A/N: I am extremely sorry for not updating this in so long! School leaves no time for writing, and I just haven't been able to get much inspiration lately. But here is the next chapter-thank you so much for your patience!
"What d'you reckon, Ed?"
Edmund sniffed and squinted across the smooth battlefield at the threatening mass of Calormene forces, the Narnians and Archenlanders assembled, tense and silent in the still air, behind them. "It's bloody freezing, Peter. I reckon we need to rescue Lucy as soon as we can and finish this whole thing quickly."
Their armour gleamed in the frosty winter sunlight and next to them, Oreius stamped his hooves impatiently.
"I do not consider this waiting necessary, Majesties. The Calormenes will not wish to negotiate. They think their victory as good as won."
"Yes, well," Peter replied wearily, "If there is any chance that we could avoid a fight today, I'd take it."
"Rubbish, Peter!" Edmund snapped, irked. "We have to take our vengeance. We cannot allow them to think that they can simply kidnap one of our own and then have us give in to anything they demand in return!"
"I didn't say that I would give in to anything they demanded!" Peter snarled unexpectedly viciously, without looking at Edmund. "I said that I wanted to avoid a fight, and so would you if you'd been on campaign already for months, so don't be so bloody righteous about it! And I would like to spare my troops. I've asked far too much of them already. They've been to hell, but I know they'd do it again if I asked them to. We all would, for Lucy."
Edmund winced in the tight silence that followed, as Oreius pretended to be oblivious.
"You're right, Pete."
When Peter's chilly demeanour didn't thaw, he continued quietly.
Peter relaxed and nodded his acceptance, a smile flitting tiredly across his face to assure Edmund that he was no longer angry, though he still did not look at his brother, preferring instead to survey the rolling stretch of grass before them that would soon be their battle ground. Edmund scrutinised him rigorously from the side, noticing how his brother's frame was drooped with exhaustion, the slight clench in his jaw that told him Peter was in pain, probably from injuries sustained in the north, and the grime from the hard campaign ingrained into his skin. He frowned. Peter was in no good shape to fight, and he was about to voice his concern when they noticed an unarmed Calormene herald with a ridiculously large moustache and dripping with gaudy golden jewellery trudging towards them.
"The esteemed Mukil Tarkhaan sends his greetings," he called breathlessly to them. "And requests that Peter the Magnificent come to parley with him on the matter of his hostage."
The two Kings glanced simultaneously towards the middle of the battlefield, where a dark, hulking figure flanked by guards gripped a pale slip of a girl in a filthy white nightdress.
"Lucy," Edmund breathed, and saw Peter's gaze dart to him for a second before he turned to address the portly messenger in one of his haughtiest High King voices.
"Very well. We shall parley with your master, and we shall have our honoured brother-King and our trusted General accompany us to offer their input."
"No, Your Magnificence." The messenger's voice was unctuous, but carried a sharp undertone.
Peter cocked an imperious eyebrow at the messenger, drawing out his enquiry with a hint of threat, training a calm but intensely penetrating gaze on him. Rugged and battered as he was from his gruelling campaign and considerably taller than the Calormene, Edmund knew how intimidating Peter must have appeared to him then, and had to hide a grim smirk as he cowered a little.
"N-No. The most excellent Mukil Tarkhaan requests that the High King of Narnia parley with him alone...and unarmed."
Edmund watched his brother consider this, insides constricting with worry. After a moment, without breaking his stare into the herald's eyes, Peter brusquely unfastened his sword belt and thrust Rhindon into Edmund's chest, who clasped the scabbard strongly, glowering at the little man. His shield and a mean set of throwing daggers were given over to Oreius.
"I am ready. Take me to your master," Peter commanded mildly. As he strode out towards the middle of the battlefield after the herald, a slight limp still detectable in his gait, Edmund exchanged a tense look with Oreius.
Susan watched from the higher ground above the battlefield, bow in hand, as a Narnian figure she recognised as Peter started out from the front rank towards the party of Calormenes in the centre of the battlefield. The wind whipped through her skirts and they flapped inconveniently around her legs and her short hair, as she was now unable to braid it as she always used to when going into battle, flew continuously into her face. Irritated, she snatched a lock out of her eyes and shoved it behind her ear. There was nothing worse for archery than having her eyes pricked at and her vision obstructed by her own hair. Rook, positioned next to her, shifted skittishly from foot to foot.
"What's he doing, Your Majesty? Why is Peter going to talk to them?"
"It's called a 'parley,' Rook," Susan answered distractedly. "At least, that's what I think they're doing. It's where two opposing sides meet to discuss things, usually terms of an agreement. In this case, to negotiate with Queen Lucy, I imagine."
Rook's brow wrinkled in confusion. "Negotiate with Queen Lucy? I thought she was on our side."
"She is. She's a hostage. A bargaining chip, if you like. The Calormenes know we want her back desperately, so they'll try and get something from us in return for her."
"Oh." Rook sounded uncertain. "I thought we were going to fight a battle to get her back."
Susan turned to him to at last give him her full attention, and smiled ruefully at him. Rook trembled with adoration.
