Hey there y'all! I know it's been almost three years since my last chapter, but I simply lost my writing mojo for this story and even though I was able to come up with so many ideas for the sequel, I just hit a block with this one and couldn't come with anything good. Fortunately, in the week and a half since I graduated from college, I've had nothing but free time to monitor my email for job offers (which are extremely rare for an "inexperienced" college grad looking to work at a news station in a thriving city like Nashville) and return to my fanfic roots. Over the past few days I've been absolutely bursting with new ideas and I'm thrilled to share them with y'all...especially my most loyal readers/reviewers like tinkbooklover and Lunara7!

Disclaimer: I may have lived in cluttered dorm rooms for four years, but I think I would've noticed if someone slipped the rights to the Narnia movies under my door.

"Free me, and I can give you everything you desire," the White Witch promised. "The Narnians, led by you, will defeat the Telmarines; the crown will return to your head; and a certain fae's heart will belong to you...and only you."

Peter could feel his determination shrinking as the implications of Jadis' promise churned around in his mind. He could have his crown back and a gorgeous warrior on his arm without any competition from Caspian or Edmund? Besides, Aslan showed no sign of returning to aid the Narnians, so why not look to another magical source as their secret weapon? However, before Peter could seal the deal, a crack suddenly appeared in the White Witch's stomach and the entire wall of ice soon shattered into a million pieces around a sword. Dyani shielded her face from the shards...but even the noise of the ice block crashing could not muffle the sound of a body thumping to the ground.
Peter's head snapped up to see his younger brother standing in Jadis' place.

"I know," Edmund spoke up as he glared directly at Peter. "You had it sorted."

The High King's face was a combination of regret, humiliation, and anger. However, rather than stick around and sort those emotions out through civil conversation, Peter fled from the room with Trumpkin and Caspian following behind him, each of them battling their own inner demons in the aftermath of the failed resurrection ceremony. Meanwhile, Edmund leaned back against the wall, still in disbelief that after all this time, he finally got to pay the White Witch back for stabbing him in the back (metaphorically and then literally) over 1300 years ago.

"Actually," a new voice added gruffly from the shadowy corners of the room, "I had it sorted."

Those remaining in the chamber nearly jumped in surprise...except for the one who recognized that chilling voice.
"Creeping around in the dark, are you Ivan?" Dyani called toward the figure, her eyes dull with disgust.

"Well, well, well, I stand corrected...it looks like that fiery hair didn't melt your brain after all," the ice fae jeered, still keeping his distance.

"You may call yourself 'the Yeti' but you are nothing more than a cockroach...just like Nix!"

"How dare you speak his name!" Ivan roared. All of a sudden, a blast of polar wind pushed the two fae and the two remaining Pevensie siblings up against the opposite wall.

However, Dyani immediately recognized this as a standard fae defensive maneuver: knock the enemy to the ground so you can safely recharge in the air. Fortunately, with the right projectile, 'overhead' does not equate to 'out of reach'. Despite the cold winds threatening to freeze her eyeballs, Dyani quickly scanned the ceiling for that unmistakable patch of jagged white hair. Once she found her target, the redhead smirked mischievously.
"Cute trick, but how about we level the playing field?"
With that, Dyani hurled numerous fireballs at the airborne Ivan. While that was going on in the center of the room, Orion conjured a canopy of roots to shield the Just King and the Valiant Queen from the fiery embers and singed rocks raining down from the ceiling.

"HA! Is that the best you've got?!" Ivan mocked as he dodged the flaming projectiles with ease, not realizing that he was being backed into a dormant torch.

"No...but this should do the trick."
With a snap of Dyani's fingers, the torch behind Ivan roared to life, burning a large hole clean through his icy white and blue wings. Ivan howled in agony as he plummeted to the ground. Dyani felt a pang of guilt in her chest for her actions - after all, faes were suuposed to be a united species, and as such, purposefully damaging another fae's wings was grounds for immediate and permanent winglessness - but she tried to convince herself that her father would agree with her choice, that abusing one's powers to resurrect the White Witch was a far worse offense than any of her battle tactics. Regardless, out of respect for her village, Dyani approached Ivan with her own weapon at the ready, picked up his dropped sword, smashed the blade against the rock wall...and extended the lonely handle to the frosty fallen fae.
"Last chance to surrender honorably."

Ivan sighed heavily, but eventually he relented and took the grip of his broken sword from Dyani's left hand. "So trusting...just like your daddy."
The redhead's grip tightened angrily, which caused fresh blood to seep out over the edge of the wrapping on her bicep.
All of a sudden, the ice fae smirked darkly. "Unfortunately, that proved to be his downfall, too!"
Ivan's other hand immediately snapped up and spurted a miniature icicle directly at Dyani's wound, which not only punctured her arm, but it also froze the lacerations down to the core. Dyani's grip on her sword slackened and she reared back as she cried out in excruciating pain. Even her boiling blood - caused by her fury at Ivan for attacking her while she was trying to honor the ways of their people - could not thaw the frostbite that had compromised her already-infected wound.

"Dyani!" Edmund hollered as he drew his own blade and prepared to leap into the fray.

"Please, my lord, do not interfere!" the fiery redhead snapped definitively, jutting out her good arm to stop the Pevensie boy in his tracks before turning her head ever so slightly so she could lock eyes with him. "This is my battle...and mine alone."

