a diplomatic or domestic problem in Narnia. They had become so adept at those conversations that they could almost fill in each other's sentences, but Peter had chosen this mode of speaking in order to give Edmund an analytical way to work through his memories.

"On Deathwater, Caspian and I had a strange . . . experience," Edmund answered slowly.

Peter nodded soberly. "Lucy mentioned something about that. It was the place where you found Lord Restimar, was it not? He had been turned into gold."

"It was horrifying, Peter," Edmund said in a hushed voice. "At first we thought it was just a statue in the bottom of a small lake – and then we tried to take the depth of the water, and I couldn't hold the spear I had brought because it became so heavy. Then Caspian dipped some heather into the water, and it was solid gold. The water turned things to gold, Peter."

"One can only hope that Lord Restimar did not feel it," Peter whispered. "It would be a terrible way to die."

"Yes," Edmund concurred. "Although we did not think of that immediately. My thoughts became cloudy – I am sure Caspian's did, too – and suddenly all we could comprehend was the kind of wealth such a place could provide and the power that would go along with it. We – we almost fought a duel over it," Edmund admitted, his voice harsh with self-condemnation. Unable to contain his agitation, he stood again, walking over to the desk chair and gripping the back of it until his knuckles turned white.

"Edmund," Peter said reassuringly, "whatever you and Caspian did on that island, clearly you were not yourselves. It sounds like a very evil place, and I think its deserted state – save for poor Restimar – attests to that. Neither of you can be held accountable for anything you might have said."

"That's just it," Edmund replied. His jaw was clenched in frustration. "We can be – we were. I threw my sovereignty in Caspian's face, Peter. I threw his allegiance to you at him as though it were a weapon. If it had not been for Aslan, we would have come to blows."

"Aslan came to you?" Peter questioned, startled.

"He appeared on the hill a little distance away from us – and he was stern, and beautiful, and sorrowful, all at once," Edmund sighed. "Lucy, of course, saw him first, even though she was just as disoriented as the rest of us – she was calling us bullying, swaggering idiots, which she never would have done had she been entirely herself. While I'm sure she was speaking the truth, our Lu doesn't usually jump into a quarrel. She tries to rectify it."

"Indeed," Peter muttered, disturbed. Edmund was right; while Lucy often saw the truth of things more clearly than her siblings, it was entirely unlike her to fuel a fight with name-calling. Even when she was angry, which was rarely, she tried to temper her anger with reason and empathy and usually ended up being the peacemaker.

"We never noticed when Aslan disappeared, but seeing him was like waking from a dream or a spell," Edmund resumed. "Caspian and I both knew we had been behaving dishonorably, and none of us could remember exactly what had happened, even when we got back to the ship. It wasn't until we reached the end of the world, when we saw Aslan again, that it all came rushing back. Rarely have I felt so unworthy to be called a king of Narnia as I did then."

"Yet even the confused memory of Deathwater was enough to reinforce the idea that Rhindon was not yours to carry," Peter surmised shrewdly.

The tension that held taut every line of Edmund's body suddenly snapped as he shoved the desk chair away from him with a clatter that broke through the room like the crack of a whip.

"It was wrong, Peter, wrong in every way!" he exclaimed. Though his voice rose only slightly, the intensity in it increased so much that Peter felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. "You were not with us, and Caspian is the rightful sovereign of Narnia. To refuse him, as I did and as I should have, and then to be so abominably arrogant as to use my rank and yours against him is unforgivable, curse or no! I am not the sword of Narnia; there is only one circumstance that would cause Rhindon to permanently come to my hands, and Aslan forbid it ever occurs. While the High King lives, I am his shield."

Peter's breathing quickened. Edmund's words overwhelmed him with memories, and his nostrils filled with the coppery tang of blood. The room faded from his sight, and he found himself on a battlefield kneeling over Edmund, who was bleeding profusely from his abdomen.

It had been in the third year of their reign in Narnia, during one of their extended campaigns fighting the Northern werewolves, who had been loyal to the Witch and had found allies in the hags and some of the Black Dwarfs. The two kings had been fighting together, surrounded by several of the bloodthirsty creatures. Peter was combating one werewolf using Rhindon and his sliver shield with its shining red lion. Edmund, wielding two swords, was next to him, contending with a pair of werewolves who seemed determined to rip out his throat. The werewolf Peter was fighting was much larger, but the two fighting Edmund were fast, and Peter had prayed that his brother would remain unscathed. He had all he could do to handle his own opponent. Finally, in one huge, clean thrust, Peter had run his sword through his adversary – and at the exact moment he stood over the body, he heard his brother give a terrifying cry of rage. He had the impression of a rush of motion before some tremendous force propelled Edmund into his back and knocked them both to the ground.

