Disclaimer: Edmund and Peter Pevensie and all the characters and situations in the Chronicles of Narnia belong to C. S. Lewis and not to me.
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Edmund urged his horse over the last rise, the thought of seeing home again the only thing giving him strength enough to press on. Four months. Four months since the gleaming jewel of the eastern sea, Cair Paravel, had come into his eager view, four months since he had left home behind him, and he'd hungered to see it every hour of every day since.
He had spent the summer battling renegade dwarfs and a ragged collection of Hags and Fell Beasts in Lantern Waste, an action that had been expected to take no more than a week or two. But the enemy forces had proved at least four-fold stronger than expected. Most of the army had gone with Peter into the North a month before, once again to put down a giantish uprising, and Edmund's troops had not really been sufficient for the task at hand.
They had fought on as best they could until, three weeks ago, Edmund had received word that Peter had been gravely wounded in Ettinsmoor. But the Falcon who had served as messenger had assured Edmund that Peter's campaign had been successful and that Peter himself had been brought home and healed with a drop of Lucy's cordial. So Edmund had resisted the urge to rush back to the Cair and stayed with his battered forces, enduring the heat and the lack of anything but the most basic comforts, enduring the ache of being away from home and family, enduring the fear that perhaps his stubborn, insanely brave brother was somehow not as well as he had been told.
Now he urged his horse down the last slope that led to the castle gates, pitying the poor dumb beast, pitying the near-silent soldiers that limped after him burdened with loss rather than buoyed with victory. And truly, there had been no victory, merely staggering casualties and a grudging retreat by both sides. Edmund's army had driven the enemy back into hiding at least for the time being, but that was the most he could claim. He would not be returning home to a hero's welcome.
It didn't matter. He would be returning home. Lucy would beam at him, near drowning him with joy just to have him back. Susan would fuss over him and at him, especially when she saw he had left his reasonably minor injuries with only minimal treatment. And Peter–
How Edmund had missed his brother. Missed him still. Despite Lucy's occasional martial ventures, the girls, and may it ever be so, didn't really understand what war was like, the fear and the pain and the guilt, the fierce, burning need to survive and thrive that drove blade and body beyond endurance. They weren't intimately acquainted with the shuddering emptiness it left behind once the fighting was done. Peter knew. Peter knew the sick terror that came afterwards in the choking darkness of the night. In the ten years since Beruna, they had shaken each other free from the icy grip of nightmares more times than either of them could count. They had wet each other's shoulders with hot tears and had both offered and received the comfort of strong arms and soothing words, proof they were neither of them lost alone.
In any campaign without Peter, Edmund tended to forego sleep almost entirely rather than risk being trapped, helpless within the horrors of his dreams. Now, at last, he was home. Now, at last, he could really sleep.
He felt a surge of fresh energy when he saw two willowy figures waving at him from the near tower. Well, the black-haired one in silver and violet was waving. The blonde, nearly as tall as the other, was bouncing up and down, the dagged sleeves of her crimson gown fluttering like gryphon feathers in the wind.
He stood in his stirrups and waved his cap, smiling more than he had since he had left home what must be ages ago now. Then he spurred his tired horse into a canter and headed for the courtyard. In another moment, he was hurrying up the steps up to the tower where he had seen his sisters, and he could hear them laughing and chattering as they rushed down to him.
A flash of crimson velvet and golden hair shot into his arms, almost bowling him over and back down the steps.
He chuckled as she covered his cheeks and nose with light little smacking kisses, not minding that her grip on his upper arm was more than a little painful. He was home, and he was glad.
"Oh, Edmund. You're back at last."
She nestled against him, tucking her head under his chin, and he wrapped his arms around her with a sigh.
"At last, Lu. Sorry you're not happy to see me."
She giggled and looked over at Susan. "Told you so."
He raised one eyebrow at his older sister, and she gave him her usual serene smile, but there was an extra gleam of pleasure in it.
"I thought you'd finished growing, but Lucy was right after all. You are taller." She pulled him away from their younger sister and gave him a maternal looking over before kissing his cheek and gathering him into her arms. "You're still too thin, but you'll be as tall as Peter in time or nearly, I shouldn't wonder."
"I'm not thin, I'm wiry. Athletic. Tough." He laughed, knowing ten years of soldiering had put solid muscle on his lean frame. "And I'll never be as tall as Peter if I live to be five hundred. I've given up hope."
Her affectionate squeeze caught him off guard and he winced.
She pushed him back from her again, blue eyes narrowed. "Where is it this time?"
"It's nothing. Where's Peter?"
He rolled his eyes. "I've been at war for four months, Su. Did you think I wouldn't be a little bruised up?"
"Your idea of 'a little bruised up' is anything short of a limb missing."
Lucy giggled and took his arm. "Give him at least five minutes peace before you start scolding, Susan."
Susan gave her sister a stern look, but her face softened as she took Edmund's other arm. "Will it please His Majesty to refresh himself before dinner?"
He smiled still, but his smile was tinged with uncertainty. "Su, where's Peter? The Falcon told me his wounds had been healed. He's not–"
"He's fine." She patted his arm and drew him down the steps and towards the corridor that led to their private chambers. "He's been busy, that's all."
"Oh." Edmund shrugged a little. "I expected he would be. Just, he usually– Well, I guess he has a lot on his mind."
"He wants to see you," Susan soothed. "He's just been working too hard, as always."
Edmund nodded, and Lucy squeezed his arm, snuggling against him. "We missed you. All of us."
He stopped to pull her close again, nuzzling a kiss into her sweet-smelling hair. Dear Lu. She was a badger when it came to those she loved. She hung on.