Meanwhile, Edmund's surprise attack gave Ivan just enough time to use craft an icicle blade as strong as steel but even sharper onto the empty hilt that Dyani had naively returned to him. Then, while the others were distracted, Ivan grabbed Dyani's arm, spun her around to disorient her, then locked one arm around her stomach and the other under her right arm and over her left shoulder
"For once I agree with Sparky. This is purely a fae matter, no need for outsiders," the white-haired warrior jeered as he confidently flourished his handmade weapon near Dyani's throat.

"Unlike Nix's approach?" Dyani teased coyly, realizing that if she was going to die today, she at least wanted her brother to discover the truth behind the death of their family five years ago. Fortunately, the redhead's comment caused Ivan's cockiness to falter and his grip to slacken...which allowed Dyani to jerk her head backwards, slamming him right in the face, and wriggle out of his grasp.

Ivan touched his lip almost dazedly, as if the fact that a younger wingless fae could wound him was illogical. Unfortunately, the shock was quickly replaced by rage after he spit out a mouthful of blood.
"I told you never to speak his name!" the white-haired face roared before he launched himself at Dyani, who barely had the time or the energy to block Ivan's blade with her own. Ivan, however, kept using his anger as well as his height and strength advantage to push his sword closer and closer to Dyani's face.

However, before she could become the victim of an unwanted shave, Dyani kicked Ivan hard in the chest and sent him sliding back a few feet.
"You may see yourself as my superior, Ivan, but not having wings meant I had to spend my years in the village observing everything happening on the ground..."
CLANG!
"...including your father's numerous squabbles with the village Elders followed by sudden absences and suspicious smugness in the days leading up to the attack!"
CLANG, CLANG!
"Despite being a shadow fae, subtlety was not exactly his strong suit."

Ivan scoffed in disdain, but he approached his attack with greater ferocity now. "Such accusations are based on nothing more than the delusions of a ten-year-old fae..."
CLANG, SWISH, CLANG!
"...obsessed with concocting a hare-brained scheme to convince the Elders to give her wings early!"
THUMP!
Ivan overpowered Dyani and knocked her in the head with the butt of his blade, causing the fire fae's knees to buckle. The white-haired teen snatched Dyani's sword from her weak grasp and tossed it aside, completely unaware of its proximity to Lucy.
"Such a shame you will die without ever being able to experience the feeling of flight," Ivan hissed, his icy blade hovering just millimeters away from the base of Dyani's neck.

The redhead panted heavily, desperate to buy herself a little more time to figure out a plan.
"Let me guess...your father wanted his own land and title, but he would never risk leaving his son defenseless in a land at war with itself. As such, he waited until you earned your wings with that ridiculous 'river rescue'-"

"Ridiculous?!" Ivan retorted, the tip of his blade now puncturing Dyani's throat and drawing a pinprick of blood, but she refused to let him see her flinch. If she refused to show fear, Ivan would feel the need to continue justifying his supposed superiority.
Meanwhile, Edmund seethed as every fiber of his body screamed at him to help Dyani. However, Lucy poked her older brother in the side and aimed her eyes in the direction of Dyani's discarded blade. Edmund nodded slightly and his little sister slowly sidled her way along the edge of the cave wall.
"I risked death just to dive under the frozen surface of a rushing river and save one of the Elder's grandchildren from drowning in the rapids or falling over the cliff!"

"Yes and was it not perfectly convenient that a two-year old boy - who had yet to learn how to talk - vanished from his mother's side, toddled through the dense woods, and stumbled upon the one spot on the river where one little jump managed to break a perfect hole in ice thicker than his hand? And you, the one Fae in the entire village with the ability to thrive in sub-freezing temperatures, just happened to be gathering firewood at the time?" Dyani replied with chipper insincerity before rolling her eyes with a scoff. "Psh! Even at age ten I never bought it!"

"Shut up!" Ivan muttered, his voice and his hand starting to waver with emotions.

"What? Are you bitter that your beloved wings were earned through fraud or that your father failed to put as much thought into his betrayal of the Fae as he did your moment of glory?!"

"Nix did what?!" Orion cried out right as Lucy was just within reach of his sister's abandoned weapon. Luckily, Ivan's fury and gaze were focused entirely on Dyani at the moment.

"SHUT UP!" the ice fae roared.
Ivan lowered his icicle blade and instead grabbed Dyani by her throat before literally freezing the others' feet to the cave floor, locking them in knee-high glaciers so they could not defend her and - just out of spite - freezing Orion and Edmund's lips closed so they could not egg her on. However, by getting up in Dyani's face, Ivan failed to notice the young queen stretching as far as she could to reach Dyani's sword...or the redheaded knight reaching into her boot for her hidden dagger.
"Miraz promised him land and a title in exchange for information on the village location! He even offered to spare some of the Fae as long as they remained obedient! But it was all a lie!"
Ivan's fingers wrapped tighter around Dyani's neck as his anger rose.
"Do you know what Miraz said before he cut off my father's head?! 'How can I convince my people that Narnians are extinct if I appoint a fae as a nobleman?!'"

"But why side with The White Queen?" Dyani croaked, her every breath growing more and more raspy.

