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Endless Roads to Travel, Endless Lives to Live

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After returning from Narnia, Polly and Digory had buried the rings in his backyard.

This, of course, did not happen without an argument, which was unsurprising if you knew Polly and Digory.

"But why do we have to bury them all?" asked Polly.

Digory folded his arms across his chest and gave her a stern look. "Because Aslan said we must."

Well, that was maddening. It was true the Lion had told them to bury the rings, but it was just so ridiculously boring. What was the use of magic rings if one couldn't use them? "That's not an answer."

Digory hmphed at her. "Fine. Because we can't let Uncle Andrew get hold of them again. Who knows what he might do with them this time?"

Polly was torn. On the one hand, Mr. Ketterly could get into terrible trouble, as they were both well aware. On the other hand, he didn't need the rings for that. And Polly rather thought that his time with the witch and his adventure in Narnia had left Mr. Ketterly well cured of his desire to travel to other worlds. She pointed this out to Digory, quite reasonably, she thought.

But Digory just frowned. "We can't take that chance."

"Well, why can't I keep a few rings at my house?"

"You know what he's like, Pol! If he takes it into his head to get the rings, he'll just steal into your house in the dead of the night, and find them for himself."

Polly thought that was very unlikely, but Digory was adamant. The rings must be buried, because that's what Aslan had instructed them to do, and it would keep temptation from his uncle. He'd hear no other arguments.

It was very unfair of Aslan to say no one could use the rings, without saying why. The Lion was lovely, but not very good at answering questions, which Polly thought was quite a drawback, especially in someone who must know a lot of answers. But she also thought it was wiser not to argue with Digory, especially when he was in one of his self-righteous moods, so when the time came, she joined him burying the rings.

And in the end, it was Polly who stole away in the dead of night, not Mr. Ketterly. She stole right over the wall and into the Kirke's back garden, and, wearing gloves, dug up a pair of rings for herself.

It was the first of many adventures, she told herself, as she dug away in the dirt, with her bare hands. It would have been more sensible to bring a trowel, but Polly had enough trouble sneaking herself out of the house after midnight, never mind bringing tools along.

And after some hasty consideration, a pair for Digory. She wouldn't tell him right away, but he might be less annoyed with her, she reckoned, as she packed the earth back down around the trees. And if each had a pair, they could have more adventures together!

Later. After she told Digory what she'd done. After she used the rings herself.

~|~

Polly hadn't used the rings right away. First off, she'd had a perfectly lovely summer with Digory, and his mother, too, once she had truly recovered. Even without magic, the holidays had been a tremendous amount of fun. But they came to end, as all holidays do, and Digory had gone off to his school, and Polly to hers, with a promise they would see each other soon, during the next hols.

It had only taken a fortnight at her school before Polly had been tempted to use the rings. The other girls were nice, and they had jolly times together. Still, the studies themselves were deadly boring, and Polly found herself craving the adventure that the rings could give her. Mary Ann and Charlotte were her best friends, and she almost asked them to come along, but in the end, she decided that would be unfair to Digory, and it would be best to go alone.

Polly kept the rings in a pouch in her nightstand drawer, the same pouch that contained her bathing cap. She reckoned they were safe from discovery, since who would care about a bathing cap. And she was right, of course. That night, after lights out, she pulled the pouch out of the drawer and under the blankets. She had (very cleverly, she thought) remained fully dressed under her nightdress. It was rather bulky, and definitely uncomfortable to have her shoes on, while under the covers, but she consoled herself with the thought it wouldn't be for very long. After Mary Ann and Charlotte fell asleep, Polly reached into the pouch, touched the yellow ring, and found herself coming out of the pool in the Wood between the Worlds.

It was the same as she remembered it — only she didn't remember it, not at first. As always, the peace and quiet of the wood made her want to sink down on the soft, spongy turf, and just rest and daydream forever. But once she noticed the guinea pig snuffling by, it all came rushing back to her, and Polly was quick to tug her nightdress off, and lay it beside the pool she had just climbed out of. The home pool was still marked by the strip of turf Digory had cut (the soil was still rich and that same reddish-brown, as if he had just done it moments before), but Polly reckoned the nightdress would be another good marker, and anyway, she'd need it when she went back.

She walked over to the Narnia pool, and considered for a moment jumping in and going to visit, perhaps surprising Fledge, or seeing how King Frank and Queen Helen were faring as rulers. But no, she'd been there before and this was to be a brand new adventure, so Polly continued walking along the pools, trying to decide which to choose.

She walked past the dried up pool that had once been Charn, and shuddered; hopefully wherever she was going, she wouldn't encounter a witch. It was at the very next pool she stopped. She didn't know why, but something about this pool made her think it was perfect for her adventure. Maybe it was the tree growing right beside it — Polly always did love silver birch trees.

