Peter's first stop on arriving home was to check the notice board in the lobby. The lovely old apartment building had great historical significance (according to the landlord) but it had not been updated with the most recent technology and so few of the flats had telephones installed. Instead, the residents used a communal phone in the lobby and took messages for other residents, which were pinned to the notice board. This was only partially successful; Archie, in number 3C, never took messages at all, but God help you if his calls weren't noted. Mrs. Strudwick in 1A always took precise messages, but liked to enquire about personal business and ask the caller for information about you.
A piece of paper marked Edmund & Peter Pevensie had been folded neatly and pinned to the board. Peter opened it. In Mrs. Strudwick's neat handwriting, it said, A message from Miss Lucy Pevensie. She wishes for you to check your post. Peter frowned. He checked his post box on a near-daily basis and did not normally require a reminder. Curious, he went to see what was so special about today.
When Peter unlocked the flat that he shared with Edmund, he found his brother dozing on a thick law book. His fingers were wrapped around his pen and the ink leaked a little, staining Edmund's palm with a dark smudge. Peter dropped the post on the table and Edmund jumped.
"Peter!" Edmund yawned and rubbed his face, leaving a streak of black ink on one cheek. "You're home early."
Peter shook his head and pointed at the clock.
Edmund groaned and dropped his head back on his book.
"I take it you haven't started supper yet?" Peter asked.
"I'll do it now," Edmund said, starting to stand up, but Peter placed a hand on his brother's shoulder to stop him.
"We'll swap," Peter said. "I'll take tonight and you can cook tomorrow." He went into the kitchen, checked the cupboard and came back out again.
"I haven't gone to the market, either," Edmund admitted.
"I can make sandwiches." Peter said, "Take a look at the post. Lucy's terribly excited."
Edmund flipped past a couple of bills and drew out the thick, cream-coloured envelope, addressed in neat letters with long flourishes. He slipped his finger under the flap of the envelope and opened it. "Well," he said. "I suppose it's official."
"I suppose so," Peter said.
"'Mrs. Walter Cornell'," Edmund said. "She won't be a Pevensie anymore."
"Not on paper," Peter agreed. "But she'll never stop being our Susan."
The bride's family hosted a dinner in order for the two families to meet and get to know one another. Mother hired the baker's daughter to help with cooking and Lucy planned to make Susan's favorite strawberry pie, but when the grocery list had been made and the ration coupons counted, they did not have enough sugar.
"We'll simply have to serve war cake," Mother said. "I'm sorry, Su, dear, but we must save coupons for the wedding cake. I'm sure Walter's family will understand."
"Of course they will," Susan said. She did not mention it again, but Lucy went and had a private word with Edmund. Edmund had a friend who knew someone. Lucy never asked the details, but she baked strawberry pie for the night's dessert.
After dinner, the women retired to the parlor and the men went out to the terrace to smoke cigars that the elder Mr. Cornell provided and to drink whisky that the elder Mr. Pevensie had saved for a special occasion. "What sort of work do you do, Peter?"
"He's in the Army," Mr. Pevensie said proudly, lifting his whisky glass.
"Did you serve in the War?" Mr. Cornell asked Peter. "You look a bit young for it, if you don't mind me saying."
"No, I had planned to, but the war ended before I was allowed to enlist," Peter said. He fiddled with his cigar. "I went to university for a bit, then joined up."
"Where are you stationed?" Mr. Cornell asked.
"London, for the moment. I expect I'll be sent to Germany soon," Peter said.
"Where you can glare at the Russians across the border," Mr. Cornell said.
"Better than ducking bombs and dodging bullets," Mr. Pevensie said.
"True, true," Mr. Cornell said. "We've had quite enough of that." He turned to Edmund. "What do you do, son?"
Edmund had just taken a puff of his cigar and made the mistake of trying to answer without exhaling. He choked on the smoke. Peter fetched him a glass of water and Mr. Cornell rather unhelpfully pounded him on the back. Edmund caught his breath and took a sip of water. "I'm studying law at King's College," he said.
"Ah," Mr. Cornell nodded approvingly. "Planning to be a barrister?"
"Politics," Peter said, with a teasing smile. "Going to be Britain's youngest Prime Minister." If they'd been a little younger, he would have ruffled Edmund's hair.