Ivan cackled wickedly. "Because I want the kind of brutal revenge on Miraz that can only be carried out by dark magic...and while the slight shred of mercy that I inherited from my mother is telling me to offer you one last chance to join my cause on behalf of your family, the rest of me knows trying to corrupt Little Miss Virtuous would be a waste of breath. Speaking of which..."
Ivan squeezed harder, causing Dyani's face to turn blue from a lack of oxygen.
"Any last words, Sparky?"

Dyani felt her fingers wrap around the hilt of her hidden dagger and locked her gold eyes on Ivan's icy blue ones.
"You're wrong about me, Blizzard-Brain," the fire fae choked out with as much snark as she could muster. "I will avenge my family, but I will do it the right way...like this!"
Dyani thrust her knife right into Ivan's gut through the gap in his armor. The ice fae wailed a string of fae curses before he instinctively released Dyani's throat to stumble away and press his hands against his wound. Dyani gasped loudly and fell to her hands, her lungs finally free to breathe again. However, she could only enjoy the fresh air for a few seconds before Ivan's adrenaline rush kicked in. He charged at Dyani with his ice sword, but she dropped her knife back in her boot and caught his blade in her hands. Despite her slim energy reserves and the deepening slashes in her palms from the sharp edges of the icicle cutting through her red fingerless gloves, Dyani smirked up at her opponent.
"I probably should have warned you about this earlier," Dyani spoke up, her voice strained from physical and magical exertion, "but the only fae to ever defeat me in close combat was my brother Kai. And while water may douse fire, fire melts ice every time!"
Dyani channeled every remaining shred of magic into melting the bloody blade clutched in her bloodier hands. Within seconds, Ivan's deadly weapon was nothing more than a puddle on the floor and Ivan was left injured and defenseless.
"Orion, now!"

The earth fae's eyes lit up bright green as he let out a stifled battle cry, slapped his hands together over his head, and summoned the roots of the strongest trees he could to snake around Ivan's ankles and elbows then pin him up against the opposite wall. Dyani, who was covered in dirt and blood from head to toe, used her anger to summon one last fireball as she stared down the winged traitor.

For a moment, Ivan actually looked terrified. However, his terror quickly turned to smugness as he realized one last way to undermine Dyani: egging her into killing a defenseless comrade so that nobody in the army would ever trust her again.
"Do it! Come on, do it!" Ivan demanded. "Make your daddy proud!"
However, at the mention of her father, Dyani suddenly thought of her mother and what would make her proud. With a deep breath, Dyani snuffed out her flame and walked away.
"What are you doing?!" Ivan sputtered. "Leaving without ensuring your enemy's death?! Are you a fae or a flower nymph?!"

Dyani bent down to pick up Ivan's sword hilt, which was now bladeless, warped, and essentially useless after being broken and melted.
"There has been too much death among our people," she murmured as her tears left sizzling tracks down her cheeks. With that, the fire fae stood up, approached the incapacitated ice fae, placed the harmless hilt at his feet, and nodded for Orion to retract the roots.
"I will never forgive you for your treason, and if I meet you in battle again, I can assure you I will not be so merciful," Dyani swore as she loomed over Ivan's crumpled form on the floor. "However, today I am giving you the chance to run away from this place and spend the rest of your life knowing that you failed in your mission...so scram!"
The phoenix knight turned on her heel to help her brother and her royal companions break through Ivan's icy restraints, unable to hide her blush upon seeing the admiration shining in Edmund's eyes. Unfortunately, the yeti knight was too proud and too enraged to accept defeat. He snatched up his sword handle - which still had a small steel shard remaining - and charged at Dyani.

"BEHIND YOU!" Edmund cried out, his voice muffled because of his frozen lips but his panicked eyes getting the message across.

The redhead quickly ripped her gold chakrams from her belt and used the flat side of the rings to catch Ivan's jab before it punctured the back of her neck. She then jerked the chakrams upward to knock him off balance as she knocked him right in his abdominal stab wound with a backwards kick.

"Dyani, catch!" Lucy hollered as she threw the knight's sword to its rightful owner.

Dyani let go of her chakrams, snatched the sword from the air, pivoted around, and slashed Ivan across the throat. The winter fae collapsed to the ground, his white hair now turning red from the volume of blood spilling across the floor. With their source of power now dead, the frozen shackles and muzzles shattered, allowing Ivan's three captives to race out to Dyani's side. Despite her years tending to those wounded in war, Lucy still gasped at the sight of Ivan's head quite literally hanging by a fleshy thread on his neck. Orion quickly wrapped his arms around the brunette girl and allowed her to bury her face in his chest so she would not have to stare at the gory sight.

Edmund, however, could not take his eyes off Ivan's corpse. "I thought you said-"

"I gave him his chance to live, he preferred death. I cannot be blamed for his choices," Dyani stated, her voice void of emotion. However, her steely tone could not disguise the fact that her skin had paled to a sickly shade. Her sword slipped from her trembling fingers and clattered on the ground.

The sound of steel on rock snapped Edmund out of his stupor, allowing him to focus his gaze on Dyani and inspect her physical state. "Dyani, maybe you should-"

"I'm fine!" the phoenix knight quickly insisted, shaking her head in an attempt to reorient her vision before she sluggishly walked toward the exit. "I just need some fresh..."
But due to the effects of her infected wound combined with significant recent blood loss from her arm, her throat, and her sliced palms; the magical and physical exertion in battle; and her fading adrenaline, Dyani fainted mid-sentence and mid-step.