That was all it took for her to decide. She switched rings and took a deep breath, then jumped in the pool.

|~|

It was an odd thing, thought Polly, that she had used the rings to escape her school back in England, and somehow had ended up in school here in Ansa.

But when she had shown up in her school uniform on the steps of the Grigorian Academy of Day Sorcery and Arcane Magics, no one had blinked an eye at a girl appearing out of nowhere. The headmistress just assumed she was one of the first years, and Polly had found herself enrolled in classes and assigned to a dormitory with girls who were just as nice as Mary Ann and Charlotte, if a bit different.

At first she had worried, because all the students at the Grigorian Academy had shown aptitude for magic of some sort, and she was just plain Polly Plummer from London, not magical in any way. She had tried to tell them this (leaving out the part about London, of course) but all the professors were convinced that she had talent, and all she needed was some training.

To Polly's great surprise, they were correct. The magic taught at GA wasn't magic of any kind that Polly had ever heard of before. But as it turned out, she had a great aptitude for what was known as day sorcery, magic in every day objects and occupations.

Polly learned how to fold paper in to a multitude of shapes, and how to unfold them correctly to predict the future. She learned to use cookery magic — how to put charms into foods she cooked and baked, charms for protection and for health, for good wishes and for power. There was animal magic as well, caring for all sorts of creatures, and learning how to harness their abilities for herself. There was wood working magic (after nearly sawing off her finger, Polly dropped that class), textile magic (she had never liked sewing back in England, but putting enchantments into garments was tremendous fun), cleaning magic (she hated it), mathematical magics (she was terrible at it), and conversational magics (Polly liked this, but she was too argumentative to ever excel at it, Madame Hushtell warned her).

But Polly's best subject was art magics. She learned to create sculptures and paintings so vivid and detailed that to observer, they seemed to come to life. And she could write stories that drew the reader in, made them think they were living the story, rather than just reading it. She was top of every one of her classes in art magics, and they were the ones she looked forward to the most. By her seventh year, she was studying mainly art magic, having dropped most of her other classes.

Still, there were a few other magics she continued to practice at — cookery and textile magic were just practical skills to have, and she and her friends loved nothing better than a good round of conversational magic, trying to see what secrets they could pull from each other. And she continued to practice paper magic on her own, combining it with art magic, folding paper into shapes that could come to life.

It was the paper magic that brought her back to her own world. One night in the lounge, she was folding paper animals, and making them come to life, mainly to amuse the first years. One that she intended to be a penguin took the shape of a lion — but that could happen with paper magic, especially when trying to predict the future — the folds would shape the paper to align with the prediction.

But Polly hadn't been trying to predict anything. So it was a surprise when the paper lion marched across the table and roared at her. Polly snatched it up and unfolded it, and there was a single word scrawled messily on the page: Home.

Aslan had terrible penmanship, Polly thought. But she also thought it best to do what the paper said; after all, she had already defied Aslan by using the rings. Best not to make it worst.

So that night in bed, Polly reached for the pouch that contained the rings, and made her way home. She was very glad when she found her old nightdress in the Wood between the Worlds, since the seven years she had spent in Ansa had tumbled away, and she was the same age she had been when she first left her old school.

She left the Grigorian Academy's uniform (now far too large for her) beside the Ansa pool, pulled on her old nightdress and the yellow ring, and went back home.

She received several weeks of detention for losing her school uniform (her conversational magic had at least convinced the headmistress she wasn't lying), but it was worth it.

|~|

Polly had never seen Digory so angry.

Well, after she returned from Ansa and confessed to him that she had used the rings, he had been terribly angry with her, and refused to listen to her explanations and apologies. But he had finally come round when she sent him a letter that she had written and folded using paper magic, and he had written back to her, demanding she show him how to do it. Digory never could resist a mystery.

But this time, he was even more angry than that.

He stood side-by-side with her, on the edge of the Lonely Grasslands, and glared at the army of Aries the Cloven, as it made its way across the desert. They'd been in the country of Dural for ten years, and the entire time, they'd been fighting for their adopted homeland, against the mighty Wraria Empire. It was a war that had been fought on many fronts, and the skills Polly had learned at the Grigorian Academy came in useful in many ways. Her cooking magic saved many lives, as did her textile magic, and paper magic and art magic could be used for predicting the turnout of battles. And her conversational magic made her an excellent spy, and interrogator of captured prisoners.

Digory hadn't her magic skills, but he was both brave and brilliant, and had risen quickly through the ranks of the Durallon military. And now he was a hardened general, with a sword in each hand, as he waited for the enemy to arrive.

