The main thing Edmund recalls about how it all started, years later, is how easy it was. How natural it felt, how sensible, at least at the beginning. Because some things have to be done: paperwork, organisation, rotas and tactics and logistics. Castles don't run themselves. And he couldn't rely on Peter to do it.
He snorts at the memory, in fact, of Peter in the early years, trying so hard at the age of thirteen to be a war leader and a figurehead and convince foreign potentates that yes, Narnia was perfectly well-defended, and anyone fancying a nibble at her borders would find Peter and a battalion of cavalry on their heels speedily, and if any of them, anyone at all, fancied underestimating him and his prowess with a sword, that was fine by Peter, because people laugh with their eyes half-shut, which makes it a lot easier to get the better of them.
And at the same time as all of that, Peter decided to take the lead at Cair Paravel as well - ordering this and that done for the castle household, and getting it all mixed up and half-forgotten because, really, he did have more important things to do. And so Susan and Edmund slowly took that portion of command away from him, and once he'd got over his tantrum he realised that it was better that way.
It started with castle management, but soon Peter also delegated most other non-military matters as well. Lucy quietly and competently took charge of the palace guard, drilling them in medicine as well as combat, and Susan took on the castle organisation with frightening expertise that made Peter on more than one occasion beg her to come and quartermaster for him on the Ettinsmoor campaigns. And Edmund? Edmund handled the politicians: various Beast delegations looking for advantages or aid or a sympathetic ear to their troubles; foreign leaders who hadn't come to make a direct declaration of war; and some who came to seek alliances with the royal house of Narnia - and here he found himself to be talented at hinting much but giving away little, particularly when it came to young men courting Susan and Lucy.
At ten years old, four months fresh from the battle at Beruna, he felt his way delicately through court intrigue in Calormen for the first time, turning down a lesser Tarkaan who bid for Lucy's hand. He managed, much to his own surprise, to do so without offending the noble overly. Having to swallow revulsion at the idea of his eight-year-old sister married off was a fine lesson in lying, as well, although he felt he had a decent enough grasp on that. The two useful things he learnt from the Witch in their brief association - how to lie, and the consequences of doing so.
It was the first time he found himself good at something that Peter was not.
He was fourteen when he saw the first ambassador (and that was a step up - they sent ambassadors now, not generals) make eyes at Susan that she returned. He'd learnt by now that directness was never the way to get an honest answer, so he watched. And he noted how little of herself she gave for how much consideration from the foreigner - a kiss to the hand, a gentle touch, a wave, and suddenly trade concessions Edmund had wistfully thought of but put aside as asking too much were within their grasp. He had to admit, it was an effective tactic.
He'd had a private code, his own seal, watchers in the castle, for several years now, and these things helped his work, told him much, kept much secret that needed to be, but he found nothing so informative as his sister. She had a talent for secrecy as well as one for civilisation, and a keen ear. She made it no secret to him, at least, that a pretty face and a winsome smile were no little help at persuasion.
Peter and Lucy never knew. That, somehow, was the most important thing. Ever since that first offer for Lucy's hand, Edmund had made damned sure that no suitor made it past even the first stage of negotiations, which, of course, were all with him. And while Peter, by the age of seventeen, had begun to take a more enthusiastic interest in the matter of women, Edmund ensured that not one of the ones he eventually inveigled into his bed were of any importance, anyone who could drive a wedge between them, anyone with a motive. Susan moved smoothly in to charm those with an eye to a Narnian alliance, kept Lucy back from all but the most formal of state occasions, played down her blossoming beauty and emphasised, subtly, her growing reputation as a warrior-queen, and the focus of loyalty for the Beasts. It was hinted that Lucy, charming girl though she was, would be a troublesome wife. Susan held off suitors on two fronts - her own and her sister's - and passed all she found out to Edmund. It was a good system.
But all good systems have their hiccups and flaws, and by the time Edmund himself hit seventeen, he was starting to notice one he'd not seen before.
Not all those who came to treat with them were won over, for a start. Not many, but a significant proportion, went home without having graced the negotiating table with anything of real worth. Edmund remembers Susan's expression after one such incident. She'd shrugged at him, in response to his unspoken question.
'I'm not infallible,' she said. 'Perhaps I'm just not his type,' she added with a wry smile. But there was something thoughtful in her eyes as she regarded her brother.
The first time a negotiator ran his eyes up Edmund's throat, the thought that ran around Edmund's head was Oh.