"Bit young to run a country, but I daresay we've seen worse," Mr. Cornell said.
"I'm not going into politics," Edmund said, narrowing his eyes at Peter. "I think I might like to be a judge."
"A fine profession," Mr. Cornell said.
"You work with your father, don't you, Walter?" Mr. Pevensie asked Susan's fiancé.
"Ah, no, not anymore," Walter replied. "I've recently taken a position at The Times." He swirled his whisky glass and took a sip.
Mr. Pevensie frowned. "What sort of position?"
"Writing," Walter said. "I'm a journalist."
"We've tried to talk him out of it," Mr. Cornell sighed.
"It sounds like a very interesting job," Peter said. "What sort of stories do you do?"
"I'm beginning small, of course," Walter said. "Cats in trees and such. I hope to be promoted to real news soon."
"Is this enough to support a family?" Mr. Pevensie frowned.
"I'm not bringing in much right now," Walter admitted. "Susan and I have discussed it. She will continue working at the phone company after the wedding. I've looked at the careers of other reporters and I believe by the time we are ready for children then I will have sufficient income to support a family by myself."
"And if not?" Mr. Pevensie demanded.
"Then I have agreed to hire him back," Mr. Cornell said. "Never fear, we will not allow our grandchildren to go wanting! Especially when prosperity is finally returning to Britain."
The conversation switched to the economy, and how the end of clothing rationing had affected Mr. Cornell's shipping business, which segued into Mr. Pevensie's work and soon the elder men went off to look at some rare book of Mr. Pevensie's.
"Journalism sounds like an exciting profession," Edmund said. He cautiously took another puff of the cigar and was rather more successful this time.
"Some days, yes," Walter said. "Some days it's going through years-old sales receipts from a carpet shop so a senior reporter can write about a faked robbery."
"One of your sisters writes as well, doesn't she?" Peter asked. "I believe Susan mentioned it."
"Yes, Edith writes, but it's writing of a different sort," Walter said. "It's children's stories for her, and she's quite good. She's even made a few sales."
"What are they about?" Peter asked.
"Oh," Walter laughed. "They're based on games we used to play as children. We'd go into the woods and pretend that each puddle was a different world, and if we jumped in the puddle, we'd go to that world."
Peter and Edmund exchanged startled looks. "What sort of worlds?" Edmund asked.
"All kinds. Old ones and new ones, ones made of chrome and glass, ones made of vines and flowers, just about anything we could imagine. Edith came up with most of them, but Doreen and I had a go at it now and then." Walter took a sip of his whisky. "You had games of that sort, didn't you? Susan told me a bit. Kings and Queens!" He chuckled. "And you as the High King," he said to Peter. "I can't imagine my sisters letting me lord it over them."
Edmund bristled, but Peter just laughed. "If you think calling myself High King got this lot to do anything I wanted, you don't know my family very well." He grinned at Edmund. His brother looked away and took a sip of his whisky, though he had a small smile.
"You know what's strange?" Walter asked. "No matter what world we went to, there was always a lion. Susan said you had a lion as well. Isn't that queer?" He shook his head. "I suppose there was some radio programme with a lion when we were young. We must have all listened to it."
"I don't remember any programme like that," Edmund said.
"Neither do I," Peter said.
Walter shrugged. "Memories can be odd things."
"I think we all can agree on that," Peter said.
Lucy stood by the altar as Susan's Maid of Honour, wearing a light blue dress with short sleeves and a lace neckline. Walter and his Best Man wore black suits with white carnations in their buttonholes.
Susan's white silk dress had a wide neckline, capped sleeves and a skirt that ended mid-calf. Her grandmother's lace veil (something old) covered her long black hair down to her waist. She wore lace-edged white gloves (something new), her friend Marjorie's white shoes (something borrowed) and she carried a bouquet of white lilies tied with a blue ribbon (something blue).
Mother began dabbing her eyes at the first note of the wedding march. Of course, it was just Susan in a pretty dress walking with Father in a suit, hardly an uncommon sight, but Lucy put her hand over her mouth when she saw her sister and even Peter and Edmund felt there was some magic in the church that morning.
