A/N: Characters and situations are not mine. They belong to C.S. Lewis's estate. I know that others have others have created their versions of the Narnian calendar. My version of it is partially based on the creation of Narnia seeming to occur in spring and not winter. The Narnian months do not directly correspond with any of ours. I should note that I imagine Aslan's return having occurred on the first day of spring and the first day of the year (1 Fledgling) and that this roughly corresponds to late March on Earth. The months as such are: Fledgling, Frostfree, Sunshower, Greenroof (canon), Sunhigh, Ripening, Leafgold, Gathering, Hoarfrost, Brightstar, Stillbound, and Nesting. Thus, the month of Ripening would cover mid-August to late September, and Christmas occurs on 5 Brightstar. The battle at the Ford of Beruna took place on 3 Fledgling. There isn't really anything very scientific about any of this other than my own preference. This story follows "Damascus Road" and "His Throne Is Upholden" and references incidents in those stories, but can be understood on its own. Thornbut's history can be found in meldahlie's "This is No Thaw" which I highly recommend.

Reasonable Expectation

Chapter One

Cair Paravel, Late Ripening, NT 1000

"First position!"

Edmund raised his sword obediently at the arms master's order. Dallin Glasswater clucked his tongue and shook his head. "A little straighter, your majesty. Your swordpoint wishes to wobble." Edmund adjusted his grip to steady the wooden blade, and Dallin squinted at it. "Nearly, your majesty, very good."

Despite the encouraging words, the arms master reached around to cover Edmund's hands with his own and then move them into places just slightly off from where Edmund had had them. "Better," said Dallin.

Across from Edmund, Peter adjusted his grip without prompting, drawing a silent but approving nod from their instructor.

"Second position!"

It wasn't as if they'd never fought before, Edmund thought, shifting to bring his practice sword around to the next position. Since their trial by fire at the Fords of Beruna, both Peter and Edmund had battled remnants of the Witch's followers across Narnia. Peter had even faced an attempted assassination, although the royal guard had made short work of the high king's attacker. Still Dallin remained adamant that, however favored by Aslan the young sovereigns might be, they must learn to wield their weapons by muscle memory and sound tactical knowledge in addition to instinct and desperation.

If Edmund hadn't already suspected that last was aimed at him, he would have been certain when Dallin added, "It's my job to train your majesties well enough to keep you from finding a knife in your gut. If I should fail to do my best, I'd be rightly judged a traitor."

A moment of awkwardness followed the last word as if Dallin were wishing to call it back. Peter wore an overly serious expression, probably torn between ignoring the gaffe and defending his little brother's honor. Edmund almost rolled his eyes. It wasn't as if they could keep him from ever hearing the word. Finally, Peter relaxed. "If sheer exhaustion is a measure of how well you are doing your job, captain," said the high king. "We will never question your loyalty."

Dallin laughed, and so did Peter and Edmund, and the tension was broken.

Peter was good at that. Adults, even back in England, had always liked him, and even the skeptical ambassadors who visited Cair Paravel generally treated him as a man and a king rather than a thirteen-year-old boy. Edmund tried to focus his attention on moving seamlessly through the first four positions rather than be jealous of this. Peter had earned the respect they showed him, after all, just as he deserved to win the subsequent sparring match that left Edmund on his back on the floor of the training grounds.

"All right, Ed?" Peter reached a hand to pull him up, and Edmund took it.

"All right," said Edmund, setting his feet and chin for the next engagement.

"Well struck, your majesty," said Dallin to Peter. "And chivalrously done. That will conclude our lesson for the morning."

Edmund relaxed his stance, trying to mask his disappointment. He would have liked to end the lesson on a better note than getting trounced by Peter. Again.

He must not have hidden his frustration as well as he thought. Peter glanced at him and then at Dallin. "Surely, we've time for one more match?" he asked.

Dallin raised a bushy eyebrow. "I have seen your majesties' schedules. If you believe you've time to spar once more, it is not my place to gainsay."

Peter grinned. "I promise that if we're late, I shall assure the general that the responsibility is mine," he said. He nodded to Edmund. "Ed?"

Edmund raised his sword again with a faint smile. Peter was doing that more and more. Sallowpad had been drilling them on etiquette and speech with the assistance of Susan, and after the elder of their sisters, Peter was the best at slipping into the Narnian patterns of speech. He barely seemed to think about it, any more than he needed to exert himself to run Edmund - or even some of their older and more experienced sparring partners - around the training ring.

