A spray of snow splashed Lucy's face.
“Onward!” she cried, breathless in the cold. Her cheeks burned with excitement. Aside from that flush of color, she knew she appeared cool and balanced, as easy on horseback as if she'd been born there. Sometimes it felt like she had.
A moment of weightlessness as her mount launched them over a frozen brooklet; sun flashed on ice on black tree branches, on the armor of the lone soldier keeping pace with her. The wolf pack had separated them from the rest of the party.
A blur of dark gray dashed by to her left.
“Your Highness!” shouted the man at her side. She called back in acknowledgment, yes, she'd seen it. Another wolf appeared ahead of them, matching their speed. The ground sloped up more steeply beneath them; precious high ground was close. She heard a snarl and a yelp behind. Her horse surged forward without needing a command, swift and true as an arrow.
They gained the top of the hill before the pursuit – barely. Howls rose all around. The clever beasts had wasted no time surrounding them. She readied her bow for the fight.
A horn sounded, out of sight in the shadows of the valley.
She feels the chilly wood of the wardrobe against her ear, full of hollow empty silence. The voice of the horn resonates in her bones. She listens so hard the whole world becomes sound, a whole other world of sound so quiet she has to hold her breath to hear it. But it's still real, she knows. It's real even if she can't hear it or see it or sense it. She knows because she can feel her heart pounding in her throat, the sharp cold of the air, a yearning and determination and hope that have to come from somewhere. She listens for the howls of the wolves.
There were so many of them, and they were fast: despite her shooting skills, her arrows didn't all find their marks. Wolves tore over the crest of the hill, always appearing where she wasn't looking. Only the clear view from the bare hilltop had kept them a step ahead so far; they could see anything coming. Even so, her man was already on foot with his sword out, his horse half-fallen and bleeding in the snow. And the noise, the wild cacophony of growls, screams, metal clanging, hooves, the crack of wood breaking, the snarl of a hate-filled brute, the whistle of something in the air –
A wolf fell dead at her feet before she'd even registered the attack. Its blood flecked her clothing. She recognized the arrow lodged in its skull.
“Susan!” she shouted joyfully. Her voice came out hoarse and ringing. She heard hooves and more hooves; the rest of the party had found them.
Susan and her soldiers charged up the hill, dispersing to take on the wolves. Lucy left them to it and turned her attention to her companion, who had sunk to one knee in the snow. Bright blood dripped from his arm.
“Are you injured, Your Majesty?” he said when she approached.
“Thanks to your bravery, I'm quite unharmed,” she replied. He blushed and ducked his head, giving no sign he felt the bite he'd received. Still, she saw the pain tighten his muscles. She didn't know him – new, perhaps, but he'd already shown his dedication to her and to Narnia today.
“I am honored to serve you,” he said, “and our good country.”
“Let me see your wound,” she said, all briskness and cheer now that danger was out of the way. But there was one more thing – an important thing. “I would know your name.”
He looked into her eyes and told her and she couldn't hear a thing through all the noise.
A bell rings downstairs and someone calls Lucy! Lucy! and suddenly Narnia is slipping from her grasp. She clings to it – the snow, the horns, the names, the blood (blood is always easy to remember). But the sound of the bell drives it all away. It's suppertime in England and she's Lucy Pevensie, queen of nowhere as far as anyone here is concerned.
She gets up and brushes off her knees. Checks inside the wardrobe, as she always does. She knows it's empty and doesn't feel disappointed. Colder, more alone, yes, but with no doubts. It's all there, Narnia, tucked away inside the musty coats, coexisting with the interminable rainy evenings and dull suppers and drab school dresses. She reminds herself as she turns to go, refusing to look back (just in case a faun were to come tumbling out). She believes in Narnia.
There's a world inside the wardrobe, she knows. There's a queen inside the girl.