He thought, at last. A way in. A wedge. All he considered at the start was that the power still lay with him. Looking back, he's almost amused at his own naïveté. He'd thought to play it the way Susan did, at first, promising much yet giving little, but somehow it didn't work out that way.
He knew Peter was giving him odd looks every time some new beauty graced their court that season, but hadn't thought too much of it. He didn't have time for women. He was busy. It had nothing to do with their white debutante's gowns, with the current fashion for crystal jewellery, with the tiny tiaras they all sported, or their pale, made-up faces, because Edmund had long ago put away those memories, that fear. Even so, even Peter knew better than to try to get Edmund to attend the Midwinter Ball.
He closeted himself in the library, as far from the windows as possible, trying to ignore the snowfall outside, and immersed himself in ancient treaties with Archenland. They were allies now, had been allies at the beginning of the world, or so legend said, but times between then and now had been troubled, and even before the Witch came, several decades of careful negotiation had been needed to realign the two countries. Edmund wanted to make sure that the current Archen envoy went away with only good reports of his country's larger neighbour to the North, wanted to observe every protocol. So he did research, and pretended that he couldn't hear the music filtering through under doors from the ballroom, a corridor away.
'I had thought to find you at the ball, your Majesty,' said a voice, quietly, and Edmund looked up to see the Archenlander, Darrin, looking quizzically at him. 'But your brother the High King suggested I try here.'
'Is there something you need?' asked Edmund, stretching and standing. 'Is the revelry not to your liking?'
'It is entirely satisfactory save in one particular,' Darrin said, stepping closer. 'Your Majesty's presence.'
'I ... do not celebrate Midwinter,' Edmund said, stiffer than he'd like. 'And I have work to do. My brother and sisters are much merrier companions tonight.'
'Would you mind then if I sat with you for a time? I should not like to interrupt your work, but...'
Edmund gave in. After all, he was meant to be giving a good impression, and perhaps Darrin didn't enjoy the festivities either. He sat back down, gestured to the other seats. 'Please, I would like the company,' he said. He made a small bet with himself and didn't bother to congratulate himself on winning when Darrin chose the closest seat. His gaze was on Edmund's mouth, flicking up to his eyes when Edmund cleared his throat. The lights in the library were bright enough that the man's eyes ought not to be so dilated. He'd been drinking, clearly. Just a little, just enough to bolster his courage.
Edmund picked up a scroll, aware that his every move was being scrutinised, and went back to his reading. He wondered if Susan felt like this when she picked up a fan.
He considered where this was going to go, briefly, before slamming that question down. It was going to nowhere he didn't want it to. Archenland was an important ally to the south, a buffer between Narnia and Calormen. If he had to...
This is ridiculous, he said to himself, still shifting papers around, making notes, aware at every second of the Archenlander's gaze. How could he possibly insist that the alliance of our nations hinge on my accepting his suit? Life and death this is not. I'm well within my rights to refuse him. Gently, of course, but--
But Darrin's pupils were blown wide, his hand curled on the table-top, delicately fingering the edge of a book. He wasn't acting like a politician seeking an advantage. He was acting like a nervous young man at the Midwinter Ball.
--Is this even political? Does everything have to be--?
A soft hand cupped Edmund's jaw. Close to his ear, a gentle, nervous voice whispered, 'May I?'
Edmund closed his eyes and leaned in just that extra fraction. 'Yes,' he said softly, and closed the distance.
There were no fireworks. That was the first thing he thought when Darrin pulled away. It wasn't bad, it felt - physically, it felt good, it sent heat rolling down his body - but that was physically. Mentally, there were no fireworks.
Darrin looked up at him from under his eyelashes, suddenly worried, and began to pull even further away. Edmund suddenly realised what he must be thinking, and without hesitating pulled him back in. He'd only meant to signal it's alright, I'm not about to have you beheaded for presuming to touch me, but it became another kiss. And a third, and a wet mouth moving down the column of Edmund's throat, hands everywhere, and--
Edmund struggled free, carefully extricating himself and putting Darrin's hands back in his lap. 'I have to go,' he said, pushing down any hint of a crackle in his voice. 'Thank you,' he added, knowing how stupid it sounded, but not knowing any better way to put it.
He left. It was probably the worst thing he could have done. He knew that later. But he was seventeen, only seventeen, and newly kissed.