It wasn't Peter's fault that everything came more easily to him, that he was taller and stronger. He was encouraging even when he won, and most of the time, Edmund didn't even think he was being patronizing about it these days (had he ever been? It was hard to say. Edmund's judgments of his siblings had been challenged quite a bit in the past six months). Still, Edmund would have liked to share a portion of his brother's ability.

He couldn't even blame it on the swords. They practiced with wooden blades, though ones crafted to mimic as much as possible the weapons they carried into battle. Edmund's current short sword and the blade Peter had named Rhindon hung on the wall during every practice. Edmund did not begrudge his brother the superior weapon. He knew well why Peter had been gifted such a blade and he had not, and he was not so mean as to resent something that was his own fault (not now anyway), but it would have been nice to have a sword that fit his hand the way Rhindon fit Peter's.

Frustrations aside, Edmund really did enjoy sword practice. Fighting took focus, there was a pleasure in landing a hit, and it was easier, in some ways, to learn to become a better swordsman than to become a better person.

Edmund didn't win this round, either, but he landed a few good hits, and he stayed on his feet this time. Peter even looked tired from the match when he accepted the victory. "Good job, Ed," said his brother, patting Edmund's shoulder.

Dallin nodded approval as well. "I glimpsed the heroes of Beruna in that match."

Edmund, putting up his practice sword and returning the real one to his sword-belt, shrugged, torn between pleasure and discomfort with the compliment. He hadn't been a hero. There was no need for him to respond, however.

Peter sheathed Rhindon and said seriously, "Aslan is the hero of Beruna." He smiled, perhaps to take the sting out of the correction, and then nodded to Edmund. "If you ever come at me the way you did those ogres, though, I won't stand a chance."

Edmund just rolled his eyes at this. Peter sighed, looking vaguely frustrated, but there were things Peter would never understand. Never, thought Edmund, in a million years.

###

Archery lessons followed sword practice. Susan was just leaving the butts when Edmund approached. Peter did not practice archery on the first day of the week, as he was scheduled to review the troops with Rostam before the midday meal. On the one hand, Edmund would have rather been with them. On the other, it was a relief not to have every shot compared to his older brother's, and it meant Edmund had Thornbut and Thornbut's stories all to himself.

The dwarven archer had been one of the first people Edmund had become comfortable talking to in Narnia. Thornbut put his focus on Aslan, Narnia, good fishing, and proper bowmanship, and he cared little about what one had been or done before coming to an appreciation for those four. Edmund was nowhere near the archer Susan was, but he spent a good deal of time with the archers in battle as part of Peter's attempts to keep him out of trouble, and so he received extra training in the bow.

"Your arm's getting stronger, Your Majesty, but if you insist on wearing yourself out in sword practice before you come, I can't be held responsible for what it does to your form," Thornbut said as they wound down.

I don't set the schedule, Edmund thought grumpily. A moment later, he remembered the extra sword match. Feeling faintly guilty, he offered, "Perhaps we can try to move the lessons about."

Thornbut nodded. "I know you've a heap on your plate, sire. I can talk to Captain Glasswater and the General, see that we're not stepping on one another's toes so much. In fact-"

Exactly what Thornbut had meant to suggest was lost as one of Susan's newest pages, a sleek, gray squirrel scampered up to them, chattering a message. "Your Majesty! Queen Susan requests your presence in the Great Hall. A messenger from the north has arrived!"

There was always something. "Tell Queen Susan I'm coming Bushnip," said Edmund. "And you needn't run so fast-" He tried to add, as the squirrel darted away without pausing for breath.

"It's no use, Your Majesty," said Thornbut. "He'll figure it out soon enough." He snorted. "Or he won't. He is a squirrel, after all."

Edmund grinned. Even the more experienced Narnian squirrels tended to rush about, and Bushnip wasn't so much older than Lucy by the standards of his own kind. "We ought to follow him, then, and see that he doesn't hurt himself on the way."

Susan was waiting in the little antechamber outside of the Great Hall. Edmund and Thornbut arrived simultaneously with Peter and General Rostam, followed shortly by Dallin Glasswater. Susan must have sent for the captain, as well, which meant that this was almost certainly a military matter. Lucy, ribbons dangling, arrived last, trailed by a dryad carrying a comb in one hand and a silver circlet in the other.

Susan gave the lady-in-waiting a sympathetic look and held out her hand. The dryad curtsied and relinquished her charge to the elder Queen. Expertly, Susan raked the blond curls into some order before tying the ribbons into a bow and setting the crown on Lucy's head. Without pausing, she turned and brushed the dust of the training grounds off Edmund's tunic, as well.

