Disclaimer: I learned I had no idea what I was doing in this chapter, and I refuse to call it mine.
Beta'd by trustingHim17, who caught several mistakes that would have lessened the story. Thank you!
Peter could hear the murmuring of his siblings' voices just outside the Great Hall door. Lucy's came through the clearest, her tone rising with excitement, even a hint of worry. Peter frowned. Perhaps he should wrap up this rather boring meeting of long-winded compliments and meandering around a point and go see what was upsetting his fellow rulers. If he could make his way through the extensive retinue the Calormen merchant brought with him, that is.
He stood before us, the High King,. All my underlings had hungered after this target. All but the pretty Silent, too absorbed with trifles to care for a king. But the rest of us—this was the mark we sought.
A boy in body, a king in face, and a warrior by stride and sword. My blood warmed to the challenge. My sword called for his head.
I would not strike him down while the petty merchant who hired us droned on and on. He'd insisted on coming to see our work done, and complained all the way across the sea that Narnia threatened his monopoly on the trade of fabrics from this region. I doubted he would survive the journey back, as I did not think the man complained less when he was happy. He would not be grateful for our work, but complain of it. And by Tash and the other gods, if he complained all the way home, he would be my sword's next target.
But before his death, I had another. The King stood before me, polite and impatient. I would take his life for the mouseling beside me, and take his sword for myself.
But I would grant him a warrior's death. I drew my sword, watching him take a quick step back and crouch—a warrior indeed. His sword shone in his hand, already unsheathed. And since I challenged him, he would not let another interfere. His head was mine.
The rest of the world faded out, the merchant scuttling away behind me, the men around him falling back with him, the doors opening—none of it mattered now. Only my target.
The High King did not have his sudden opponent's focus. His siblings were entering the Great Hall. He took three large steps back, out of reach of the bodyguard's immensely long sword, and allowed himself one glance at the other three. Walking—moving easily, eyes intent, but unharmed. Indeed, Edmund seemed irritated. Peter rather hoped it was with the man stalking him at swordpoint, and not Peter himself. He'd had enough unpleasant surprises for one day.
"Really, Peter, why haven't you dispatched him yet? Both our sisters handled their visitors before mine even reached the library, by all accounts. And mine might have been hard to pick out among a group like that, but really, yours is a head taller than anyone else."
Peter's hand gripped his sword more tightly, for just a moment, but he breathed in, settling his anger at the knowledge that threats had been made to his siblings too. The anger would fuel his fight, when used well—and Edmund knew that.
The target circled, wary. He was no heedless boy. I smiled, loosening the muscles of my wrist—and swung.
My sword had a reach few could predict, but this target ducked under. I frowned and swung again, overhead, but his blade met mine, twisting the stroke away. He was smaller. Slipperier.
To work, then.
Overcut, it glanced off his blade, I swung back, and the target falls back, falls down, strike! He rolls, I take two steps forward, avoid the shield he tripped on, strike, strike again, and again! He's fast, too fast.* I must change. I swung, forcing him back, then sheathed that sword and drew the second from my left, throwing it to my other hand.
A shorter sword for a short target. I grinned, moving forward.
Peter saw Lucy slip out of the Great Hall from the corner of his eye. Edmund stepped forward, hand on his sword, but Peter shook his head, in one small movement. He looked back at his opponent, knowing Edmund would listen—unless Peter got in trouble. The swordsman took swift steps forward, making Peter dodge; he darted around this mountain of a man, who was sheathing that monstrous sword, and looked towards the door. Lucy'd returned, breathless, with Susan's bow and three arrows clutched in her hands. Susan took the bow, stringing it in one graceful movement and nocking an arrow.
Peter smiled wryly. Yet another instance where Aslan's choice of four monarchs proved good. He turned his attention back to the Calormene. Susan would keep the other three safe, and, as long as Peter didn't block her shot, Peter wouldn't come to harm either. Peter had no qualms using an arrow to kill an assassin.
The smile of the King caught my eye, and I turned.
They had failed. One, perhaps, was believable, but before me stood the other three Narnian monarchs. What was this land, that these children should have lived and my skilled killers fail?