He'd slipped. He knew it as soon as he reached his chambers, no, before then, when he had to speed up walking past the ballroom. That was the tell. He hadn't slipped in seven years, he hadn't slipped since he'd looked Aslan in the eye and promised to be true to Narnia. But he'd slipped now, and maybe it was only by the grace of the Lion that he'd slipped with an ally, not an enemy.
Edmund went to bed feeling angry. Mostly with himself. And worried that tomorrow would bring some unforeseen price for his lapse. He stared at the ceiling until sleep overtook him.
The next morning was one of hidden hangovers and precious little else. Edmund spent it in the practice yards with Lucy, who was largely incapable of spending an entire morning in bed and worryingly resistant to the after-effects of wine. They sparred with each other, set up targets and shot, and ended it sitting side by side on the stone steps leading back up the castle.
'So, you had a good night last night, then?' Edmund asked, eyes mostly on the trampled area of snow they'd been occupying.
'Probably better than yours,' said Lucy. 'Mrs Beaver taught me a dance her mother taught her when she was a kit.'
'And what did you get up to?' Lucy asked, poking him in the ribs. 'Reading, I suppose?'
'The old Archen documents,' he confirmed.
'We're allies with Archenland.'
'And I'd like us to stay that way.'
After a pause, Lucy said, 'Darrin and I danced an Anvard reel - it's been so long since the last time, I nearly forgot the steps.'
'As if that would ever happen,' scoffed Edmund. 'Mr Tumnus would never let you hear the end of it, for a start.'
A clattering above made Edmund look back up - Peter was coming down the stairs in practice gear, half a scowl on his face.
'Headache?' said Edmund, in what was meant to be a sympathetic tone.
Peter rolled his eyes. 'And how would you know? Did you know the heralds want to add 'Hermit of the Western Tower' to your titles?'
'I had work to do!'
'You selfishly abandoned me to be mugged by a wineskin,' Peter corrected.
'And a jug of ale,' Lucy added impishly.
'That'll be enough out of you, wench,' said Peter, ruffling his sister's hair. 'Anyone up for helping me forget my misery?' He twirled the practice blade easily.
'I live for the chance to collect bruises from your Majesty,' said Edmund, standing and stretching. 'Even though it's all I can do to keep up with her ladyship here. If I get cramp halfway through the farewell to the Archen delegation this afternoon, I'll tell them you two beat me and threw me in the dungeons and that's why I wasn't at the ball.'
'That would be a lie, though,' said Peter blandly, moving into a guard stance. 'Come on, are you ready?' He changed fluidly into a high strike, setting a moderate pace. They worked through the exercise together easily, carefully. Edmund and Peter rarely sparred with each other - both claimed they couldn't face the humiliation should they lose. The reality was rather more that fighting each other was something they couldn't countenance easily. Sparring with Lucy was a laugh as well as practice. One didn't end up face-to-face with women on a battlefield unless they were carrying bandages after the fighting had stopped.
Face-to-face with one's brother was something else altogether. And never again after Beruna would Edmund willingly put himself on the opposing side to Peter.
As they finished the exercise, the sound of footsteps on the stairs alerted Edmund to Darrin's presence. The Archenlander looked distinctly the worse for wear, and he carried a longbow and a quiver. He bowed to all three of them, and then set himself up at the furthest target from the castle.
Peter looked at Edmund. Edmund shrugged, sheathing his blade. Lucy picked up her own bow and trotted after Darrin, leaving them to go back inside and attend to the morning's schedule.
That evening, after the farewell, and supper, Edmund and Susan played a game of chess together. It was something of a ritual for them, a relaxing end to the day that Edmund appreciated. Peter had his insisted-upon weekly stint on the wall-tops with the guards and his own exasperated bodyguards, and Lucy had visitors in the form of a gaggle of Red Dwarfs, so the siblings' private parlour was empty save for Edmund and Susan.
After two hours of near silence, Susan moved her queen into place and said, 'Checkmate.'
Edmund conceded, distractedly.
'What, no argument?'
'Because you were playing as if you'd your head in a sack.' She regarded him shrewdly, and then asked. 'Any pillow talk?'
That got through to him. 'What?'
'I noticed Darrin slinking off last night, mid-song. When he came back, he looked...' She shrugged, as unladylike as Lucy in her own way. 'I wondered if he'd visited you in your lair.'
'We talked,' said Edmund. While he wasn't going to lie (because what good would that do?), he wasn't going to volunteer anything either.