Peter felt his shield fly off his arm with the impact, although he managed to keep hold of his sword by sheer force of will. As he scrabbled desperately to his feet, and frantically wondered why Edmund wasn't standing, he heard a satisfied snarl and a moan of pain from Edmund. He spun around, Rhindon already raised, to see yet another werewolf stepping over Edmund, whose tunic was rapidly becoming dark with blood. His blue eyes ignited with righteous wrath, and he launched himself at the werewolf with a scream that matched his brother's. The beast responded in kind, and they engaged in a fast and furious exchange of blows, but the advantage was all on Peter's side. Anger and cold fear drove him to end the creature who had dared attack when his back was turned, who had injured the brother who was everything to him.

Edmund had seen the werewolf leap at Peter just after he had dispatched the second of his two foes, and he had no time to do anything except throw himself bodily between Peter and the beast's extended claws. He felt the sickening tear and the agonizing pain as the werewolf ripped through his chain mail and tunic, the helpless impact into Peter's back, sending the pair of them to the ground and leaving him too stunned and wounded to rise. He felt Peter stand and heard, through the rushing of blood in his ears, his brother's answering yell of fury. After an incredibly short bout with the werewolf, Peter landed next to him on the ground. Edmund opened his eyes to see Peter leaning over him, and he groaned in agony as his brother pulled away the destroyed tunic and mail.

Peter stared in horror at the deep slashes in Edmund's midsection, gaping lacerations that were gushing blood over his hands. Edmund was gasping for breath, and the memories of the first time this had happened, the first time Edmund had been dying in front of him, were terrifyingly close to the surface as Peter applied what pressure he could to the wounds. "You idiot," Peter choked, not even attempting to check the tears that were sliding down his cheeks. "You selfless imbecile. LUCY!" he bellowed desperately over the noise of the dying battle.

An answering shout told Edmund that his sister was rapidly making her way toward them, probably using her long daggers to good effect as she came. If he knew Lucy at all, she had been fighting her way to them since his own voice had echoed across the battlefield. He felt consciousness ebbing away from him, but he fixed his eyes on Peter's, which were wild with worry and grief and panic. "While the High King lives, I am his shield," he rasped, before succumbing to the darkness he had just barely kept at bay.

Precious seconds later, Peter felt his sister settle beside them in a flurry of leather, cloth, and chain mail. "Sweet merciful Aslan," she breathed in dismay as she took in the sight of her brother's wounds, reaching for the cordial hanging at her belt. "Stay with us, Edmund. Peter, hold the pressure until I can get him to swallow this."

Peter silently said his own prayer to the Lion as Lucy carefully tipped Edmund's head back and pulled his jaw open to place two drops of fireflower juice on his tongue. Rare were the times when Lucy had to use more than one drop of the precious cordial, but Edmund's injuries were so extensive that she knew he would die if they were not healed immediately. She gripped each of her brother's hands as the gashes covering Edmund's midsection closed themselves little by little, leaving his body bloodstained but whole.

After a minute that felt like ten lifetimes to Peter, Edmund's eyes flickered open, exhausted but very much alive. Ever so gently, knowing Edmund would still be weak, Peter gathered his brother into his arms, much as he had done on the field at Beruna. "While the Just King lives, I am his sword," he replied into Edmund's ear. Lucy embraced the pair of them, and it was there that Oreius found them when he came to make his report.

Comprehension dawned as the memory faded, and Peter thought he might be ill. He realized gradually that Edmund's hand was on his back, pushing his torso toward his knees. "Easy," Edmund said softly. "You have far too vivid a memory for your own good, Peter."

"Your own memory is similarly clear, brother, as you have just proven," Peter managed. He sat up slowly, exhaling, and he felt Edmund's arms encircle his rib cage and hug him forcefully, holding him much as they had at the train station. Peter understood why, now, and he felt tears sting his eyes as his arms went around Edmund in return. For a moment he was back in their bomb shelter during the worst of the London air raids, when Edmund, terrified and so much younger, would stop trying to be brave and unashamedly cling to him.

"While the Just King lives, I am his sword," Peter murmured to him again, aloud this time. "Oh, Edmund. Was it so hard for you without me, then?"

Edmund's voice was muffled against Peter's chest, but Peter still heard the crack in it.

