Lucy felt, afterwards, that they ought to have known from the beginning. There was something about the air in Narnia that smelled fresher than anything in England. And it wasn't just the scent -- Narnian air filled the lungs faster, carried sound further and more clearly, didn't cloud with haze to block your view of distant mountains.
It was as if the whole world were a shade more real in Narnia than anywhere else.
That had been the worst about going back to the Professor's house, worse even than the reversion to childhood. To some degree, the mind and soul seemed to shape themselves to the body, so childhood only felt like a vise for a day or two. Then it became a set of too-tight clothes, then simply scratchy wool, and then even the itch was gone and Lucy was a girl in a girl's body, not a woman trapped in a perversion of nature.
She remembered, of course, but the memories were softened, blurred like the air of England blurred sight and scent and sound. After a while she began to forget the reality of Narnia, without the land vivid before her. It was hard to be a queen in England, so Lucy tucked her old life away like a set of Sunday clothes and thought about school instead.
In the ruins of Cair Paravel, the girl began to unfold back into the woman and queen. She'd felt herself grow stronger, watched Peter, Susan, and Edmund's steps smooth and lengthen, heard their accents shift just a hairsbreadth and ring with a renewed confidence. Yet she hadn't understood, hadn't realized where they were.
"Was it a lack of faith?" she asked Aslan after the battle, while Caspian and her brothers were out dealing with soldiers and politics, and Susan was engaged in a tricky bit of negotiation with Queen Prunaprismia. "The Professor said we might go back someday, even though the wardrobe door was closed. Shouldn't I have thought you might have called us here? Could we have done better if we'd known from the start?"
Aslan rested his head on his great paws and met her eyes solemnly, unblinking. "That is in the past," he said. "You were true at the time of trial, and no one is ever told what would have happened. For now, be content. Narnia is at peace."
"But will it last?" asked Lucy. "What will you do with all the Telmarines? And what about Caspian's aunt and cousin? Oh, I ought to be helping Susan." But Prunaprismia was so unpleasant, and Susan had always been better at diplomacy and polite fictions.
"Tomorrow all will be made clear," said Aslan. "Today, reacquaint yourself with the land. All the waters and trees will be glad of your presence."
"And that will help Caspian keep the peace?" Lucy asked.
"Whether it will or not is for him to prove," Aslan said, rising to his feet. "His story and yours are soon to part ways. But it may help you." He turned and leapt from the battlements, flowing down to earth in a bolt of sun-gold fur, and paced toward the yard where the boys were holding court.
Lucy descended by more normal means and picked her way through the unfamiliar castle, pausing now and then to admire a tapestry or a stained-glass window, though she found most of the furnishings too gaudy and stiff. She made several wrong turns, but eventually she reached open air and asked directions to the stables. The Telmarine grooms were terrified of her, which was both amusing and sad, but they saddled up a spirited filly and one dashed to the kitchens to fetch a satchel with food and wine for her excursion.
Lucy thanked them, courteously refused an escort, and rode down to Beruna. The bridge stones lay scattered in the shallows, laid out as if for a giant game of hopscotch, and some were already covered with moss and water-weeds. Lucy tied her horse to a weeping willow and knelt to brush her fingers through the river. The water of Narnia was like the air, more real and clean and sharp than what she'd drunk over the past year in England, and she cupped a handful to taste its elusive sweetness.
Tomorrow the future would be made clear. But today, Lucy closed her eyes and breathed in her kingdom, and tried to weave it so deep into her soul that no magic nor change of worlds could ever blur the memory.
She was a girl in England, and that was fair and proper, but inside the girl was a queen. Aslan had crowned her and given her his trust. She would never ignore that again.