Edmund marvelled. As Susan made her inspection, not one dark hair was out of place. How she managed to be so put together when Edmund had seen her sweaty and dusty at the archery buttes less than an hour earlier mystified him. Only Peter escaped correction, though not scrutiny. The four entered together when the elder Queen deemed them all presentable.

###

"It's a very bad business, your majesties," said the messenger once the formalities had been observed. He was a gangly, greenish-gray Marshwiggle from a small village near the source of the River Shribble, "A band of werewolves attacked our village seven days ago. I was sent with the news as soon as anyone could be spared, although I don't doubt they'll be regretting the loss. I shouldn't wonder if the pack returned and destroyed the whole village while I was gone. Nothing but ash to go back to, I expect."

It was a serious business, but Edmund couldn't help being tempted to roll his eyes at the Marshwiggle's pessimism.

"Surely not!" said Lucy.

"We hope that isn't so, Cricklow" said Peter, "but I pledge we will put an end to their depredations, whatever the case."

Edmund wasn't certain such a promise would be quickly kept, but it did not surprise him that Peter would make it. He was Peter. Not to mention they had a responsibility.

"And we will do all we can to help rebuild," added Susan. "If you can tell us what you need, we'll send an escort back with medicines and supplies."

"That will be much welcome, your majesty," said Cricklow. "Very kind, though, I fear you'll beggar yourselves with too much generosity. Too many mouths about and winter coming on. No doubt some will go wanting."

An uneasy hush fell over the room at the mention of winter.

"Oh, no," said Lucy into the silence. "We've plenty to spare. The harvest has been wonderful. You can come and see!"

"After the audience, certainly," said Peter somewhat indulgently. Lucy turned a little pink at the tone. Peter leaned forward seriously. "Did you recognize any of the raiders?" he asked.

Edmund leaned in, as well.

"Not to look at, no," said the Marshwiggle. "But I heard a name. That's why the village elders sent me. Ulfson."

The stillness this time lasted even longer than the earlier one had. Then the whispers began. Edmund looked at Peter. His brother's expression was serious. A werewolf rather than a true Beast like the White Witch's chief of police, Ulfson had been among the rebels who received clemency the previous spring. He'd agreed to a period of service near Cauldron Pool in reparations under the sponsorship of a respected satyr.

"Has Anicetus sent any messenger?" Edmund asked, quietly so that only his siblings and the officers could hear him (hopefully - it was easy to underestimate the range of earshot of many Narnians).

Peter shook his head, but it was General Rostam who answered. "I've had no report from him in a fortnight, your majesty."

"I do hope he's all right," said Lucy. If Ulfson had returned to his old ways, he was unlikely to have spared his minder.

"Let's not jump to conclusions," said Susan. "He, or a messenger, may be on his way south now."

"But we have to help them," said Lucy. "All of them. Peter-" She turned to look at her oldest brother.

"We will," said Peter. "General Rostam, do you think we can be ready to leave tomorrow morning?" Edmund eyed his brother. The 'we' had not been very specific, and Peter had tried to leave him behind before.

The general nodded. "With a small force your majesty. I suggest Captain Glasswater gather reinforcements and follow us north in another week."

"Let's do that, then," said Peter. "Susan, Lucy, you take Master Cricklow to the storerooms, and see what we can spare. We'll need supplies for the army, as well, provisions and medical supplies. Ed and I will ride out tomorrow."

This assurance of his inclusion relieved Edmund, although Lucy still looked dissatisfied. "Won't you need healers with the army?" she asked. The high king had yet to allow her near a battle since Beruna (quite rightly, Edmund thought), though she had campaigned to be taken along on nearly every one.

"I'll need you here, Lucy," said Susan hastily. Edmund rather thought that if Su had her way, none of them would ever ride out, Peter and Edmund included, which was a funny thing for a girl who could best most of the archers in the army.

"I'm certain we'll have enough," said Peter firmly. "But you should speak to Vlasos about what he'll need when we return, so you can be prepared." This did not seem to mollify the youngest queen. Peter lowered his voice. "And try and see if you can cheer up Cricklow? You're better at that sort of thing."

Lucy glanced at the morose-looking Marshwiggle and her expression changed to concern. "How awful for him," she said. "Of course, I'll try."

"Let's to it, then," said Susan.