No matter, then. There was a reason I never failed, and it was not for my skill with the sword alone. "To arms, and bar the doors!"
The six men I'd added to the merchant's retinue drew swords and bows from under their clothes, two running at my command to slam the doors and bar them, three pointing arrows at the three younger rulers, and one down with an arrow through his eye. This Queen already had another nocked and pointed at me, as swift with her weapon as her brother with his feet; I smiled at her, stepping to the side to include the High King in our conversation.
"You have but two left, O deadly Queen, and there are six men. Can you loose both arrows in time to save those of your blood?" I let my eyes stray to my three archers. Her face went white, and her teeth worried her lip. No, she could not countenance losing even one, and she could not save them all.
"But you cannot leave without losing your own life, and the lives of all you lead," the High King said calmly. His eyes were on me.
I bowed to him. A warrior indeed. No, I was right to keep this challenge for myself. "Barring the doors has limited our options, O Warrior. But I have heard Narnia has men of honor, and so I offer you a bargain. How much do you trust your skill with your sword?"
"I have trusted my life to it, and will again." The King gave me his attention. He listened. Wariness, but not fear. I compared him with the man cringing against the wall, and for a moment, a brief moment, in my weakness I wished my target and buyer were reversed.
"That is good. Pit your skill against mine. If my skill proves the greater, your life is forfeit and I and these people may leave. If I lose, my life is forfeit, and I give you my word, my archers will lower their bows, and await Narnian justice."
"And my siblings, if I should lose?" the King asked quietly.
"The life of your brother would be forfeit as well, but after his removal, my client will likely be satisfied." More fool him. He would think he could handle the Queens. The Queens who had handled assassins, and would have no problem handling him.
The King's face hardened. "You do not like my terms?" I asked him. I regretted that; I would prefer we settled this with swords. "If it is your brother's life that troubles you, I can take it now." I looked again at the archers, and their arrows swung to the younger King. The Queen's bow came up instantly, the younger girl's hand reached towards an empty space in her belt—but two arrows were not enough to save the brother.
In either case Edmund was at risk, Peter knew. He would follow Aslan, fighting evil where he could, and trusting the result to Aslan's paws. "I agree to your terms." He looked to his siblings. "If he wins our duel, you let him and his men go." There were glares on their faces, but they stood in the Great Hall, and under his authority, and all three nodded. I turned back to the man threatening them. "I require the promise from your archers as well." Susan's skill could take out one, perhaps two, before they could fire, but if his archers were as skilled with bows as he was with a sword, there would no longer be four rulers of Narnia.
The man turned to his archers and they nodded as well, letting the tension release from the bows and the arrows hang from their fingers. Susan did the same. The man turned to face me again and brought his shorter sword up. "Ready, O King?" Peter bowed.
Before they could begin, a heavy boom sounded on the Great Hall doors. Boom. Boom. Boom. The Narnian guard outside, and under the noise of their efforts, the High Assassin attacked.
He was as fast as Peter and stronger, and Peter found himself backing up, and up, and up, and darting away from the wall just in time, his mouth dry, his ears ringing with the thuds and with the shouts of his siblings. By strength and speed, the assassin was the better swordsman.
But Peter trained with Centaurs, Dwarves, Fauns, and Animals. Calormenes had been his opponents before. He knew their style, knew this man's. If he could wait for an opening, he might win, by using a trick the assassin had never seen.**
If he could stay alive.
Or if the guard made it through the doors.
Round and round the Great Hall the two danced, the Calormene offensive, Peter fighting desperately for his life and his brother's. The eyes of everyone in the hall stayed fixed on the two, and so they did not notice the birds fastening ropes to the windows near the ceiling. In the noise no one heard the glass being pulled out, leaving the Hall open to the outside.
Then the booming on the doors ceased.
The next instant every Narnian thing with wings poured in the windows, snatching the bows from the three archers and blinding their eyes, seven flying to the door and removing the bar, Narnians pouring in, a circle immediately forming around the three, hiding them from all harm, and Oreius and four others heading for the man who threatened their High King.