"Dyani!" Edmund exclaimed as he lunged forward to catch the fire fae before she hit the ground.
He laid her on the floor as gently as possible before he rapidly unfastened her armor to help her breathe. However, as soon as he removed the outer layers, Edmund noticed that the entire left sleeve of Dyani's white blouse was now the same scarlet shade as the ribbon she had used to wrap her arm after the bear attack. The dark-haired boy plucked Dyani's hidden dagger from her boot - still stained with Ivan's blood - and cut off her sleeve to find that unlike the rest of her pallor complexion, her left bicep was a hideous mixture of black, yellow, and red from a frostbitten infection.
"Lucy, we need your cordial!"

The Valiant Queen immediately pulled her firefly juice from its holster and bent down to pour a few drops into Dyani's mouth, but the redhead was conscious enough to seal her lips and turn her head away.
"N-No, my lady!" Dyani mumbled. "Th-There are soldiers wh-who need it more than I-I do."

"She can spare a drop or two for our protector, especially when that protector is just minutes away from losing an arm to tissue necrosis," Edmund insisted in a pointed yet concerned tone.

After a few more weak protests, Dyani finally ran out of energy and Lucy finally managed to administer some of her miracle medicine. However, at that moment, Susan and Peter returned to the room to look for their younger siblings...only to find Ivan's nearly-decapitated corpse lying a few feet away from a semi-conscious Dyani.
"What in the name of-" Susan sputtered, her eyes wide with bewilderment.

"It was all Ivan!" Lucy interjected. "He was helping Nikabrik resurrect the White Witch a-and then he attacked Dyani! Sh-She tried to spare him, but he gave her no choice and-"

"Ed! Why didn't you stop her, or at least protect her?!" Peter scolded before kneeling beside the fallen fae and taking her hand in his own. "I'm so sorry, Dyani! I can assure you that if I were here, I never would have let you fight him alone!"

"Cough, cough! Let me?!" Dyani choked out, the fire returning to her golden eyes as she yanked her hand from Peter's grip and instinctively leaned closer to Edmund.

"Knock it off, Pete!" Edmund responded bitterly, squeezing the redhead's shoulder in comfort before gazing at her with a look of genuine admiration. "Dyani is a talented knight, and I have complete faith in her skills! Besides, this was clearly her fight and I respected that!"

The two brothers stood up and continued bickering until the older sister finally had enough.
"BOYS!" Susan cut in as loudly as possible. "What Dyani needs at the moment is rest. Edmund, why don't you escort her to Trufflehunter while the rest of us take care of Ivan's body?"

Peter crossed his arms with a huff, clearly displeased that he had been demoted from heroic king to gravedigger. Meanwhile, Edmund shifted to Dyani's right side, carefully wrapped her good arm around the back of his neck, and lifted her to her feet. Unfortunately, her legs were still too weak to support her weight, so Edmund instead picked her up and carried her bridal style while Orion gathered his sister's weapons and followed closely behind.
"Is this okay?" the Just King asked with an anxious grin.

Dyani smiled softly, her ears turning red from the warmth of being cradled in Edmund's arms. "More than okay," she murmured happily as she rested her head against the king's quickening heart.

After Edmund brought Dyani to the resident caretaker and the others all filed out with Ivan's remains, Peter slumped down behind the broken Stone Table and stared wistfully at the carving of Aslan on the wall...until Lucy sat down to join him.
"You're lucky, you know," the blonde king spoke up out of nowhere.

"What do you mean?" the thirteen-year-old questioned innocently.

"To have seen him," Peter stated, his eyes glowing with a mixture of nostalgia and envy. "I wish he'd just given me some sort of proof."

"Maybe we're the ones who need to prove ourselves to him," Lucy proposed as she rubbed her older brother's arm comfortingly.

Before Peter could put much thought into Lucy's words, Susan strode back into the room with a tense expression on her face. "Pete...you'd better come quickly."

The three Pevensies rushed up to one of the patrol posts to find Caspian waiting for them while other Narnians gathered at the base entrance, all curious about the cause of the commotion. Even from a distance, anyone could discern the Telmarine military storming out from the woods with hundreds of soldiers and at least four trebuchets. From the center of the armed clusters emerged a man on a decorated white horse with bronze armor and a more ornate metal face mask than any other officer.

"It seems the new king has decided to grade us with his presence," Caspian's royal tutor drawled in a distinctly Narnian accent.

Peter seethed as his grip tightened around the lion's head on the hilt of his blade. "Not if this king has anything to say about it," the blonde muttered angrily before addressing the rest of the rebels. "I need a team of scouts standing right here! If a Telmarine so much as scratches his back, alert me immediately! Everyone else, get inside, barricade any weak spots, and if you're not making weapons, I need you in the war room making plans on how to use those weapons! Let's move!"

...

"Cakes and kettledrums. That's your next big plan?" Trumpkin cursed, his eyebrows raised in disbelief before he pointed protectively at Lucy. "Sending a little girl...into the darkest parts of the forest...alone?!"

"It's our only chance," Peter insisted.

"And she won't be alone," Susan added as she wrapped a protective arm around her baby sister.

Trumpkin's voice shifted from a judgmental growl to almost a scared whisper. "H-Have-Haven't enough of us died already?"