'Edmund,' said Susan. 'I share my tidings with you, however I come across them. And I could see how he was watching you.'
'He didn't tell me anything,' Edmund confessed. 'Except that he missed me at the ball.'
'Then what did you tell him?'
'Nothing. I'm not Peter, Su.'
'Far from it. But I don't have to tell you to be wary, do I?'
He lifted an eyebrow at her.
'No. I didn't think so.' There was a pause, and then: 'People don't fall in love with people like you and me,' said Susan. She sounded tired. 'We're not easy to love.'
'We're not easy to manipulate, either,' Edmund pointed out. 'Don't worry about my discretion, Su.'
'I wasn't worried about your discretion,' she said, something shadowed in her eyes. 'I was worried about your heart.'
'Don't.' He reached out across the chessboard to take her hand, her triumphant queen and his downed king nudging their fingers. 'It's locked up, safe.'
He smiled, and so did she. Seventeen and nineteen and both so alone, even together. It makes Edmund a little angry to think back over what they'd become.
It ended better and it ended worse five months later, when the Terebinthian ambassador at the time - Edmund never got his name - with whom Susan was negotiating outwardly for a supply of terebinth resin, and more covertly for an assurance that the Terebinthian navy was not going to open hostilities against the Lone Islands, was invited to an 'informal' intimate dinner with the royal family. Edmund hated these affairs, which were always with people who needed more than the usual amount of persuasion. They took him away from his usual routine of quiet dinner, comfortable clothing and chess game. He fussed with the embroidered collar of his shirt whilst waiting for the food to be served. The ambassador was ostensibly engrossed in a lively debate with Susan and Peter on fighting to the death in tournaments, leaving Edmund and Lucy to chafe at their respective bits and drink watered wine, but the man's eyes flicked to Edmund far more frequently than he was happy with.
Their eyes met once, and that was all the confirmation Edmund needed. And when the conversation turned to the trade deal, which was still wallowing, and Susan prettily set forth her most persuasive arguments, the moment where the man would normally have made some gesture towards her passed entirely. He didn't want anything Susan could provide him with, that much at least was clear. And he was prepared to be extremely difficult. Susan glanced at Edmund when the ambassador was occupied with his meal, a frustrated look in her eye.
Edmund, had he been lax enough to do something so visible, would have swallowed nervously. Promise much, give little, he thought to himself.
The next day, when nothing happened, he thought he'd been mistaken. But the negotiations were still stalled.
Edmund had spent the day practising his lap-harp - he was to perform in a concert to mark his own birthday the next day, and so in addition to scheduling himself practice times during the months leading up to it, he gave himself that last day's grace to make sure of himself and his memory of the music. At about supper-time, he put down the instrument in the castle music-room and flexed cramping fingers, smiling to himself.
'That was beautiful,' said a voice from the doorway. It was the Terebinthian. 'I came to ask if your Majesty would grant me the honour of supping with me this evening.'
Edmund considered it briefly, and decided that it was a good idea. A meal and some polite conversation would be a small price to pay if it would ease tomorrow's deliberations. 'I would be delighted,' he said. 'I will need to change first, however.' He gestured to his attire, which was hardly suitable for a meeting between a king and an emissary to his court.
'Take all the time you need. I will have supper sent up to my chambers.'
Edmund walked as sedately as he could towards his own rooms, wondering what on earth one wore to meet with a nobleman who quite possibly wanted to seduce one. He knew what Susan would have worn, but what did one wear when one was male? In the end he settled for the first thing that came to hand and carefully didn't hurry to the Terebinthian's suite in the guest wing, trying to calm the worry in his gut. He was going to do nothing he didn't want to, after all. This was just another tactic in just another negotiation. He would not let it go beyond talking, not without some good reason.
That was what he clung to when the ambassador slung an arm around his shoulder, leant too close, gestured too much.
That was what he clung to when the wine wasn't watered, and he had to lip the goblet and pretend to take more than he did.
This wasn't Darrin, the nervous Archen envoy. This man was older, not by too much - Edmund placed him as being probably in the middle of his twenties - but with an air of confidence and sophistication that made the gap between them yawn wider. And this man knew what he wanted. Edmund felt like a tiny fish before a shark, and the feeling made him angry. He hadn't felt young in years, and wasn't sure he cared for it. Wasn't sure he cared for the fact that the other man obviously relished it.