A Lion's roar shook the hall, and as the assassin lost focus, suddenly aware of soldiers, birds, and that he also failed, the High King's sword slipped past his defenses and dealt a mortal blow.
I stared down at the sword thrust through me, at the one I'd wanted to claim as my own. I looked back up to the King, the boy, heaving great gasps of air, eyes on me, still wary.
My sword fell from my fingers. My short sword, taken from a battle-weary Tarkaan. He had dropped it—I dropped it now.
The King stood over me. He waited—for his sword.
For me to die.
Those who failed, died. I knew that. Dying hurt. It hurt to breathe.
"High King Peter." A grave voice, a deep one. "You are not injured?"
The King shook his head. He looked so tall.
"Peter!" It was the other three, running, a clatter around them as guards ran with them. They held him, hands moving over his arms, wiping his brow. "You won," said one of them. The younger girl, I think it was. She had a clear voice.
A beautiful voice, when everything began to hurt. The Warrior glanced at her. "Aslan's doing, not mine. He was tough. But I am His High King."
We should have remembered that. I closed my eyes.
The next few hours were a mess imprisoning soldiers, assassins, and one mad merchant who began screaming at the corpse for cheating him. The Four stayed together, moving from the Great Hall to the library, and, as things settled, picking up the new books that had been found and looking at the covers. No one really had the heart to read them yet.
Edmund sighed, setting down one on laws between Naiads and bridge-builders. He looked at his siblings. "Can we ban all unknown sailors from Narnia?" Edmund asked, half-joking.
"Oh, don't be foolish, Edmund," Susan snapped. "That's the opposite of helping Narnia."
The other three looked at her in surprise. She closed her book and looked down at it, and Peter put an arm around her.
"All four of us are alright, Su." She didn't answer. "I've an idea. Lucy, why don't you pick out a book, and we'll all go to your room and I'll read it out loud."
Lucy handed one to Peter—she'd chosen it over an hour before, having it ready, and Peter looked at the title and smiled. "Very funny." Susan looked up and took it from him, curious, and began laughing.
"What? What is it?" Edmund grabbed the book, glared, and reached over to gently hit Lucy over the head with it.
"You don't think Why Narnian Queens are Better than Kings is a good choice?" Lucy asked innocently. "We did manage to take care of our unwelcome visitors first, after all."
"Only because you were headstrong and went to the shore. I did warn you going out today was a bad idea," Edmund pointed out, putting on a mock-weary air. The Four began laughing as Lucy hit him back with the closest book at hand, a ponderous law tome.
"All right, all right, I'll choose a different book!" Lucy rooted around the pile for a moment, before coming up with her real choice. "Does this one sound all right? It's about a man shorter than a Dwarf who has to destroy a ring, and he has help from all sorts of friends."
"It sounds perfect." Peter reached for it as he stood, and helped Susan stand as well. She held him in place with a gentle hand on his arm as their siblings left the library.
"The book was wrong," she murmured. She rested her head against Peter's shoulder for a moment. "I'm so glad you're alright, Peter. Thank you for keeping us safe." Peter looked down at her, then at the other two who had gone into the world he ruled and loved.
"With my life," he promised. "No matter what assassins or troubles come our way."
*I'm taking Peter's speed from his duel with Miraz, which is pretty much the only model I have; sword fighting is not an area I have any experience in.
**Blatantly stolen from Edmund and the DLF in Prince Caspian, and should I mention, I still have no idea how Peter will win? By the time you read this I'll know, but I have no idea right now. I don't know a secret sword trick, so I can't use it to make him win. Ugh, why do I write things I know nothing about?
A/N: This was meant to be a funny story, and it came out morbid and angsty. Apparently this is an area I need to work on; but I will admit, I did enjoy writing this (mostly, at least once I figured out where it was going!). I'll try again another time.
A/N2: Just a quick reminder that the Adventures in Narnia forum is out there!
Response to 17: I'm guessing you're right, that would be Susan's impulse-only I don't know whether it'd be wise. The problem I have writing Silent is I'm not quite sure what makes her loyal, and until Narnia can win that, it can't trust her. And thank you! I'm so glad you're enjoying the story!
Response to Anonymous: Thank you so much, that's delightful to hear!