Susan didn't cry while she packed, though it was a near thing. Her engagement ring safely returned to Jack and her parents' puzzled faces fresh in her mind, she folded clothes and carefully chose only the most essential books to bring. She'd shut everyone outside; she couldn't bear Lucy's sympathy or Edmund's smugness. They'd none of them liked Jack, and while sympathy was more welcome than recriminations, Susan wasn't going to answer another question about Jack when the answers would sound so insane. "No, there isn't anyone else except I sometimes dream about him, even though he doesn't exist. No, there isn't anyone else, but I've lost something and I'm afraid if I marry Jack I'll never find it again."
Her answer of choice at the moment was, "No, there isn't anyone else, but Blackstock College gave me this bursary and I feel I ought to pursue this."
Jack had said he didn't want a wife who was cleverer than him (well, that was Susan's interpretation; what he had actually said was "Don't put on airs," and that was that, as far as Susan was concerned). She knew her siblings were pleased when she ended it, but she couldn't quite enjoy that either. It felt wrong, all of it.
Being at Blackstock helped a little: a college full of clever people who spent most of their time discussing things like Euripides and chemical reactions and how the world map had been redrawn by the war rather than the fact that Susan Pevensie no longer wore her engagement ring.
Blackstock helped a little; Classics helped a lot. Latin was new, its declinations bewildering in a pleasantly confusing way, and Ancient Greek continued to be her most favourite thing in the world. She threw herself into studying it, and it felt like if she worked just a little bit harder, she would be able to could use that language and its stories to make herself a little realm of sense that rang more truly than her everyday life. Blackstock and Classics: it didn't make anything perfect, but the longer she stayed, the more she felt like she was finding the old stillness again. She continued to dream of a face she didn't recognize, but it wasn't a dream she feared, not at all.
Susan had been at Blackstock College for three weeks when she found the door. It was an ordinary-looking door, no frills or embellishments; just a door in a wall where there ought to not be one, where she was sure there had not been one just last week when she'd walked this way on her way home from the Cave.
That's quite odd, she thought.
Part of her, the sensible, bright part that only liked seemingly fantastical things when they were safely kept between two covers of a book, wanted to shrug and return to her room and her texts. The first exams were looming close, and Susan wanted to do well. Needed to do well.
Somehow she just couldn't keep from reaching out and turning the handle. It turned smoothly and then the door clicked open. For a second she was certain she would find a forest inside, but then she laughed at herself. A forest in a wall, really?
She stepped through and looked around. She thought—but it was on the other side of the campus—no, this was the Classics department, or rather, the part of Chester Hall that the Classics department had managed to annex. It couldn't be, but it was.
"Miss Pevensie?" Professor Hobbs was suddenly standing very close.
Susan startled, then remembered herself and smiled. "Oh, hello Professor."
"Did you want something?" There seemed to be a faintly menacing air about him, as if she had unknowingly done something that violated some unwritten rule of Blackstock or the Classics Department, and was about to be taken to task for it.
Or she might cease being ridiculous and remember that Professor Hobbs was nearing 80 and the kindest, gentlest teacher Susan had ever had. "Actually," she said, "I had a few questions about the homework for Wednesday."
His face creased into a smile. "Why don’t we take that to my office, then? Lead the way, please."
Susan glanced back at the door she had come through. It was still there, but she wondered if it would lead back to the same place now. Then Professor Hobbs answered her first question and followed it with two of his own, and soon all thoughts of mystical doors were buried in the intricacies of Latin verbs. It wasn't Greek, not even close, but she was beginning to think that Latin would have no trouble holding her interest.
She didn't remember the door until winter term, after she had spent eight hours in the arms of Sophocles and wept over the fate of Iole, quite forgetting to eat. She looked up, blinked at the time, and then blinked again as the door came to mind, unbidden. No, she thought firmly. No, you must eat, and then you must come back and read the last of this so you can finish writing that essay.
And so she did go and eat, though the fare at Eliot was dubious at best, and its claim to belonging to the food category was highly contested by most undergraduates, except for the really iron-stomached ones. But the door kept swinging open in her head, and she couldn't focus on what Brigitte was telling her about the latest follies of Duncan Carter. He was evidently a senior English major who persisted in avoiding anything to do with the moderns, and who got up to all sorts of antics when he wasn't arguing with his professors about newer writing being rubbish. Susan thought the antics might have something to do with a very unsuitable tweed jacket; somehow she couldn't bring herself to care very much.