"There were times," Edmund whispered, "when you felt so far away that all I could think about was every occasion in Narnia when we had all almost lost you. During the darker parts of the voyage, the dreams started coming back. Accepting Rhindon – carrying Rhindon would have made them too real."

Peter hugged Edmund more tightly. He, too, often had dreams in which each and every close battle and frightening injury became a nightmare of death and loss. They had both learned to cope with those painful visions when they occurred, but being in one another's company was still the most effective way to alleviate their subconscious fears. To be in Coombe Halt and Cambridge instead of together in Finchley had been bad enough; for Edmund to go to Narnia without him made the distance between them feel even greater, though Peter knew that such distances were nothing if Aslan willed it.

"Edmund, had anything happened to me, no one would have asked you to be anyone other than the king you were," Peter said gently. "It was your diplomacy that protected Narnia just as often as my decision making. There were four of us for a reason; we all contributed different strengths to our country. I never feared for myself because I knew that you and the girls would be there to keep our home safe and prosperous. You are my brother, whom I trust above all others, and you have always had the strengths that I lack."

Peter let go of Edmund but did not pull away. He put his hands on Edmund's shoulders, forcing his surprised brother to look at him, trying to convey how deeply he felt what he was saying. "Merely because you do not wish to carry Rhindon, because you see it as mine and mine alone, does not mean that you are unworthy of it, or that you could not wield it for Narnia as I did, Edmund," Peter said, his voice steady and sure. "You brandished it in my defense many times."

"In your defense, yes. In your defense, always," Edmund said fiercely. His hold on Peter had loosened temporarily, but he strengthened his grip again as he spoke, and his eyes were wet. "I even held it in keeping now and then, until I could bring it back to you. My constant purpose was to protect you and so protect Narnia, to prevent your death and therefore keep the heart of Narnia safe. I pledged myself to you as my brother and my king, and to carry Rhindon as though it were my own goes against everything I hold dear, unless you should be –"

Here Edmund stopped, swallowing the lump in his throat and trying desperately to keep his tears from falling. He could not finish the thought aloud, but Peter knew its ending, and he reached up to frame Edmund's face with his hands.

"You never need fear my absence or even my death, brother mine," Peter said tenderly. "Do you not know by now that I am here?" and he pressed one hand to Edmund's shirt, just over his heart, leaving the other resting on his cheek. "You did not lose me then, and you will not lose me now. I am with you always. As for Narnia, she is as much a part of us as we are a part of her. We bring Narnia with us wherever we are. Surely Aslan told you as much before you came home."

"He did," Edmund acknowledged quietly, his brown eyes still troubled. "I trust that it is so, and I will do my best to make it so. But Peter - we have always been each other's balance, and without you it was as though half my consciousness was missing."

Peter nodded in understanding, and Edmund could see his own sadness reflected in Peter's gaze. He knew that he didn't have to explain, knew that Peter felt as he did. They sat in silence for a few minutes, contemplating the unique bond they shared as brothers, kings, and warriors.

"Narnia is home, and there is nowhere I would rather be," Edmund said finally, almost inaudibly. "But it wasn't the same without you. Caspian is family, but he cannot replace you. My equilibrium was gone. I wasn't at all sure how to find it again."

As Edmund looked up, he could see the profound emotion in Peter's eyes, but he was caught off-guard by the slight smirk on his brother's features. He raised his eyebrows in curiosity.

"Which is why you accepted Rhindon the second time Caspian offered it to you," Peter stated, the twinkle in his eyes unmistakable.

Edmund's assessing look turned into a flabbergasted stare, and Peter began to laugh.

"I clearly need to brush up on my brother-reading skills," Edmund reproached himself, which made Peter laugh more. "Either that or I've become rubbish at concealing information, which would be truly a sad state of affairs when one considers that it was one of my most valuable abilities."

Peter's shoulders were still shaking with amusement as he answered. "Forgive me, Ed. It's great fun to do that to you. Don't worry about your diplomatic and spying expertise; you gave away just enough earlier that I could put the pieces together."

He became serious again as he ran a hand through Edmund's hair. "You are not accustomed to being guarded around me, and thank the Lion for it. I am profoundly thankful if Rhindon allowed you to feel that I was with you."

"Aslan, we praise you for your blessings and your mercy," Edmund responded, giving Peter a grateful glance.

Peter could see the humor lurking around the edges of his brother's solemnity and was satisfied. He had wanted to give them both some momentary relief from the emotional turmoil of the last few minutes, and his unexpected jump into Edmund's narrative had lessened the somber mood.