Peter and Edmund sat in the front row along with their parents. Alberta, Harold and Eustace sat to the right of the Pevensies. Edith, Doreen and the rest of Walter's family sat on the other side of the aisle. The priest, a portly, ginger-haired man, had a lovely speaking voice and recited the marriage service with a voice and presence so engaging that he could have gone into the theatre. It seemed almost no time before the priest was asking for the rings.
A tiny girl approached the altar shyly, wearing a dress with so many petticoats that she looked like a carnation turned upside down. She was Walter's cousin's daughter, and during the rehearsal she had been delighted at the responsibility entrusted to her. Now she looked around at all the guests watching her, squeaked, and buried her face in Lucy's skirt, grabbing handfuls of fabric with tiny fists.
Lucy bent over and spoke to the girl softly. The girl looked around, then shoved the ring box at Lucy. Quiet laughter brushed over the room. Lucy smiled, accepted the box, and spoke to the girl again. The girl hugged Lucy and ran off to her parents.
Susan put her hand over her mouth so that her smile remained a proper church smile and did not turn into a grin. She tugged at the fingers of the glove on her left hand, and when it slid off, she handed the glove to Lucy. Lucy opened the ring box and held it out to Walter. He took the ring and Lucy stepped back.
"Susan Pevensie, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage.With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Walter slid her ring over the finger of her left hand. He looked at her, and she looked at him, and the smiles on both of them threatened to burst out of the constraints of proper church behavior.
Lucy offered the ring box to Susan, who took the remaining ring in her gloved right hand. She took Walter's hand in her left hand and said, "Walter Cornell, I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage.With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Susan slid the groom's ring on Walter's hand and the two of them promptly vanished.
The church, which had been quiet before, now grew utterly still as even the most restless of legs froze mid-bounce. Then a low murmur began, rising to fill the room. Mr. and Mrs. Pevensie bent their heads together and whispered furiously. Lucy rolled back on her heels and looked smug.
"Lucy!" Peter hissed. "What happened?"
Lucy glanced at Edith, who also looked smug. Next to Edith, Doreen looked as confused as anyone. Lucy turned back to Peter and mouthed, "Honeymoon."
"Honey-" Peter looked at Edmund and both swiveled in their seats to look at Professor Kirke, who sat in the row behind them. Aunt Polly sat beside him, looking both tolerant and amused.
"But we can't go back!" Edmund said.
"You can go forward," Professor Kirke said. "And a number of other directions as well. Have you been taught nothing of physics?"
"I'm studying law," Edmund said weakly.
"Well!" the Professor said. "Physics contains a number of laws. I should speak to your professors."
"But the rings are gone!" Peter protested.
"Not gone, buried," Edith said. She and Doreen joined them, though the girls had to crouch as there were no chairs. Peter and Edmund stood up to give Edith and Doreen their seats, but Edith waved them back down. She pushed a dark curl away from her cheek. "Lucy and I dug them up. We went out in the middle of the night in men's trousers. It was splendid fun! The Professor found us a magician to do enchantments on the rings so they switched appearances with the real ones."
"I hope you haven't lost those," Doreen said sternly.
"Never fear, I've got them safe," Edith said. She patted her handbag.
"A magician in London?" Edmund asked. "I thought there was no magic in England."
"He's from Edinburgh," Professor Kirke said, by way of explanation.
"Yes, but..." Edmund's mouth opened, but he couldn't find the words to speak.
Polly leaned forward. "There's very little magic in our world, but it does exist. If it didn't, rings and wardrobes and paintings and the like would never work at all."
Eustace came over then and crouched next to Edith. "What's going on, then?"
"They've gone to the Wood Between the Worlds," Peter explained.
Eustace's mouth dropped open, and his resemblance to Edmund (which was stronger than either thought it was) became greater than before. "But how-"
The church went abruptly quiet again because Susan and Walter had reappeared at the altar in front of the horribly confused priest. Susan's veil had gone and so had Walter's carnation. Both had mud spattered on their shoes. They'd both got suntans and Walter's hair had become lighter, like he'd been on holiday, his brown hair now streaked with dark blond.
Edith stood up and she and Lucy applauded. A beat later, Doreen and Eustace stood up as well, and they and Peter and Edmund joined the applause. Around the church, others took their cue, some hesitantly, some confidently. The guests still weren't sure what they'd seen, but it had been a performance and they knew about performances. Whispers began again and Edmund heard someone say, "...trap door..."