"Susan," Brigitte said finally, with a laugh that was a little forced. "You're not listening to me at all. Am I that boring?"
Susan shook her head. "No, no, it's not you. I'm just stuck in Ancient Greece at the moment, so tweed jackets seem a bit alien, you know?"
Brigitte laughed. "Why yes, I suppose they would be. Still on Women of Trachis, then?" Brigitte ought to have been a Classics major—her parents had taught her to read Ancient Greek at fourteen (upon meeting Brigitte's father on move-in weekend, Susan had been quite strongly reminded of Professor Kirk)—but she claimed she'd spent too long with those works and now wished to live in the present, thank you.
Susan nodded. "I think it's my favorite so far, though they are all marvelous. When I think of the fact that Sophocles wrote more than a hundred plays and we only have seven, it is enough to make me weep."
"I can think of sadder things," Brigitte said, though her smile was sympathetic.
"Such as?" Susan challenged her.
"The fact that Bernard has not looked at me once all year," Brigitte said mock-tragically, and Susan had to laugh. This was the part her siblings had never understood: why she would let herself be preoccupied with boys, why she would smile back when they smiled and then not let it lead to anything real. Susan had tried to explain it to Lucy once, tried to point out that appreciation was nice, it was nice to have them look at her and tell her she was the most beautiful girl they'd ever seen. Lucy had shuddered violently and Susan had fallen silent. It's just fun, she'd wanted to say. Just fun.
(Susan did finish her essay that night, but the door came back when she slept. She woke up gasping, not sure whether she was walking through it or still in bed. The face was back as well, her dream flickering back and forth between it and the door.)
Susan didn't go home that summer. She stayed on campus, working for Professor Wallace, their Greek Drama scholar. When she wrote home and told them she wasn't coming home for the summer, she was expecting at least one letter from her siblings, demanding her return. She did get a postcard from Lucy, but the rest of them were silent. The PS. on Lucy's postcard said I hope you're happy, Suse. Peter says he misses you.
Knowing Peter would have said no such thing, Susan wrote back and didn't mention the postscript. Her letter was chatty, focusing more on the way the campus was unusually lush for a Midwest summer (Susan had gone off on an retreat with the other Classics students; though she spent most of it longing to get back to the manuscripts, she'd taken a number of walks in the oppressive heat and looked at the drying land, thinking You remind me of somewhere I've never been) than on the texts she was cataloguing.
The autumn came with more difficult classes, and the door once more haunted Susan in her dreams. It always happened when she was too busy to breathe, leading her to believe that it was stress-induced. Just like the face first appearing when she'd began walking out with Jack must have been because she was afraid she was making the wrong decision. She wasn't sure how that explained why she still dreamt of the face or why she never found it fearful in and of itself, but surely it must all have to do with emotional tension? She tried to tell Brigitte about it once but found herself fumbling for the right words, unable to explain it at all.
The worst of it was the time she dozed off in class, fell through the door in her head into a room full of menace with the man wearing that face she kept seeing passed out on the floor.
Susan, too, woke up on the floor with the entire class staring at her, Professor Bigelow looking as if she had swallowed something very sour. She kept Susan after class and asked a number of pointed questions about what Susan had been reading, naming texts that she had never heard of, and finally let her go with a "Be careful where your studies take you." Susan nodded, considering, and went back to her room to see if she had any of those books.
She didn't, and they were not in the library either, at which point Susan gave up on the whole thing and returned to what she was actually supposed to be reading. Surely Professor Bigelow couldn't object to that?
Then winter term arrived again and Susan was held hostage by her science requirement and the Anthropology class she had unwisely signed up for. A more vague class she had never before been subjected to, and she listened to the others complain, agreeing when prompted, but mostly longing for the term to be over. (At the same time, whenever she thought about graduation slowly approaching she was filled with terror at the thought of her years at Blackstock eventually ending, thoughts of what future she would have even more muddled than what Professor London taught them. It was true she had years before she had to leave here, but there had only been four of them to begin with and there was less time now.)
The night before their final exam was her most vivid dream yet, and it just repeated and repeated. After the third time she woke up on the floor, gasping, she said, "Well, then," and grabbed her robe, tugging it on over her pajamas, and marched down the hallway. The door opened when she pulled at it, and she stumbled through and tripped over a root.
It was a forest this time. Tall fir trees nodded in the wind, and a tiny brook whirled just past her feet. The moon rendered the world gray but clear. Susan knew she ought to be more bewildered, but somehow it made all the sense in the world, finding trees behind a door in a wall at her college. Perhaps because she had been dreaming about it.