'Your sister is a charming woman,' said the ambassador as they were finishing the sweet course. 'I'd heard many good things about her skills as a negotiator.' There was just a twist of an eyebrow there to indicate that perhaps the man wasn't being as literal as he might, and to encourage Edmund to share the joke, to try and inject some manly camaraderie. Edmund just found himself having to strangle the urge to bite his lip to stop unwanted comments falling out. The tiny slur to Susan's honour was bad enough - as far as they were both concerned, what she did to gain advantage for Narnia was no more a smirch on her reputation than winning a battle was on Peter's - the suggestion that he laugh along with it was unthinkable.
The Terebinthian took another draught of wine. 'I'd heard your Majesty was even more of an adept, though,' he added. 'I was disappointed to find I'd not have you over the table.' If Edmund had needed anything further to confirm what kind of meeting the ambassador hoped this would be, that would have done it, right enough. He could have pulled the man up on that kind of comment, expressed displeasure ... and damaged Susan's chances of resolving the matter. And though it disturbed him, some little part of Edmund smirked, and was flattered at the attention. The ambassador wasn't unattractive, either, which didn't hurt.
'Her Majesty my sister has more experience dealing with matters pertaining to the lands East of here,' said Edmund, fiddling with the base of his goblet. 'I have been occupied this last month with mediating a border dispute between Calormen and Archenland.'
'So young and yet such a talent,' mused the ambassador, his eyes fixed on Edmund's hand on the silverware. 'And you play the harp as well?'
'A little,' said Edmund, ignoring the comment on his age. People were welcome to assume that his years meant inexperience. 'In fact there is to be a recital tomorrow of some of Cair Paravel's finest musicians, in which I'm privileged to have been asked to perform. It will accompany the evening meal - I hope it will please you.'
The ambassador met his eyes, and Edmund felt a flare of heat rise unbidden when the man smiled. And that, in all honesty, was what did it.
He would have gone as far for duty, but he would have resisted more, most likely, if there hadn't been that flash, that little wrench in his gut that roused his curiosity. What would it be like? It seemed to Edmund, twisting his fingers around his goblet and refusing to let himself blush, that it would be better to know, one way or the other. To decide now. He wasn't a girl; no-one expected him to save anything for marriage. That was no bait that he could dangle. And if he never - if he played it Susan's way, if he never did, but always hinted, then he'd always wonder, and one day wondering might get the better of him. Inexperience got men killed on the battlefield, and it was folly to think that politics was anything but a quieter way to fight a war.
In the end, he never did know if it was for himself, or for Narnia, but he let the ambassador lead him to the bedchamber.
He'd meant to be calm, hold fast, watch and learn as he did with everything, but, when the other man drew him near...
In some calm part of his mind Edmund noted that this must be at least something to do with anticipation, and a hint too much wine. The feel of fingers around his wrist, cajoling him in to stand in the shadow of the ambassador's body, caused him to draw a breath that was somehow too deep.
'Is this to your Majesty's liking?' asked the ambassador, and, damn him, there was a hint of amusement in his voice. His teasing touch as he smoothed one finger over Edmund's cheek, skirting the delicate skin of his eye and tracing down to his lip, said that he was enjoying playing his game with the fragile, bookish king. Edmund took the finger between his teeth, swept his tongue over it before letting go and saying, as forcefully as he felt able, hoping to dispel the illusion of delicacy, 'Entirely.'
'If your Majesty-'
Edmund reached forward, silenced the man with a kiss.
For a while there was no sound but that of the slide of cloth, the padding of feet on the floor, the creak of furniture, and Edmund liked that, liked the intimacy of silence. Talking was business, so silence could be an escape.
He forced himself to smile, when what he wanted to do was moan and pant. The hands on his hips were rubbing slow circles in the fabric of his trousers, somehow drawing him to stuttering, involuntary motion. A gentle push to his chest was all it took to spread him across the fine linen sheets.
'Tell me what you want,' breathed the ambassador. Edmund jerked back and immediately berated himself for the reaction.
'You don't care for that, do you?'
The buttons on Edmund's clothes were being undone with inexorable slowness, and he couldn't find it in him to prevent it. 'Care for what?' he managed, stifling a gulp as a hand closed over him; sudden pressure and warmth, a familiar feeling but completely unexpected. Uncontrolled, or at least, uncontrolled by Edmund.