Orion's breath hitched as his eyes self-consciously flickered toward the stain on the floor where his sister had been bleeding out after killing the only other fae left in Narnia outside of their family. Fortunately, Lucy noticed the tension in Orion's jaw and squeezed his hand comfortingly.

"Nikabrik was my friend, too...but he lost hope," a new voice spoke up. Everyone in the room turned to find Trufflehunter waddling into the room and wiping his paws clean on a bloodstained cloth.
"Queen Lucy hasn't, and neither have I...and neither has Dyani."

"How is she?" Orion asked tentatively, his eyes widening ever so slightly upon realizing that the bloody white fabric in the badger's paws was the blouse that Susan had given Dyani just days ago.

"Her injuries were far worse than she let on, but thanks to Queen Lucy's miraculous medicine, she is almost entirely healed. In fact, before she fell asleep, her only request was that, uh..." If badgers could blush, Trufflehunter certainly was at the thought of voicing Dyani's rather crass demand in the presence of the two Pevensie girls.

"What did she say?" Lucy asked innocently.

"That, um...that someone wake her up in time to, uh...chop off Lord Miraz's manhood," the usually-eloquent badger stammered.

A collective chuckle echoed throughout the room.

Even in his saddened state from the harm that came to his favorite knight, Reepicheep could not stop himself from smirking in bemusement at Dyani's unending spunk. He unsheathed his rapier before crossing it over his heart.
"For Ani," the mouse vowed, trying to keep his voice from wavering. "And for Aslan."

"For Aslan!" a big brown bear repeated gruffly.

Seeing that he was outnumbered, Trumpkin sighed in submission...but not without making one last plea to Lucy. "Then I'm going with you."

"No, we need you here," the youngest Pevensie countered gently as she laid a hand on the red dwarf's shoulder.

"We have to hold them off until Lucy and Susan get back," Peter insisted. "Besides, Dyani will be there to protect them."

"But, Your Majesty, my sister would be much more useful on the front lines," Orion interrupted before his gaze lingered on Lucy. "A-And with my earth magic, I would be better suited to escort Queen Lucy through the forest...a-as well as Queen Susan, of course."

"I admire the sibling loyalty, Orion, but your sister is still recovering from her last battle and I would prefer to limit her future confrontations until she is back to full health," Peter dismissed in a patronizing tone. "Now, as for the rest of you-"

Orion's nostrils flared in anger and he finally decided to channel the stubborn attitude of his father, his older brothers, and his older sister. "You would prefer to send the fae who has become the most feared knight in Narnia for her swordsmanship but could accidentally set the woods ablaze if her aim is even slightly off rather than the fae whose magic quite literally controls trees, plants, and anything that is plentiful in the woods?" Orion cut in in a loud voice.

Not wanting to appear unreasonable but also not wanting to appear lily-livered, Peter sighed deeply. "Let's just wait until Dyani wakes up, and then we can discuss where she would provide the most help."

Orion placed his hands on his hips, simultaneously irritated that Peter still believed coddling Dyani was the best way to flatter her, yet pleased with himself for defending his sister's honor as a knight. However, the earth fae's emotions became even more mixed when Lucy laid her hand on his shoulder.
"I can't wait to tell your sister about this! She'll be so proud of you for speaking up on her behalf!" Lucy whispered excitedly before a slight blush settled on her cheeks. "And if I have any say in who escorts us through the woods, you certainly have my vote."
Orion smiled almost giddily before he puffed out his chest and raised his chin in a heroic manner.

"If I may?" another voice chimed in.
Peter spun around to see Caspian sitting beside Professor Cornelius on the stairs. The Telmarine prince glanced hesitantly toward his tutor - who nodded encouragingly - and then stood up to approach the High King of Old.
"Miraz may be a tyrant and a murderer...but as king, he is subject to the traditions and expectations of his people." A confident glow returned to Caspian's eyes for the first time since the Pevensies had arrived. "There is one in particular that may buy us some time."

...

Dyani's eyes snapped open and she found herself wrapped up in blankets in the temple's makeshift hospital ward...but she was completely alone. "E-Ed? Ri?" she called out drowsily.

"Ah, Dyani, so glad to see you're feeling better," a kind badger replied as he entered the room with a bowl of hot soup. "Now, you drink this while I go fetch King Peter! He wanted to see you as soon as you awoke!"

"No, don't!" the Dyani blurted out. "I-I mean...surely the High King is in the middle of something important and I would hate to distract him from that!"

Trufflehunter's eyebrows raised in surprise, but he shrugged and proceeded to lay the soup beside the redheaded girl's bed. Now that her panic had subsided, Dyani's stomach growled, reminding the girl that it had been hours - or maybe even a day - since she had eaten anything. However, as soon as she began to sit up, she quickly realized that the blankets were essentially the only thing covering her underlayers and her entire face flushed in embarrassment.
"Um, Trufflehunter? Where are my clothes?" Dyani questioned in a strained voice.

The badger gave the flustered fae an apologetic look. "Your clothes were covered in so much blood that I needed to check for other injuries."
Dyani gave him a grateful half-smile before wrapping the blankets more tightly around herself so she could drink her soup without worrying about a, uh...wardrobe malfunction.
"However, I assure you that I did not remove a single item until all others were out of the room...except for King Edmund, of course."