###

"I ought to have guessed Ulfson hadn't reformed as much as he seemed," Peter said as they bent over maps in the war room later that day. Edmund, Thornbut and Dallin had joined Peter, General Rostam, and the general's aide Wilmot for the strategy session. "After breathing defiance almost to his trial. I didn't think he'd truly changed overnight, but I didn't want to execute him if there was a chance he might come to it, and Anicetus seemed so hopeful."

"Anicetus knew Ulfson as a child before his curse," said Rostam. "He was indulgent, but it's no weakness to show mercy, your majesty. The Great Lion is merciful as well as just."

Edmund sucked on his lower lip as he studied the map. Susan would have scolded him for the unattractive habit, but she and Lucy were closeted with Vlasos and Cricklow discussing provisioning. "You weren't the only one who wanted to give him a second chance," he said impatiently. The sentence of service in lieu of execution had been based on precedent set by Aslan himself when the Lion set a crown on Edmund's head instead of turning him over to Jadis, but Peter had a bad habit of taking responsibility for things that were manifestly the fault of others. "I thought he ought to make amends if he wanted to try, and he said he did." If anyone were to blame besides Ulfson himself…

"The last reports from Anicetus suggested he was doing just that," said Rostam. "Or seemed to be."

There was a sober silence. "He may be in hiding, unable to get word," said Thornbut, but he didn't sound convinced.

Susan and Lucy may have wanted to hold out hope, but the more experienced Narnians did not seem to share it. Anicetus had sent no message of the betrayal, which meant he was very likely dead. He might be on the run as Thornbut suggested, but there was one other possibility, the one no one wanted to voice: that he had joined in his old friend's treason.

"Anicetus is a good faun," said Dallin. "I hope he went quickly, not knowing how he was betrayed." The silent wish accompanied it. Better dead than a traitor.

That seemed to spur Peter out of his self-blame. "Where there's life, there's hope," said the high king. "It's important that we get aid to the Marshwiggles as soon as we can, but we ought to send a party to Anicetus's cave, as well. The question is how large a party? How far do we dare split our forces?"

###

They set out the next morning for Cricklow's village, accompanied by the Marshwiggle's predictions of disaster. "It's right fine of you to send help," he said to Susan from the saddle of one of Cair Paravel's ponies. "Though I daresay we'll be too late, the village burned to the ground, by the time we arrive."

Susan smiled, but her eyes were uncertain. "I hope that isn't the case, Master Cricklow. I'm sure you'll arrive in good time. Peter-" She stopped her older brother before he could mount his own horse and hugged him. "Take care of yourself and Edmund."

"Always, Su," said Peter. "Don't worry, we'll come back safe."

Edmund was next. He suffered the hug, along with another set of admonitions. "Be careful and don't forget to eat. You barely had any breakfast."

"I'll be fine," Edmund grumbled. "You don't need to make such a fuss." But the words never did any good.

"Promise me," Susan said.

Cricklow observed from his pony and shook his head sagely. "Her majesty is right to worry. Most likely, we'll all be ambushed on the journey or fall ill along the way."

Peter shook his head. "We'll keep a sharp lookout, Master Cricklow, I promise. And we'll be all right, Su. Aslan will guard our steps."

There was a murmur of agreement. "Aye that," said Cricklow, reverently. Apparently, even his gloom wasn't enough to doubt Aslan. "We're in the Lion's paws."

"I wonder why he came to ask for help, at all, if he believes we can't do any good," Edmund muttered to Lucy, when Wilmot had begged Queen Susan's attention. The Marshwiggle's pessimism set his nerves on edge. He hadn't slept well the night before and had been able to choke down only half the hearty breakfast the housekeepers had prepared for the army.

"I think that's just his way," said Lucy. "Although he is very gloomy, isn't he?" She looked longingly at the healer's train, led by Vlasos, then back at Edmund. "Don't worry, Ed, I know you'll be able to help them. You and Peter will stop the raiders. You always win."

"I don't need advice from a little girl," Edmund said snappishly. He regretted it immediately. "I'm sorry, Lu."

Lucy smiled understandingly. "It's all right being nervous, Ed. Just do what I do. Act cheerful until you feel like it." She glanced at the Marshwiggle and said confidentially, "Perhaps Master Cricklow ought to try it."

Edmund snickered. "I don't know if anything will help there," he whispered back. Lucy's bright encouragement did more to settle his uneasy stomach than Susan's fretting, even if both of them meant well. He wondered what else his little sister hid so well.

"Don't worry, Su," he called, climbing into the saddle. "I'll keep Peter from challenging any giants to single combat while we're in the north."