The ambassador's shadow blocked the light from the single candle. It made no sense, no sense at all, that the darkness could feel like this, velveting the senses and whetting the appetite, but years later, Edmund still finds it easier to love in the dark.
'For talk?' The ambassador made it a question. 'Perhaps just for business. I'm not sure.' There was a rustling of cloth as he slipped out of his own garments.
'Is this business then?' asked Edmund, unable thanks to friction and shadow to control the tone of that. He thought of leaving, perhaps storming out. Regaining control that way.
No. You don't win a game by refusing to play.
A lascivious voice in his ear said 'Do you want it to be?' just as the ambassador leaned gently in towards him, aligning hips and thighs and everything else.
Edmund bit back a moan, arms ramrod straight at his sides, clutching at the sheets. The ambassador pulled back a little. 'Do you want to be here?' he asked suddenly. He lifted Edmund's arm, drew hot teasing lines along it, mouthed his fingers wetly. 'Aslan knows, I could never hold you here were you unwilling.'
And wasn't that clever, to ask whilst encouraging?
'I do,' said Edmund, reaching out with the other hand. 'I just-' He did bite his lip that time.
'Show me,' said the ambassador hotly, bringing Edmund's arms up to drape around his neck. 'Touch me.'
Edmund tightened his arms, closed his eyes, aware his guard was dropping but unsure of what to do about it. 'I trust this means that we're on ... friendly terms,' he said, fighting to keep his breathing calm as their hips rocked together.
'The friendliest,' laughed the other man. Edmund could feel the reverberations of it pass through skin into his own lungs.
'As- as countries, as well as men.'
'Ah, so you do want to talk business.'
There was a foreign thigh between Edmund's two, pushing forward just a hint, inviting him to hitch his own up too. He did, and the slide of skin on skin pushed the pace again, and again, until he was bucking and squirming, business shoved to the back of his mind, feeling as though he'd rise off the bed if not bodily held down.
Cold, slippery fingers trailed over his thigh, and he gasped in shock, his eyes falling open. A bottle he had not noticed before stood uncapped upon the nightstand. He looked back up to meet the Terebinthian's gaze.
'How friendly?' the ambassador asked, circling delicately.
Edmund drew a deep, shuddering breath. 'Friendship goes both ways,' he remarked as offhandedly as he felt able to, with his body hot and wanting the attention but his nerves frozen with rejection of this unknown.
'Oh, this friendship could run deep.' Fingers trailed between Edmund's legs, warming as they went.
'Narnia has always preferred to make friends, rather than,' Edmund said, then swallowed, hard, as the fingers found their target, 'enemies.'
'I've heard that,' the ambassador whispered into Edmund's ear, sinking further into him, his touch as gentle as his voice, as wicked as his words.
Like all sacrifices, like all lessons, it was hard, but brought its own rewards. That's how Edmund thought about it later, years, decades later when he decided there were some things that scribes and historians and posterity did not get to wrest from him, when he dredged up every memory he could only to decide that some should possibly have stayed hidden.
This was one that never saw daylight or the trickle of ink on vellum: Edmund's thighs clamped around the Terebinthian's ribs, his throat gleaming with sweat in the candlelight, head thrown back against the pillows. The furrowed brow, the panting smile and parted lips of the ambassador. The moments between one act of completion and the next, where the world seemed to Edmund to be narrowed to nothing but satiety and desire and slivers of light.
This was one that never brought inspiration to bards either: Edmund the Just, moving carefully, slowly through the halls of his own castle in the early morning darkness, carrying a sealed scroll and a sheaf of papers to his sister's study.
They did write of the banquet that night, however, and of the concert that accompanied it. They wrote of King Peter with his arm around the ambassador, the representative of Terebinthia, ally of Narnia. They wrote of how gracefully Queen Susan danced, and how energetically Queen Lucy did the same.
They wrote of how skilfully King Edmund performed.
After the concert was over, Susan glided over to congratulate her brother. Her cool hand slid around his arm as he escorted her back to the table.
'And now we have to make nice,' she whispered in his ear. 'Now he has to know he's taken nothing from you.'
She steered him to a seat at Peter's right.
'I was just telling our friend here that you've only been playing a year,' said Peter, clapping Edmund on the shoulder. 'The Faun who taught him said he was a natural.'
'Of that I have no doubt,' said the Terebinthian, raising his goblet and nodding at Edmund. 'Well-played, your Majesty. Well-played.'