From somewhere ahead of him, there came a laugh, a rich, warm laugh, and he looked up. There was nothing but life and strength in that laugh, and Edmund felt some of his anxiousness ease. Bless Lucy and Father Christmas and Aslan, Peter was well.
His sisters exchanged a smile and both urged him down the corridor. With a grin, he sprinted away from them.
His grin widened when he heard his brother's laugh again. A small thing, a laugh, but he hadn't realized how much he'd missed it these months away. He hadn't realized quite how much he'd feared never to hear it again.
"Peter! Peter, I– "
He skidded to a halt just inside his brother's private study. Yes, Peter was there, golden and magnificent as always, hale and whole and obviously in good spirits. He was also not alone.
Edmund composed himself and bowed. "Your pardon, Your Majesty. I was unaware you were occupied."
Peter grinned at him. "There you are. No need for formality. Come in and meet Sir Gilfrey Becke. Gil, my brother, Ed."
The man standing at the window next to Peter was dark of hair and eye, nearly as lanky as Edmund, nearly as tall, perhaps six or seven years older. Like his attire, the knight's graceful bow was elegant and understated.
"It is a great honor to meet you at last, King Edmund. My lord the High King speaks of little else."
Edmund couldn't suppress a subtly pleased glance at his brother as he bowed in return. "The honor is mine, Sir Gilfrey. I pray you pardon my unseemly interruption. I've been long from home and, hearing my brother had been sorely wounded in Ettinsmoor–"
"And saved from death and brought home and put right again." Peter put his hand on Gilfrey's shoulder. "Thanks to our loyal knight here."
Again Gilfrey bowed. "Your High Majesty lays on more praise than my poor deeds will bear. I merely chanced to be present and, at that moment, best able to lend my aid."
Edmund swallowed down the tightness in his throat. "How bad was it?"
Peter shrugged. "Bad enough, Ed. If you like still having a brother, you ought to thank Gil. If he hadn't been there– Well, you know how it is."
Edmund did know. He knew, and he should have been there himself, not separated from his brother by half a kingdom.
"I ought to have gone with you, Peter. You should have sent someone else to Lantern Waste."
"We were just talking about that." Peter's expression tightened. "What happened out there, Ed?"
Edmund sighed as all the weary weight of that last campaign settled back onto his shoulders. "I assume you've read the reports. Things . . . didn't go well."
He rubbed his eyes, trying to blot out the sight of soldiers– friends– who had been cut down. Too many. Far too many.
Peter crossed his arms over his chest. "Why not? What was it this time"
Edmund winced at the edge in his brother's voice. This wasn't his first failure, especially recently, and he knew Peter hated to lose any troops. He knew Peter hated to lose at all. But war was risk. Peter knew that.
"The intelligence was bad," Edmund told him. "There were many more Fell Beasts than we expected. Most of the army was with you in the North, and we really weren't–"
"Yes, I read all that in your dispatches. But you were meant to take care of it. I sent you, not someone else."
There was a hardness in Peter's eyes, something that had been there only rarely before and almost never directed at Edmund. At least not since they had left that Other Place half Edmund's lifetime ago.
Edmund had been expecting comfort, sympathy, concern, welcome, nearly anything but this reproof. After being separated? After struggling so hard and risking death at every turn? After four months?
"I'm– I'm sorry."
He had to fight the urge to drop his head and slink away. There was nothing worse than knowing Peter was disappointed in him. Nothing.
It was Sir Gilfrey who finally broke the taut silence. "Please, My King. I'm certain your brother did as best he was able."
Peter's face softened and he rubbed one side of his head. "Sorry, Ed. I'm not quite myself today." He smiled and clapped Edmund on the back. "Buck up, brother mine. We'll get it all sorted."
Edmund nodded and gave him a tight little smile, too, making sure not to flinch even though Peter had happened to catch his shoulder right where it hurt the worst. There was no need to start a whole new round of recriminations at this point. "Of course."
Peter squeezed that same shoulder, jostling it a little, obviously meaning to smooth things over, and Edmund had to hold back a grimace.
"I'm glad you're home, Ed. None the worse for wear?"
"I'm just a little tired."
"I thought as much. And skinny as ever."
This was comfortingly familiar territory, and Edmund made a show of scowling at him. "Wiry, not skinny. Agile. Lean."
"All right. All right." Peter chuckled and turned him towards the door. "I'm sure there's a nice bath and fresh clothes and a few hours rest in a real bed waiting for you. We'll talk at supper, yes?"
It was dismissal.
"Of course." Edmund turned to Gilfrey once more, refusing to allow even a glimmer of pain into his eyes. "I thank you, good Sir Knight, for my brother's life. There is nothing in all Narnia I hold more dear."
Again the Knight's bow was all grace and elegance. "I am honored to have been of service, King Edmund."
Steeling himself, Edmund once again turned to his brother. "You will be at supper, won't you?"
Peter smirked. "Sure I will. But it won't do much good me being there if you're falling asleep in your soup. Now go on. Get cleaned up and get some sleep. We'll talk tonight."
It was dismissal.
With a hurried bow, Edmund left the room, hearing behind him the start of a conversation into which he was not invited, and once again, a warm, golden laugh.
He walked more and more quickly away from the sound, almost running, determined to reach the privacy of his own chambers before he was no longer able to master the emotions that threatened to master him. It wasn't until he had peeled off his travel-stained clothing and sunk his aching body in the waiting tub of hot water that he stopped struggling and let the tears come. Like rain on the ocean, they'd never be noticed.
Many, many thanks to OldFashionedGirl95 for her suggestions, critiques, infinite patience and constant encouragement. Bless you, dear one!
If you want more of this story, dear reader, please review. It helps me write faster.
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