Susan had arrived facing Peter and Edmund and she stared daggers at them both. Her brothers' eyes went to Lucy. Susan pivoted to glare at her sister, who put on a joyful smile.
The priest regained his composure, cleared his throat and said, "Shall I resume?"
"Please do," Walter said, and so the wedding went on. Whatever else had happened, the journey hadn't dimmed the couple's joy, and by the end, a number of handkerchiefs were dampened. Jill stole Eustace's handkerchief from his pocket; she had previously declared that crying at weddings was sentimental nonsense and therefore had not brought one of her own.
Walter found a new carnation for his buttonhole by the time everyone gathered for the reception. Susan took apart Lucy's bouquet ("You owe it to me") and braided the white flowers in her hair so the absence of her veil looked intentional. Edith passed over the real rings and Susan tucked the magic ones in her handbag, after carefully wrapping them in her handkerchief.
After the meal came a lovely white cake decorated with blue flowers, and it was more than worth being stingy with the sugar for the past month. Then the dancing! Walter and Susan took the floor first, and when he spun her around, her hair and skirt flew out like she was about to take flight. No one in the room had seen the steps of that dance before, but Susan was often the first to try a new hairdo or the latest fashion, so no one found it surprising that she'd learned a new dance before anyone else had seen it.
Professor Kirke and Polly danced an old dance, one they'd likely known as children, and they knew the steps as well as walking. When they finished, Walter's grandfather timidly approached Polly and asked her to dance with him. Professor Kirke joined Mr. Pevensie and a couple of his colleagues, possibly to discuss the curriculum of Britain's modern educational facilities.
Edmund leaned against a wall, drink in one hand, talking intently with a lovely blonde girl. Eustace and Jill bickered cheerfully over cake. Doreen looked bored and a bit uncomfortable as young man talked at her, but Edith shooed him off and joined her sister in his place.
Peter sat in a chair along the back wall of the church hall, sipping a drink and enjoying the music. Lucy sat down beside him. "She won't tell me anything," Lucy heaved a great sigh. "She says I don't deserve to know."
"Don't expect pity from me." Peter frowned at her. "She's quite in the right here. That could have been very dangerous."
Lucy waved her hand. "Walter knows how to travel in the Wood. He's done it loads of times. They could have chosen to jump back in our pond and ended it there, but they chose to go on."
"Still, it was a dirty trick," Peter said.
"She remembers now," Lucy said softly, looking at Susan on the dance floor. A memory arose in Peter's mind; Susan, dancing with the Duke of some small province, laughing and spinning until she spun that man right off the dance floor. She'd pulled her sister into the dance instead. They'd grown apart when they returned home, as sisters often do, although the love between them never lessened.
Peter decided not to pursue the subject. "When do you begin your training?"
"A week from Monday," Lucy said.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Peter asked. "It's not like Narnia, you know."
"I know that as well as you, and you enlisted," Lucy said. "I may not have my cordial here, but I can still help people." She bumped his shoulder with hers. "I'll be fine, Peter. I'm training to be a nurse. I won't be standing in front of a gun."
"You might end up there," Peter said soberly. "Nurses stay near the soldiers."
"Peter." Lucy spoke firmly. "I'm doing this."
Peter leaned back in his chair. "Well. Perhaps we'll be stationed near each other."
"I hope so," Lucy said, then, "Oh, dear." She watched Edmund and the blonde exchange harsh words, though it was too far to hear what was being said. They stalked off in different directions. Edmund noticed his brother and sister and dropped down in the chair beside Peter. "What were you discussing?" Lucy asked.
"Oh, nothing much," Edmund said. He leaned back and crossed his legs, ankle over knee. "Churchill. Parliament. Palestine."
"Oh, Ed," Lucy said. "Hasn't anyone ever told you not to talk politics at a wedding?"
"I would talk religion, but most of my arguments in that vein begin and end with 'Aslan would never approve' and that doesn't go over well with the Church of England sort," Edmund said.
"What about Catholics?" Lucy asked.
"You'd be surprised," Edmund said.
"He's not a tame lion, Ed," Peter said solemnly.
"Still," Edmund said.