"Ed-Edmund?" Dyani squeaked mid-swallow, nearly sending herself into a coughing fit...but that was not the reason her face suddenly grew even redder than her hair.

"Oh he refused to leave your side!" Trufflehunter continued as he picked up a pile of fresh clothes that Susan had left behind and then turned away so Dyani could dress privately. "But not to fear, he respected your modesty and covered his eyes while I was assessing your wounds. Even when I assured him that you were in good hands, that he certainly had more pressing matters to attend to, he just brushed your hair out of your face and said 'Nothing more important than ensuring the well-being of the best knight in Narnia'."

Dyani bit her lip, but even that could not hold back her smile. "He really said that?"

Trufflehunter chuckled good-naturedly before turning back around to face the fully-dressed teenager. "My dear, one thing to know about badgers: we remember everything."

"Well, where is he?" Dyani asked eagerly before toning it down, sitting back down, and sipping at her soup. "I-I mean, it would be untoward of me not to thank him for his kindness."

The badger arched an eyebrow knowingly before he decided to pretend he bought Dyani's adherence to propriety. "He left just a few minutes ago at the request of King Peter. Something about delivering a message to the Telmarines...or was it an invitation? Anyway, you are to leave with Queen Lucy and Queen Susan as soon as possible before the duel-"

CRACK! SPLASH!

"WHAT?!" Dyani shrieked, completely ignorant of the fact that she had shattered the bowl and splattered that tasty soup all over the floor. The fae grabbed her shoes and weapons and ran off toward the war room without another word.

Trufflehunter sighed tiredly as he took in the mess around him. "Why do they always insist on spilling my soup? Does nobody appreciate how long it takes me to find those ingredients?"

Meanwhile, Dyani was racing through the labyrinthine corridors of Aslan's How while simultaneously tugging on her boots. When she finally reached the Stone Table, she skidded to a stop and locked her gaze on the blonde king dominating the discussion.
"PETER!" the fae barked.
Every Narnian in the room stared at the disheveled knight in shock as she panted heavily from the doorway. Even Peter looked up from his sword-spinning and map-checking at the sound of the enchanting redhead finally calling him by his first name (regardless of her tone).
"I-I mean, Your Highness," Dyani corrected, her voice practically dripping with sugary sweetness as she dipped into a proper curtsy. "Might I borrow you for just two minutes? Alone?"

The oldest Pevensie smiled up at the fae. "For you, Dyani, I can lend twice that."
He instructed Glenstorm to finish assigning positions for the army's underground forces and then followed Dyani out into the hallway. "When I told Trufflehunter to send word as soon as you awoke, I did not expect that word to come directly from your lips...not that I'm complaining," Peter commented in hushed tones, taking advantage of their close proximity to assess Dyani's new outfit.

Fortunately, Dyani's brown heeled boots had survived the fight with Ivan (unlike her red leather gloves, which were not only slashed up from holding Ivan's sword directly, but also deformed and charred from when Dyani lit her hands on fire to melt said sword into a puddle). Unfortunately, due to the rarity of female soldiers with fully human limbs at human proportions, Susan eventually relented to leaving Dyani with a flowing red skirt like the one the Gentle Queen wore in battle as well as gold gauntlets around her wrists and a fitted sleeveless top made of strong yet flexible brown leather (AN think of the gauntlets and upper body armor that the Amazons wore in the newest Wonder Woman movie) from one of the centaurs. Not only was her outfit uncharacteristically feminine, it was also undeniably fierce. Dyani, however, refused to let the eighteen-year-old king's desires derail her confidence this time. She pushed Peter an arm's length away and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Did you send Edmund to duel Miraz?" Dyani asked in a sharp tone with an even sharper look in her eyes.

"Of course not!" Peter denied immediately.
Dyani let out a sigh of relief.
"I sent him to deliver a request for Miraz to duel me!"

"What?!"

"After all, what kind of High King would I be if I didn't challenge this thieving tyrant for the rightful crown in a fair and strictly regulated setting with minimal collateral damage?"

The redhead rubbed the bridge of her nose in exasperation. "I understand the purpose of a duel, my lord, and that is not the point to which I object."

"Then what is it?"

"You actually arranged to send me into hiding with your sisters? Without my consent?!"

"It's for your own good, love!"

"That is it!" the fae cried out furiously as she finally reached her tipping point. "I may be bound by the knight's oath to protect and respect the kings and queens of Narnia, but that requires respect in return! Ever since I raised my helmet after we fought at the ruins, I have had to bargain and beg for every opportunity to raise a blade, but then you freely 'indulge me' with unrequited touches and terms of endearment! I am sorry, my lord, but I will never reciprocate your romantic feelings towards me. However, there is still a chance I will like you as a friend...but you have to promise that starting right now, you will stop patronizing me. That means no more hiding me away; no more dismissing my propositions without serious consideration; and so help me Aslan, no more 'pretty little face' comments...or else dying on Miraz's blade will be the least of your concerns! Got it?"

Peter let out a deep breath, ran a hand through his hair, and looked at Dyani earnestly. "You do realize I could lock you up for treason based on that last comment, right?"
Dyani cocked an eyebrow.
The blonde teenager sighed, realizing his attempt at a joke had fallen flat. "But then I would have to lock myself up soon after for being a fraud of a king. I spent so much time trying to squeeze that golden crown back on my oversized head that I forgot about what it takes to earn that crown in the first place: the respect of and respect for your people."
Suddenly, a wave of realization washed over Peter's face. Without another word, he strode down the corridor with a sense of purpose.

