Chapter One: The Unwelcome Visitor
A squire ran up as the weary rider dismounted.
"Welcome home, sire," he said as he reached for the reins.
"Thank you, Bruno." The rider nodded.
Peter observed the courtyard. The entire court, dryads and nymphs, fauns and centaurs, Beasts and humans-his people, he thought with fierce pride-had come out to welcome the High King home. They stood a respectful distance away, nodding and bowing in greeting. On top of the stairs were his sisters. He looked up at them with affection, but saw something that wiped the grin clean off his face.
A dark haired young man stood between Lucy and Susan, his discomfort visible even to Peter standing below.
The Duke of Lantern Waste.
Mindful of the courtiers, Peter schooled his expression into one of neutrality. Inside, waves of anger were pulsing through him; as the eldest in his absence, it was Susan who should have been standing in the middle, the position traditionally occupied by the High King.
What in Aslan's name is he doing here?
"Welcome home, brother." Susan said. They embraced briefly, keeping some distance between them. Susan nodded to the other two to her left. Edmund gave a stiff bow as Peter passed. The High King's complete lack of response went unnoticed, as Lucy chose the exact same moment to fly into Peter's arms.
He lifted her up and spun her around and around, breaking the somber atmosphere.
"Peter!" she cried, her soprano laugh harmonizing with his bass.
The court cheered and applauded, as though they had been given permission to express emotion. Susan smiled one of her rare smiles. The High King was home and all was merry.
The one person who did not share in the happiness was Duke Edmund. He hung back in the shadows, unsmiling and unnoticed by the others.
"I say, it is good to have you back, Peter."
Lucy sat on Peter's bed, waiting for him finish dressing for the evening.
"I'm glad to be home, too. I've never felt so drained after a campaign."
Tonight, Susan was hosting a formal ball to celebrate Peter's safe return. Peter held up two golden belts for Lucy's inspection. She pointed at the one in Peter's left hand, the one with the golden Lion.
He straightened his blue and gold tunic and began to put on the belt.
"We didn't know what to do," said Lucy, frowning. "When we heard that you had been killed-"
"A careless rumor spread by idle gossipers." Peter said, adjusting the heavy belt. "If the affair had been anything worth reporting home, you would have heard it from one of my men. Have you seen the silver brush?"
"It's there on the drawer. I can't believe you thought an attempt on your life wasn't worth telling us. What happened, exactly? All I've heard are garbled versions told by travelers, each more unlikely than the last."
"We were camping for the night just south of the Shribble River. Someone disguised as a soldier poisoned my wine. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your perspective I suppose, the Terebinthian wine was sent to Orieus's regiment by accident and I received the Archenlanden mead. Two men died on the spot. Someone mentioned seeing a suspicious figure coming out of the supplies wagon where the wine was kept. After investigating, we discovered he'd stolen a horse and ran. The Cats caught his scent and gave chase but he jumped into the river and was swept away by the current. That's it. We never found out who it was or who was behind it."
Lucy's eyes were wide. "But who would want to poison you? The Giants?"
Peter snorted. "They lack the mental agility required to plan such a thing. Whoever went to the trouble of having a man to disguise as a soldier and poison my wine was definitely human."
"You're certain it was a human? Do you have an idea who it was?"
Peter did but he was highly reluctant to voice it aloud to Lucy.
She sighed and leaned back on her arms. "Well, you're home now. All is well that ends well. Susan and I will sleep soundly tonight."
For a while neither of them spoke. The only sound in the room was the sound of Peter polishing his boots. He had valets for this kind of thing, but he preferred to do it himself when he could.
He could see Lucy out of the corner of his eye. She was biting her lip and deciding whether she should say something on her mind. And right now, there could only be one thing on her mind. Don't say it, he silently willed her. Let's not talk about him...
"He-he came three days ago."
Peter threw down the rag.
"So?" He hoped his voice sounded as unfriendly and discouraging as he felt about the subject. But Lucy was not one to be deterred. She could be as stubborn as he was when she wanted to be.
"I think it was because of the rumors. The whole country was in a panic, not knowing whether to believe them or not. If only you'd sent back word saying you were all right-" she glared at her brother but he was oblivious. "I think he wanted to make sure you were-"
"Make sure I was dead?" he supplied.
"No! Make sure you were alive! He told me so himself. You should have seen how frantic he was when he came galloping-"
Peter snorted derisively. "Why would he want me alive? Of course he'd like it if I died. He has everything to gain from it."
And if he was right, Edmund had done much more than come running to Cair Paravel hoping the High King had been assassinated. He'd played an active part in trying to make it happen.
"Peter, it's been so long."
So, she was going to bring the old subject up was she?
"Yes. Six years, in fact. There is no way Edmund and I could ever get along again. And frankly, I can't remember a time when we did."
"Where did all this come from?" Lucy wondered. "It's silly to have all this hate for nothing."
"For nothing? You call betraying your family nothing?"
"He made a mistake, he was young-"
"And you were even younger when you had to join the battle against the Fell Beasts. The army he sent against us."
"Now you're exaggerating Peter," she said furiously.
"Am I?" he yelled, growing red in his anger.
"He wasn't acting of his own free will; he was being kept as a prisoner-"
"I don't think so Lucy. He knew the consequences of his action when he refused Orieus's help and ran back to his precious Jadis. Just as he knew the consequences of betraying me!"
Lucy was nearly in tears.
"He's changed Peter. He's not the same anymore-"
Peter wasn't listening. "He made his wants very clear later on too. When he ran off to rule Lantern Waste all by himself-"
"He didn't, you as good as exiled him there-"
"And I don't understand why he's showed up in my absence, harboring plans against my life no doubt-"
"Peter! On what proof-"
"-when I've good as let him rule his own country for the past five years!"
Peter and Lucy spun around in alarm. Edmund stood just outside the open door.
He looked like he had been standing there for some time.