Lucy sighed. "Honestly, I'm not sure if you're trying to drive them away or if this is your idea of courtship."
Edmund considered this. "Bit of both, I think."
Eustace joined them just then. He strode over, grabbed a chair, plonked it right in front of the Pevensie siblings and sat down. "You've got to help me," he said. Peter jerked his chin up, looking around for the threat. "With Alberta and Harold!" Eustace kept his voice down, but his fingers dug into his knees in frustration.
Peter set his drink under his chair and leaned forward just a bit. "What have they done?" he asked, keeping his voice calm and, he hoped, soothing.
"I need you to speak to them," Eustace said. "I've been accepted to a programme in New York and they're dead set against it."
"What!" Edmund exclaimed. "Why on Earth would you move to New York?"
"They've got the Museum of Natural History!" Eustace said. "I applied for a programme on natural science and I've been accepted. I got the letter two days ago."
"You don't need to go to New York for that," Edmund scoffed. "We've got plenty of natural science here."
"What's wrong with New York?" Eustace asked.
"It's terribly far away," Edmund said. "You ought to get your education close to home."
Eustace glared at him. "You got your education in Narnia."
"And I'm doing it all over again, aren't I? Learn from my mistakes," Edmund said. "What about Jill? I can't see you two living an ocean apart."
"Jill's moving to New York as well," Eustace said smugly. The woman in question, who had been lingering around the edge of the dance floor, caught the sound of her name and came over.
"What are you discussing?" she asked. "Is it about me?"
"New York," Eustace said.
"Oh, yes," Jill said. "I'm going to live in one of those marvelous woman-only hotels and Eustace and I will have to come up with elaborate schemes to sneak him past the lady of the house. What do you think, is using a fire escape cheating or is it anything goes?"
"Why not visit his flat?" Lucy asked.
Jill waved a hand. "That's no challenge at all."
"What will you do there?" Peter asked.
"Don't know yet," Jill said. "Perhaps I'll work as a shopgirl until I find my calling."
"If you don't know, why go?" Edmund asked.
"I haven't found a profession in London that suits me, so I might as well try something else. Perhaps I'll find an American husband, or perhaps I'll just marry Scrubb." If Eustace minded being second choice, he didn't show it.
"I think it's a terrible idea," Edmund said. "For both of you."
Eustace narrowed his eyes at Edmund. Edmund matched his gaze and held it. They glared at each other until Eustace broke away and turned to Peter.
"I'll talk to Alberta," Peter said, before Eustace could ask. "I can't promise she'll listen."
"She will if it's you," Eustace said with confidence, and no one argued.
"Come on." Jill took Eustace's hand. "Why don't you step on my feet for a bit?" She drew him onto the dance floor.
"Did you ever ask if he wanted to share our flat once I'm gone?" Peter asked Edmund.
"No." Edmund said. He folded his arms across his chest. "I'll find someone else."
Peter nodded. "I know you will."
Lucy leaned over Peter to speak to Edmund. "Sweet brother, Dorothy's just dying for Peter to ask her to dance, but I promised I wouldn't tell him. Please remind me, should I start to say something."
"Certainly," Edmund said. "I would not wish Peter to feel obligated to spend time with a woman he so clearly finds distasteful."
Peter smiled. "Pardon me, I need to say hello to someone." He got up and Lucy took his seat next to Edmund.
"Ed," she scolded cheerfully. "Stop being a grouch. It's a party! Do you remember the ball on Galma?"
"Which one?" Edmund asked.
"The first one," Lucy said. "I was terrified. It was our first time being Kings and Queens for people who weren't Narnians. I just knew I would do something awful, like use the wrong fork or fall into the soup. Do you remember what you said?"
"I think," Edmund said slowly, "that I said if you fell in the soup, I'd fall into the pudding so they'd forget about the soup."
"Yes," Lucy smiled. She rested her head on his shoulder. "Do you think Peter will marry Dorothy?"
Edmund laughed. "They hardly know each other."
"She likes him quite a bit," Lucy said.
"And he likes her, but I don't think he's interested in marriage just now. Besides, he'll be off to Germany soon."
"What about you?" Lucy asked.
"I have no plans to go to Germany," he said.
Lucy laughed. "Silly. You know what I mean."