Edmund propped himself against the wall, laying one arm across his upraised knee and leaving the other arm at his side, slowly drumming his fingers against the coverlet. "You are right," he acknowledged. "It was after we had departed from Coriakin's island, just before we reached Dark Island. Caspian brought Rhindon to me again and convinced me to accept it. He said – he said you would have wanted me to have it," Edmund confessed a bit shyly.

"I would have," Peter agreed solemnly. "Caspian has every right to it as king of Narnia, but I would always wish for you to have it, if you are there and I am not. I am sure Caspian understood that. There is no one I would trust Rhindon to more readily than to you." Peter was not about to let Edmund forget that he had been – that he was – Narnia's second king. In Peter's opinion, his brother was perhaps even more worthy of being king than Peter himself, precisely because of everything that he had been through, everything that made him the fair and compassionate judge he was.

"Something was telling me to take it, and thank Aslan I did," Edmund said, reaching out to clasp Peter's hand. "I'm not sure I would have made it through Dark Island otherwise."

"You saw Jadis – or were afraid to see her," Peter stated carefully.

For the second time in their conversation, Edmund's complexion drained of all color, and he tightened his lips against the memory, confirming Peter's words. "Yes," he said unsteadily. "Aslan help me, I saw her, and without the strength that Rhindon gave to me, I might have been lost."

Peter scarcely dared to breathe; Edmund was clinging to his fingers as though to a life raft.

"You have to understand what that place did to one's mind, Peter," Edmund said, turning a pleading face to his brother. "Lord Rhoop looked like an utter madman when we pulled him out of the water, and no wonder; I can't imagine how he managed to stay sane after years of running from his most terrible imaginings. It was like being alone in a dark cell, even with so many other people on the deck. I heard Eustace, and Rhince, and even Caspian talking to themselves, convinced that their worst fears were climbing aboard the ship, but everything was muffled, as if we were all underwater instead of sailing on it. Lucy was up in the fighting top or I might have looked to her for comfort, but as it was I couldn't move. I was trying with everything I had to hold on to you, and Lu, and Aslan – but everything was so cold – and then she was in front of me."

Edmund was physically shaking now, and the look in his eyes was heartbreaking to Peter. Edmund knew what it was like to be held in a dungeon and be cold to the bone, to be tied up and beaten and afraid. If Dark Island had resurrected those feelings for him, then Peter could only wish that it would disappear forever, taking Jadis and all of her evil with it.

"I was so shocked that I drew Rhindon almost without thought," Edmund went on. "One part of my mind could hardly believe what I was seeing, while some other part of me knew that Dark Island was capable of making Jadis and her magic very real again. She began . . . coaxing me, in the same old way, promising to let me rule if I would join her. When I refused, saying she was dead, she started taunting me with the idea that she would always be alive – she would live in me, in my memory."

Peter tightened his grip, hardly caring that their hands were now half numb. His protective instincts had gone into overdrive. Picturing Edmund facing the woman who had wanted nothing more than to use him for her own ends and kill him made Peter feel as though he was at Beruna all over again.

"By Aslan, Ed, didn't anyone notice?" he whispered in distress. "Surely someone would have seen –"

"You would have noticed, Peter," Edmund said gently, a small smile touching his lips, "but as for anyone else, what was there to see? King Edmund talking to the empty air? Brandishing a sword into the blackness? Even if someone did observe me, I doubt there was anything that could have been done to help. I think that whatever magic Dark Island possesses, it excels at isolating each and every person who is unlucky enough to wander within its boundaries. We were all terrified; we were all struggling to hold on to the idea that we could still get out."

"What happened?" Peter asked apprehensively.

Edmund hesitated, then, "I thought of you," he said simply. "Of you, and of Aslan. I was holding Rhindon, the sword wielded by my brother the High King, the sword that has protected Narnia a thousand times over. I knew with absolute certainty that Jadis held no power over me anymore. I am Edmund the Just, whom Aslan forgave and blessed. I am loved by my subjects, my sisters, by Aslan, and by you, Peter. I need nothing else."

"Nor do I," Peter replied softly, the words wavering just a bit. Edmund's utter faith in his love and protection always humbled him – and made him all the more determined to be worthy of such trust. "Sword and shield, side by side and back to back always, Edmund."

"I know," Edmund answered, giving him a genuine smile – the first truly content smile Peter had seen since Edmund had come home. "I know, Peter. For each other, and for Narnia."

Peter's answering smile was as warm as the late afternoon sunshine pouring through the window and enveloping them both. "For Narnia, and for Aslan."