"Your Majesty?" Dyani called out in confusion. When he didn't reply, she raced after him. However, upon realizing that he was leading her toward the Pevensie family's private chambers, both her stride and her patience faltered.
"Are you serious?!" the redheaded knight sputtered as her face reddened in anger. "After everything I said, after everything you said...and yet you still expect me to-"

"Orion?!" Peter exclaimed upon reaching the entrance to the royal family's room.

"K-King Peter?!" the earth fae cried out as he dropped the peony he had been coaxing to life between the cracks in the cave floor and scrambled to his feet from his position next to Lucy. "I-I was just...th-that is, Q-Queen Lucy just wanted to see...I-I mean-"

"I take it the blacksmith finished repairing Dyani's armor as I requested?" Peter cut in, clearly attempting to ease the tension for the embarrassed young fae.
Orion nodded vigorously.
"In that case, why don't you help your sister suit up? After all, we don't want her facing the Telmarines unprotected."

"'Facing the...'" Dyani repeated in disbelief, "My lord, what are you talking about?!"

Peter turned to address the flustered fae, his face reflecting a sense of bittersweet fulfillment. "I'm showing you the respect that is long overdue. Dyani, it would be my honor to have a knight like you fighting alongside my brother and I at the frontlines in our fight against Miraz."

Even with Orion tightening her armor over her slightly tender battle scars, Dyani's furrowed brow was replaced by a euphoric grin. "Wait, what about-"

"Yes, yes, I know you were so looking forward to foregoing the battle and escorting my sisters through the forest," Peter dismissed teasingly before shifting his gaze toward the other fae in the room, "but based on the courage and quick-thinking your brother demonstrated when standing up to me in our earlier strategy session, I think I found the a better knight for the job."

Orion, who had been walking to fetch Dyani's weapons belt, froze mid-step before spinning around to face the High King, his bright green eyes almost as wide as dinner plates. "M-M-Me?!"

"Do you see another man in this room with the strength, loyalty, and compassion necessary to personally guide and protect the Queens of Narnia as they seek out Aslan?"
Orion was so excited that he was rendered completely speechless...but fortunately Lucy squealed enough for the both of them as she leapt to her feet and captured her fae friend in a big hug. While the two thirteen-year-olds celebrated, Peter gathered up Dyani's belt, chakrams, and dagger so the redheaded knight could finish suiting up.
"Speaking of my family, I sent Edmund to select a couple escorts to accompany him to the Telmarine camp only a minute or two before you pulled me away."

Dyani looked up from fastening her belt around her waist, her lips pursed pensively. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I want to show you that I not only respect your skills as a warrior, but your strength of character and self-control."
In an attempt to hide her shock that Peter took her words to heart so quickly, Dyani knelt over to push down her boot and return her dagger to its ankle holster...which certainly provided a flattering view, but Peter's determination to prove himself the right way helped him resist the temptation to ogle the redhead.
"Enough talk, though," Peter proceeded with a slightly pink tint to his cheeks. "If you hurry, I'll bet you can still catch Edmund before he gets to the enemy camp."

The fire fae's eyes glowed with joy before she decided to forego formality and throw her arms around the High King, who was caught off guard by the embrace but returned it nonetheless.
"Thank you, Peter," Dyani whispered gratefully. With that, she hiked up her skirt so she could sprint through the fortress in time to find Edmund.

Peter stared longingly at the door for a few moments before he let out a sigh of acceptance. Meanwhile, Lucy sidled up to her big brother with a mischievous smirk and a twinkle in her eyes.
"You know...maybe Aslan was right about naming you 'Peter the Magnificent'," the brunette girl chirped teasingly.

"Psh, I never doubted that!" the eighteen-year-old scoffed as he straightened his shoulders confidently...but soon his eyes began darting around self-consciously. "But, just for curiosity's sake, what finally convinced you?"

"It takes a truly magnificent king to put his ego aside and sacrifice his own wishes for the sake of others' happiness."

Peter gazed down at his baby sister only to realize that she was not such a baby anymore. He draped an arm over Lucy's shoulders and drew her close. "And here I thought Susan was the smart one."

...

Meanwhile, Edmund, Glenstorm the centaur, and a giant were just beginning their trek across the field toward the Telmarine camp armed with olive branches to signify their peaceful intentions. Knowing full well that there were plenty of Telmarine scouts scrutinizing the Narnians' every move, the Just King maintained his stoic facial expression...until he felt a warm sensation approaching from behind.

"Leaving for a diplomatic gathering without your favorite guardian?" a familiar voice teased.

Edmund nearly tripped over his own feet upon seeing the fire fae sneak up beside him outside the fortress...and seeing how much strength and energy was emanating from her in comparison to just an hour ago. Dyani had left her sword behind in order to dissuade any assumptions of violence, but that did not stop her from holstering her chakrams at her waist and her dagger at her ankle. She also wrapped her long red hair up into a high bun to show off her pointed ears and magically metallic eyes, which so beautifully matched her golden breastplate and shoulder guards with the scarlet phoenix insignia. However, it was not just her appearance that was different. There was something less formal; less restrained; and, even though this may have been Edmund's hopes clouding his observation, more flirtatious about her demeanor.
Edmund tried to disguise his clumsiness with a playful chuckle. "In my defense, you were practically comatose and, uh..." the king's face flushed at the memory of Dyani wearing nothing but a blanket in the hospital and he lowered his voice to a whisper, "sartorially indisposed when Peter asked me to select my escorts."