Susan's response was an exasperated smile, but she stepped back to the steps of the keep, calling Lucy with her. At a signal from Rostam, Wilmot struck up a steady drumbeat, and the army set off.

###

It was decided in the end that Edmund would accompany Cricklow and the supply party to the village on the Shribble while Peter and Rostam sought out Anicetus. Edmund pretended not to be perfectly aware that this was Peter's attempt to keep him out of danger, sending him to the known quantity of the Marshwiggle's village, instead of investigating the unknown fate of Ulfson's sponsor. Even then, relatively safe as the mission should be, Peter had assigned an sizable number of soldiers, including Captain Dallin Glasswater, to the party. "You just don't want to have to spend another day listening to how we're all going to die horrible deaths," Edmund said to his brother in the kings' tent the evening before they were to separate.

"Cricklow is a good sort," said Peter, beating the end of his bedroll into an approximation of a pillow. "Even if he can be a bit tiresome. He was a hero at the crossing of the river."

This was true, Edmund conceded. The Marshwiggle had swallowed his usual doomsaying to help coax a contingent of water-shy Bobcats across the ford and rescue a packpony that had lost its footing. Actual calamity did not seem to phase him so much as the potential for it. "Yes, but you're not the one listening to him, are you? You get out of traveling with him."

"Traveling early," Peter reminded him. "Go to sleep, Ed."

Edmund lay back on his own pallet, listening to Peter's breathing. It reminded him of nights back in Finchley when he'd been very small and somehow convinced the sound was the only thing to keep the monsters away (at school, he'd learned even that was not always enough and it had taken nearly dying at the Witch's hands for him to forgive Peter's lack of omniscience and invincibility there; in Narnia he'd learned the monster was far closer to home and been grateful once again that Peter's presence meant he was not alone with the beast). Even through the bedroll, the ground was hard with clumps of grass and deceptively small pebbles that had been missed in setting up camp, but that sound and murmurs from without the tent succeeded in putting him to sleep far more quickly than his canopied featherbed at Cair Paravel.

###

Not only did Master Cricklow live up to Edmund's expectations, but he seemed to be a perfect representation of his fellow Marshwiggles. The villagers received the delegation with appreciation, but also with dreary predictions that the royal aid would come with a high cost to their benefactors.

"We only hope you don't suffer for want of what you've brought us," said the mayor, leaning heavily on a crutch as he met with Edmund outside his hut. "Would your majesty care to come in and rest? It's a tight squeeze, and Lochbell's just gotten the younglings down for a nap, but chances are they won't stay asleep anyway. It will be a dreary enough awakening for them no matter when they stir."

"I'm all right, truly," said Edmund. "Captain Dallin and I need to distribute the provisions. Your younglings can rest." Gradually, and with Susan's tireless tutelage, he was growing used to the assorted terms used by different Narnians for their families. He'd never admit it to his older sister, but Edmund actually found the differences interesting.

"Oh, they aren't mine," said the mayor as Cricklow bobbed his head and glanced at the flap of door. "With their mother dead and their father gone to bear news, I thought it was better they come here while we rebuild their wigwam. Lochbell lost her own, so she came to care for them."

A curious ache twisted Edmund's insides as he realized that Cricklow had left his motherless and homeless children in the care of others in order to seek help for the village. Looking around at the gathering Marshwiggles, Edmund could see that the mayor was not the only one recovering from injuries. He wondered if Cricklow had volunteered because he'd heard Ulfson's name or because he'd been the only one hale enough for the journey to Cair Paravel.

"In that case, we'll let Master Cricklow reunite with his younglings," said Edmund. "If you will show us where the greatest needs are?"

Village was really a rather loose term for the settlement of Marshwiggles, Edmund learned. Most of those gathered at the mayor's wigwam were those who, like Cricklow's younglings and the widowed Lochbell, had nowhere else to go. Mayor Brakewell had opened his small home to as many as it would hold while he and the rest slept on bedrolls by the fire outside. Other wigwams - those that had survived the raid - dotted the marshes. After discussing the situation with his captains and the mayor, Edmund eventually decided to assign Vlasos and the healers to a temporary hospital camp near the mayor's home, and a contingent of dwarves and more able-bodied Marshwiggles to the rebuilding efforts. He accompanied the food distribution party himself.

###

Edmund felt he had far and away the easiest task. Marshwiggles might not overflow with cheer, but their gratitude made itself felt when one grew used to their ways. They appreciated every sack of grain and dried fish from the stores at Cair Paravel, and one of the younglings actually smiled shyly at receiving a cloak hemmed with slightly crooked stitching.