Edmund shrugged the shoulder Lucy wasn't leaning on. "I'm too busy with school."
"Are you certain about law?" Lucy asked.
Edmund looked thoughtful, then inclined his head toward Peter on the dance floor. "Pete's going to go into government."
"He says he's not," Lucy said. "Are you trying to compete with him, Ed? You shouldn't do that."
Edmund shook his head. "I'm not, and he is. He's born for it and you know it. People listen to him."
"But what does this have to do with your studies?" Lucy asked, bewildered.
"We spent fifteen years in Narnia, but we were brought back here to grow up for a second time," Edmund said. "There must be a reason. We live in turbulent times. We need people who are strong, people who are smart, but most importantly, people who are good. Peter is needed and when he's ready, he'll choose to lead again."
"You make him sound like King Arthur returning to Britain," Lucy said, and it was meant to be a joke, but somehow it wasn't. She sighed, and reached out to straighten his tie. "What about you? What will you do?"
"I'll be by his side, of course. Like the old days."
"Ed," Lucy said. "You know you sound mad, don't you?" She nudged him with her elbow.
Edmund sighed. "I know, it's batty. But look, if I'm wrong, I can still have a respectable career in law." He frowned. "If I pass my exams."
"You will," Lucy said. She looked at Peter on the dance floor, smiling broadly at Dorothy. "Prime Minister, do you think?"
"Perhaps," Edmund said.
"You could run for office," Lucy said. Edmund shook his head, but Lucy persisted. "He's not the only King in this room."
Edmund kept shaking his head. "I'm not suited for it."
Lucy laughed. "You sound just like Peter." She stood up and held out her hand. "Come on, enough of this nonsense. Dance with me." Edmund sighed, took her hand and let her drag him to the dance floor.
Peter shared two dances with Dorothy before another suitor cut in. She took the other man's hand readily, but kissed Peter on the cheek and promised him a dance later. He returned to his seat and sat down with a fresh drink to watch the dancing.
Susan dropped in the seat next to him, cheeks flushed, slightly out of breath and wearing a smile that could light up London. "Peter!" she said. "Are you having a good time? Shall I round up one of the girls to dance with you?"
"I can round up a girl for myself," he assured her. "You look as though you're having a marvelous time. Where is Walter?"
"Went to use the gents," Susan said. "Lucy has sworn to me that you and Edmund had no part of her little prank, so you are in the clear."
"I am happy to hear that," Peter said. "Did you have a good time?"
"Oh, yes," Susan said. "Don't tell Lucy, she'll be horribly smug. I only wish I hadn't left Grandmother's veil behind."
"Did you get to visit..."
Susan shook her head. "We saw a pond that appeared to have small ripples in the water, but when we got close, we saw it was finely carved glass."
"The door is still closed," Peter said. It was to be expected, but the hollow spot in his chest still ached.
"Yes," Susan said softly. "I don't know if it would be open for someone else. Perhaps Eustace and Jill can tell us." She hesitated. "But that's not all."
"What is it?" Peter asked.
"I'm not going to tell you about our journey, because Walter and I agreed we'd tell you all together. But there is one thing I'll share. We met a witch there-" At Peter's alarmed look, she held up a hand. "A good witch! I promise. She offered to let me see."
"Narnia," Susan said. "Just a glimpse. It's ruled by King Tirian of Caspian's line. He is a kind and honest man and has wise and loyal councillors." She smiled. "He's friends with a unicorn named Jewel. Do you remember Ruby and Jade?"
Peter smiled back. "If Jewel's as loyal a unicorn as our old friends, he's in fine company indeed."
"It's peaceful, Peter."
Peter was silent for a moment. "They don't need us. It's why Eustace and Jill haven't gone back."
"I think this might be a bit like how parents feel when their children are grown and gone," Susan said.
"It won't stay peaceful forever," Peter said. "Nothing does."
Susan touched the ring on her left hand and thought of the ones in her handbag. "If we're needed, we'll be called."
Peter looked at her in wonder. "How quickly you've become a believer again."
Susan laughed. "I had little choice!" she reminded him. "And I never quite stopped, you know. I just put it aside." She stood up. "Enough of this talk." She held out her hand. "Will you dance with me, Your Majesty?"
Peter stood up and took her hand. "I would be honoured, Your Majesty."