Rather than seem embarrassed, Dyani simply smirked in amusement. "You still could have left an invitation to the party at my bedside, Your Highness...or were you worried I would embarrass you?"

Despite the graveness of the situation, the happiness in Edmund's smile stretched all the way up to his eyes. "Never."

"Good...because I would hate to think I raced all the way out here in a skirt for nothing."

"Ah yes, the ultimate sacrifice," the dark haired teen replied jokingly, his eyes traveling downward as he observed the knight's change in attire. However, he also noticed two long slices in Dyani's skirt stretching from the ankle to the mid-thigh, offering her plenty of flexibility for kicking, running, etc.

Recognizing the perplexed look on Edmund's face, Dyani shrugged casually. "I made a few alterations." The fae winked at the king mischievously, but before Edmund could even respond, Dyani glanced toward Glenstorm and the giant, who had been standing off to the side to allow the teenagers a little privacy. "Come on, gents! Time for us to pay the Telmarines a little visit!"

...

"'I, Peter, by the gift of Aslan, by election and by conquest, High King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel and emperor of the Lone Islands, in order to prevent the abominable effusion of blood, do hereby challenge the usurper Miraz to single combat upon the field of battle. The fight shall be to the death. The reward shall be total surrender.'"
Edmund lowered the scroll from which he was reciting only to find Miraz staring him down with a steely gaze. Meanwhile, even though Dyani's every instinct was screaming at her to fling her dagger right into the Telmarine tyrant's heart, she managed to keep her hands at her side and her face neutral.

Miraz huffed in irritation. "Tell me, Prince Edmund-"

"King," Edmund interjected without looking up from the scroll he was rolling in his hands.

"Pardon me?" Miraz countered, clearly not used to being interrupted by someone less than half his age.

"It's King Edmund, actually," Dyani corrected in a voice that had a sharper edge than the ornamental blade laid across the map in front of Miraz.

"Just king, though. Peter's the high king," Edmund clarified before smirking in amusement at the lords' befuddled expressions. "I know, it's confusing."

Miraz, however, seemed less than amused by the Pevensie boy's attempts to alleviate the tension. He petulantly tapped his fingers against the arm of his makeshift military throne.
"Why would we risk such a proposal when our armies could wipe you out by nightfall?"

Dyani snorted derisively from her position behind Edmund. "Have you not already underestimated our numbers?"
Edmund whipped his head around to address the sharp-tongued knight. However, rather than glare at her petulance, he nodded encouragingly. With that, Dyani brushed her hair behind her ears and strode forward to stand beside her true king, causing the lords to gasp at her fae traits.
"I mean, here you are, conversing with the legendary Just King and a fire fae...and yet only a week ago, Narnians were extinct."

"And so you will be again," Miraz stated defensively.

"Then you should have little to fear," Edmund replied in an almost jesting manner.

The Telmarine king laughed obnoxiously. "This is not a question of bravery."

"So you're 'bravely' refusing to fight a swordsman half your age?" Edmund challenged, wagging Peter's invitational scroll at Miraz in a patronizing manner.

Miraz's cocky grin stayed plastered in place...but his eyes certainly lost their amused twinkle. He leaned forward into the table, shifting his weight onto his elbows as he adopted a more confrontational stance.
"I didn't say I refused."

"You shall have our support, Your Majesty," one of the lords spoke up in a polished manner. "Whatever your decision."

"Sire," the lord sitting at Miraz's righthand jumped in, "our military advantage alone provides the perfect excuse to avoid what might otherwise be-"

"I'm not avoiding anything!" the king exclaimed as he snatched up his sword and launched to his feet from his chair.

Without even thinking, Dyani immediately wrapped her fingers around the gold rings fastened to her holster. However, Lord Sopespian seemed unfazed by Miraz's unspoken threat.
"I was merely pointing out that my lord is well within his rights to refuse," the lord replied in a voice as charming yet slippery as a snake.

"His Majesty would never refuse," the Telmarine general Glozelle cut in from the entrance of the tent, which caused Dyani to protectively step in front of Edmund. "He relishes the chance
to show the people the courage of their new king."

Seeing that he had no choice but to buckle under public pressure, Miraz once again turned to address Edmund directly.
"You," the tyrant stated as he pointed the tip of his sword directly at the teenage boy. "You should hope your brother's sword is sharper than his pen."
The corner of Edmund's mouth quirked up in amusement. Meanwhile, Miraz shifted his attention and his weapon toward Dyani.
"And you, my little fairy friend...you should hope your little ragtag militia does not meet the same fate as your father's army all those years ago."

...

Woohoo! I'd say this 8.6K+ word chapter definitely makes up for the years I took off from this story! And I can also say with 100% certainty that this story is officially back in my regular update lineup because I got my Narnian mojo back...but if y'all wanna expedite the writing process, please go ahead and show some love in the form of reviews, favorites, and alerts!