She chose a path and began walking down it, somehow so very sure of her direction. Further up and further in, she thought, and didn't know where she got it from. It was a pleasant walk, as if she had been transported back to England on a clear night in the spring. Who knows, maybe that was where she was. It would explain why there was no snow on the ground in December in Minnesota.
She really didn't understand why she was so calm. Or why she kept on walking as if she had somewhere to be.
Suddenly, there were voices up ahead. Susan hurried her steps, though the sensible thing would have been to slow down and be careful, but something told her she needed to rush.
She came upon a strange scene. There were horses all around, and people clad in strange, bright garments that kept their colour even by the light of the moon, and there was a man kneeling, hands tied behind his back, in front of—in front of Professor Hobbs, who looked much taller than he usually was and much less kind.
"You trespass," he said to the man.
"It was not my intention," the man replied, voice low.
"Intentions are not magical," Professor Hobbs said dryly. "The Queen would speak with you."
The chair of the Classics department emerged from the gathered crowd then, and Susan clasped her hand over her mouth to keep in her astonished gasp.
"You trespass," said the Queen. Susan would probably never be able to think of her as Professor Klein again.
The man bowed his head. "My apologies, Your Majesty."
"You wore cold iron," she continued.
"It's a tradition among my people," he said. "I truly didn't mean to come here. I was on my ship, and there were nightmares in the air, and I fell off the boat grappling with one, into the fog, but I never hit the water."
"Transference between the worlds works in mysterious ways," she said. "But now, unless someone in the human realm here has a claim to you, then you will be mine. Those are the rules."
The man straightened, and even though he was kneeling, Susan could see the resistance in him. "I am a king, your majesty. I belong to no one."
"Those are the rules. What is your name?"
"I am King Caspian of Narnia," he says, and his voice was calm. Susan shivered all over and wished he would turn around, but then didn't even bother to wait for that, because the Queen was asking, "Can anyone claim this man?" and receiving no answer.
The third time she asked, Susan managed to get her locked knees working for her again, and made her way up to them. "I do," she said. "I claim him."
King Caspian turned around, and oh, it was that face, she recognized him instantly, and she knew, there was almost, she couldn't—
"By what right?" said the queen, and Susan didn't know how to answer. Because I dream about him?
"Once a queen of Narnia," Caspian said, and she knew him then, she knew him then. Laughing, she drew him to his feet and kissed his cheek.
Turning around, she faced the Faerie Queen. She was certain of so very many things just now. "He is mine," she said, and her next words came tumbling from her lips without her needing to think at all. "He is mine, because he fell through worlds to reach me and because I've been seeing him in dreams for nigh-on sixteen months now."
"He can't live here," said the Faerie Queen, voice nearly gentle.
"Neither can I," Susan said. "This hasn't been my world for a long time."
The Queen nodded, and Susan blinked against the sudden light. When she opened her eyes again, she was alone in the clearing with Caspian, who was smiling hesitantly at her.
"I'm sorry, your hands," she said, and fumbled to loosen his bonds.
"Susan," he said, then shook his head. "Your Majesty."
"No," she said. "No, you never need to call me that." It brought back memories, that alone, of dancing and balls and smiling and how she had never even felt her heart beat faster until she met the very young king coping with something far beyond what he ought to have to cope with.
"Susan, then," he said. "I must tell you something, though I fear it will make you think less of me."
She shook her head. "It won't," she said.
"I boarded a ship to see if I could get to your world at the end of mine, though no one knew I did not want to come back if I could not find you," he admitted.
"Is that all?" she said. "I broke my given word to a man because I kept seeing your face in my dreams."
"Broken promises," he said.
"Sometimes there are more important ones," she said, and stepped into his arms when he reached out for her. If she cried a little for the first time in many months, neither of them mentioned it, though he kissed her cheek when they separated.
"Where do we go from here?" he said.
Susan knew without looking that the door behind her was gone. "I don't know," she said, and then smiled. "Shall we find out?"
"I think we shall," he said. "But first, may I?" He touched her face, tipping her chin up.
She grinned. "You may," she said, and wound her arms around his neck to keep him close. There would be plenty of time to begin their adventure once the sun rose again.
And perhaps they eventually found Narnia, and perhaps there was a second Queen Susan in the histories. Or perhaps they went elsewhere; faerie offers many roads to ones such as them. Wherever they did go, one thing is certain: this tale has a happy ending.