"Lu - Queen Lucy did that herself," Edmund confided in the young wiggle (a girl, he was fairly certain, but not quite). "She wanted to be here, but Queen Susan needed her, so she sent this instead." The smile brightened to one that rivaled Lucy's own, and Edmund felt warm. "That's what they do when they have to stay home." He drew out his handkerchief to demonstrate. It had been a birthday present a few weeks earlier, and Lucy had attempted embroidery. The 'E' was wobbly and squashed at best. "She's still practicing."

They really ought to visit this part of Narnia more often, Edmund thought watching the young wiggle run after a group of others. He turned to pull another bundle from the supply wagon. Or at least they ought to keep in better contact. The Sweetclaws hailed from not far away, and between their matriarch Ursula and Anicetus there had been so little trouble in the north compared with other areas, that the kings and queens had not yet had time to attend to this region of their new kingdom. Perhaps they could assign some birds or bats as messengers - or a relay of the dryads. He was too busy considering the best way to present this plan to Peter to be aware of his surroundings, so when the attack came, Edmund had a basket of apples hanging from each arm and no easy way to draw his sword without dumping them all on the ground.

He didn't think until later how foolish it was. It just seemed such a shame to let the little food these folk had go to waste. So Edmund was still struggling to set the baskets down gently and call for reinforcements when he heard a scream. It was the same young Marshwiggle from earlier. A huge gray wolf had its teeth in the roughly hemmed cloak, and was dragging the youngling toward the woods away from the fighting.

The apples would have to be sacrificed. Edmund ran after the two shouting. "For the Lion!"

He was still a little surprised when it worked. He shouldn't be, he told himself, and then there wasn't time for more. The wolf released the young wiggle's cloak and turned to Edmund with a grin that showed every sharp tooth. "Come to join us?" It almost sounded pleased. Three more wolves emerged from the woods.

"Run!" Edmund told the youngling who did not wait for a second order. The wolves - Edmund squinted at them - werewolves did not follow the Marshwiggle as he'd half feared. They'd found a prey they liked better.

This was not Edmund's first battle, nor his second, and Dallin's training had sunk in. The gaping mouths and teeth, the taunts and growls had not become so familiar as to be commonplace, but Edmund - or his body, at least, knew what to do. He stabbed and swung and dodged, and there was blood on his clothes and the ground that was not his own. Still it seemed from the claws and fur around him like the number of enemies must have increased. He couldn't let them get behind him, Edmund knew that. He imagined Dallin's voice. Don't let the enemy choose the ground. He needed to get back to the others. Under Peter's orders, the captains were very protective. As soon as they realized he was fighting alone, Captain Glasswater would send - or more likely bring - more fighters to his aid, but that could leave the village unprotected. Edmund didn't want to think of others being left vulnerable on his account - Aslan won't let that happen. - but help would be appreciated at the moment.

A leaping wolf took his attention, and Edmund stabbed at it before it could sink its teeth into him. The beast twisted as it fell, however, and the sword caught and stuck in the creative's body. The other werewolves swarmed around it, cutting Edmund off from retrieving it, but held back from attacking. Edmund drew his dagger, knowing it would be little use against so many and backed up against a tree. The largest werewolf gave a howling laugh, revealing a distinctive black patch on its throat. "There's nowhere to run," it said. "No one to take your place this time, traitor."

The words sent a shiver down Edmund's spine. The marshwiggles. It wasn't the first time the accusation had lobbed against him by the Witch's former adherents, however. "You broke your word, Ulfson," he said, mimicking Peter's most kingly tone and keeping his eyes on the werewolf rather than the movement in the woods behind him. "You'll be punished for everyone you've harmed today."

Ulfson grinned toothily, enjoying the opportunity to gloat. "You know me," he acknowledged. "And I know who will answer for his crimes first." He leapt, but he should have done so sooner. The stirring among the trees became a onslaught that swept over the fell beasts. For a moment Edmund thought he would be caught under both waves. The leader of the werewolves seemed inches away. Then Ulfson fell backwards with Rhindon's bloody tip poking through his chest. Peter, looking every inch the high king, stood over him.

Peter wiped his sword on Ulfson's fur and saluted his brother. Edmund had no sword to return the salute, but he made do with his dagger. Usually, this was where both would break into grins at the exhilaration of fighting side by side, but Peter only nodded grimly at Edmund, and took up his place beside him. There was something in the air. Was it annoyance at having to rescue his brother from another scrape? Had Peter heard Ulfson's words?

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