"We will, most likely. The Calormenes will ask for something that we cannot give, and so we will fight."
"Greetings, High King!" boomed the colossal Calormene that Peter took to be Mukil Tarkhaan. He could feel Lucy's gaze on him, burning him with all the fire of the sun, but he knew that if he looked at her what was left of his clear-headed reason would be swallowed by a blistering rage against any who dared to harm her and he risked doing something rash.
"Greetings, Mukil Tarkhaan," Peter reciprocated quietly, but matching his enemy in power.
"To business, then! I have your girl," the Tarkhaan gloated, shaking the ragged, pale form whose wrist was clamped in his meaty fist, like a fragile, crumpled autumn leaf. A single twist of that fist could snap Lucy's thin wrist with monstrous ease. "Your Valiant Queen. For her return to you, I demand that all your soldiers lay down their weapons!"
"You demand that which we cannot give, Tarkhaan. You demand that we allow you to invade Archenland, a foothold from which you may take Narnia. You may as well have asked for my crown and King Lune's to be laid at your feet."
"Precisely, King," Mukil sneered. "Will you allow your precious little Queen to die for your obstinacy? She could, you know. It would be so easy."
Releasing Lucy's wrist, he snatched up a handful of her tangled hair and wrenched her head back so that the white stretch of her neck was exposed. One of his guards handed him a slender dagger, which he settled on Lucy's neck. She trembled to feel the cold line. Even a hint of pressure, and her blood would be spilt. Aslan, she thought. Aslan.
If she looked down her nose, she could just about see Peter. His face was schooled into blankness and he had yet to even look at her. She had seen his limp as he had approached them and bloodied bandages peeked out from under plates of dented armour. He carried with him a thick air of uncharacteristic defeat. Even if she hadn't been able to read the most minute details of his body language and facial expressions, it was clear that he was injured and in pain. Lucy frowned slightly, feeling curiously calm despite the blade at her neck. This wasn't like Peter, he didn't behave this way. She had known him to walk miles on a broken leg with barely a wince. He had been to the brink of starvation without the slightest complaint. Peter carried on until he collapsed, it was one of the fundamentals of his character, and the cause of much frustration on the part of his siblings. Yet here he was, making his weakness apparent in front of one of those to whom he was always most impenetrable, their enemies. It was then that she caught it-the tiny narrowing of his eyes, the flash of calculation. Suddenly, she did not feel quite so frightened of the Tarkhaan or disorientated by Peter's behaviour. Peter, she reminded herself, though he did not have Edmund's deviousness, was far from blunderingly open.
"Such a breakable little girl," the Tarkhaan purred at Peter. "One wonders at her title. Mind, I would consider yours a little inappropriate also, King." His eyes swept disdainfully over Peter's filthy skin and battered armour. "So, what say you? You can have your girl if your soldiers lay down their arms and let us conquer Archenland and Narnia, or you can let her die, and my men will kill every last one of you, and I will take the heads of the four Golden Monarchs of Narnia to hang from the battlements at Cair Paravel."
Mukil pressed the blade closer against her neck, so that a stinging line was cut into Lucy's throat. She gasped, surprised, despite the fact that she had been expecting this. She felt her blood run in a disgustingly hot, thick trickle down her neck.
"Look, King! Look!" Peter looked, following the slow red trail with his eyes, hypnotised by its steady progression down to Lucy's white collarbones. Her blood-his blood-shone in the winter sun, dulling and congealing quickly. Suddenly, with a sharp snap of clarity, he knew his precise course of action.
Peter seemed to crumple in on himself, the weight of the surety of his defeat crushing his seeming bravado. "I see that I have no choice," he murmured, soft and pathetic. "We cannot win here."
With that, he turned to the Narnian and Archenlandish troops and signalled for them to drop their weapons.
On the front line, Edmund let Rhindon clatter to the ground and bitterly flung his own blade down beside it, barely able to believe that Peter had conceded to this. Oreius dropped his broadsword with an aggravated grunt, and the soldiers behind them too let their weapons go with what seemed to be a collective sigh of angry disappointment.
"Our bargain?" Peter said, his voice barely more than a hopeful whisper.
The Tarkhaan laughed nastily, and planted an enormous hand between Lucy's shoulder blades and shoved her towards Peter. She tripped, and strong hands snatched her out of her fall. In a moment she was pressed against Peter, and he took a moment just to clasp her tightly to him. Then he looked up at the Tarkhaan, and his countenance suddenly altered like a change in the weather, from a miserable drizzle to rumbling, furious storm clouds. Gone was his stoop and air of defeat, or any indication of pain. His eyes were cold and clear as he abruptly gave a signal to the troops behind him.
Confused, they glanced at one another uncertainly. This was an unfamiliar signal and there was a flash of panic among them as no one seemed to know what the High King had commanded. But on the hill, Susan's eyes widened at the flutter of Peter's fingers, a movement she knew well. Faster than she could think, an arrow was on her string and she took aim coolly under Rook's bewildered gaze. She breathed in, and out again, settling her aim, then let her string loose and red feathers brushed past her cheek.
A/N: Thank you for reading, and apologies again for the wait! Your comments would be much appreciated.