first: A Door in the Wall
Second: On the Other Side of the Door
Third: The Call Comes Again
Fourth: New Travelling Companions
Fifth: Complications and then Complications
Sixth: Stranger Things
Seventh: A Change and Changes
Eighth: But Not A Return
Ninth: The Gods Not Tamed
Tenth: The Tiny Queen Arises,
Eleventh:The Gentle Queen Awakens
They left the tavern on that solemn note. Polla, Susan could tell, was attempting to hide a limp. She moved until she was between the woman and the mass of the crowd, and smiled as she saw Peter flank Polla on the other side.
The woman, in turn, said nothing, but Susan noted that she let herself lean a little more heavily on her cane, and that she still sighed with relief when they had reached the inn’s stables. “You’re good kids.”
“You’re not the first war veteran we’ve encountered.” Edmund’s answer was casual, so casual that at first Susan thought he’d gone too far. “It’s hard to be out there with strangers seeing a weakness like that, right?”
Polla didn’t answer for a moment. She busied herself with the saddle on her dun mount, a small and flat saddle far less complicated than the ones the Pevensies had been using. There were not so many straps on it to take such time, and yet she was still working on her saddle when Susan had finished saddling her own mount.
“It is hard,” she agreed, so quietly that the jangle of tack nearly covered her voice. “And it’s frustrating. I am not weak, but that’s all they see. A limp, when I used to be the Terror of the Plains.”
“The Terror of the Plains?” Lucy asked, in her high child’s voice. Polla turned from her tack to look down at Lu.
“It was advertising, more or less. Telling everyone I was far bigger than I was. Telling them we were bigger than we were — my merc crew,” she continued, before they could ask. “We were tough and a little wild, but we were a small crew. So we talked ourselves up until we nearly believed it.” She swung herself up into the saddle. Seeing her there, her limp momentarily unimportant, Susan could believe her having been the Terror of the Plains.
Susan swung up into her own saddle. “I — we — know a bit about being seen as smaller and weaker than we are. It can make you want to throw rocks, can’t it?”
“Susan!” Peter was, of course, scandalized.
“Well, it can. It always has, Peter, whether it was you and Ed forgetting that Lu and I had brains of our own, or Mum and Dad thinking we were… we were just children.” She looked directly at Polla. “We’re smaller than we are, as Lucy once said. And so we know all about being looked at as lesser and… incapable.”
Polla caught it. She coughed. “Then the gods look favorably upon Valdemar after all, don’t they? You’re a sharp one — Susan, it was? You remind me of my old Captain.”
“Thank you.” Susan smiled broadly. “There are far worse compliments than to be reminiscent of a mercenary captain. Some of…” our best friends and finest warriors, my favorite lover, the ones that won that war for us… “We have known some fine mercenaries over the years.”
“I begin to think that your years are counted a little differently than your average gal-on-a-horse counts them.”
“We count every year twice,” Lucy put in, chipper and patently insincere. “That way there are twice as many birthday parties, and we can grow up twice as fast.”
Polla chuckled. “You’re quite adorable. But don’t think I don’t see how you sit your saddle, young miss.”
Lucy slouched deliberately and exaggeratedly. “Dunno whotcher talkin bout, lady?” She ruined it by grinning, which led to Polla barking out a laugh. Even Edmund chuckled, the quiet sound that he normally reserved only for family.
“You’re fun, too. Not sure I’ve ever met people that were clever and kind and fun.”
Lucy straightened up. “We’re still kids,” she answered innocently. “We’re supposed to be fun. And clever, well—” she shrugged. “We might be pretty smart. There’s a reason we were chosen, of course.”
“Of course. Valdemar does some pretty strange things though, young Lucy. And sometimes they are not the best chosen. You’ll forgive me for trusting my own judgement more than theirs, I hope.”
“Only as long as you forgive us for trusting ours.” Lucy’s smile was so bright, people often forgot to take offense even when she was being patently offensive. “We were brought here to do a job, but people seem very reluctant to let us do it. I think it’s making my brothers and sister a little touchy.” She stage-whispered the last as they walked their horses out onto the road.
“And not you?” Polla raised her eyebrows.
“Oh, no, I never get touchy. I’m the cheerful one. That’s what I’m called, Lucy the Sunny.”
“Valiant,” Edmund interjected, lazily but with a point hidden in all the silk. One again, Susan remembered how much she’d missed this side of her brother — and of her sister. “They called you the Valiant. And you earned it.”
Lucy blushed and ducked her head. “They did at that, sometimes,” she muttered.
Polla let the silence hang a few minutes, their horses’ hooves clopping on the cobbles as the only sound. “They,” she said, finally, the single word punctuated by a birdcall.
“They,” Edmund repeated, in the same smooth tone.
“You were brought here to help with our little problem.”
“We were sent,” Susan answered.
“Susan…” Peter began, but she shook her head.
“We were called for — and we were sent. The rest is a wee bit complicated, but we come from a long way away.”
“A long way away, hrrm? Well.” Polla smiled, a strange smile but not a bad one, “let’s hope it turns out to be worth the trip, then.”
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