"Are you sure, Pol?" asked Digory.

It wasn't the first time he'd asked the question. He'd asked it several times since last night, when she had folded paper in the shape of a sword, and asked it to reveal the outcome of the battle. He asked it even though he knew her paper magic never lied. He asked it again and again even though the answer was the same each time.

Polly sighed as she repeated the answer, one last time. "I'm sure. Aries will triumph. Queen Otia will be slain, and Dural will fall, will become part of the Wraria Empire."

"So everything we've done here, every battle we fought was for nothing…" Digory's voice was bitter, and his eyes were hard as flint as glanced at her.

"I wouldn't say for nothing, Digory. We've done a lot of good. We did everything we could to help Dural survive."

It was Digory's turn to sigh. "There was a Lion on the paper, when you unfolded it last night."

Polly just nodded. She didn't have to explain; he knew what it meant as well as she did.

"We'll fight first, though. When the battle is ended, we'll use the rings and go back."

"That's what we'll do," she agreed.

"Stay by my side, Pol."

"Always."

In the end, they left before the battle was done. They left when Polly saw Digory fall after a blow from Aries' war hammer. She raced to where he lay bleeding on the grass, and grabbed his hand, reaching for yellow ring. In the blink of an eye, they were lying on the turf of the Wood, and Digory was no longer bleeding. Polly felt a fool for blubbering over him when he was fine, but Digory didn't seem to mind. In fact he held tight to her hand until the moment they were back home.

|~|

Polly retained the magic skills she learned at the Grigorian Academy for the rest of her life, and very helpful they were on all her travels and adventures. She visited the Wood often, and each time chose a new pool, and a new world to explore. Some worlds she stayed in for only hours, some she stayed in for years and years. Some worlds she journeyed to with Digory, and some she went to on her own.

Once, on an adventure by herself, she found a world where humans lived with dryads and centaurs and fauns and talking Beasts. But it was a modern world, one where the people lived in great cities and toiled in factories and went to university, and were doctors and nurses and teachers and cabbies, or presidents and queens and prime ministers. It reminded her of both Narnia and England, and she felt terribly at home there. So she stayed.

She grew up and lived in one of the big cities, and had a career as an acclaimed artist, and she fell in love and was married to a young human man named Rickard. They had five children, who grew up and married and gave Polly and Rickard several grandchildren. Polly grew old and lived a full and happy life in that world, and she thought she would never leave it. But when her husband died, she dreamed of a Lion the night of his funeral, and she knew it was time, once again, to go home. So after she buried her husband, she put on her green ring and went back.

It was the last world she visited. After Rickard's death, Polly felt done with adventuring in different worlds. It was time for an adventure in her own, and growing up and old in this world, she thought, would be quite an adventure on its own.

|~|

Polly grew up in England, and became, once again, an acclaimed artist. Using her art magic, she painted all sorts of things — portraits of missing loved ones that comforted their families; illustrations for books that drew children right into the story, and landscapes that made one feel as if they were walking along the paths Polly had painted.

The best work she ever did, though, was a picture of a ship. Her prow was gilded and shaped like the head of a dragon with wide-open mouth. She had only one mast and one large, square sail which was a rich purple. The sides of the ship — what you could see of them where the gilded wings of the dragon ended-were green. She had just run up to the top of one glorious blue wave, and the nearer slope of that wave came down towards you, with streaks and bubbles on it. She was obviously running fast before a gay wind, listing over a little on her port side. It was so lifelike that when Polly looked at it, she felt as if she was bobbing on the waves, and she knew it was the magic she put into it herself.

Polly framed the painting with wood that had come from the tree Digory had planted with the apple core all those years ago. It had blown down in a storm, and Digory had used some of the wood to build a lovely wardrobe, and given the rest to Polly, for frames for her paintings. She hung them all in her gallery, and waited to see the people who were drawn to them, who had to purchase which painting.

The painting of the ship was sold to an elderly couple. They were going to a wedding, they told Polly, and they thought the ship would make a perfect gift for the bride and groom, whose names were Alberta and Harold.

Polly wondered for years about that painting. It was the only one she ever regretted selling, and she hoped that Harold and Alberta enjoyed it as much as she had.

Then one day Lucy Pevensie sent her a letter, and Polly wondered no more.

|~|

The night before she and Digory and Lucy and Jill and Eustace were to board the train that would take them to meet Peter and Edmund, Polly Plummer used her magic, learned all those years and all those lives ago, for the last time.

She folded a piece of paper into the shape of train, and then opened it, to see what the result of their efforts to help Narnia would be.

She then wrote a letter to Susan Pevensie and folded it into the shape of a Lion, and put in an envelope, along with her two rings.

My dear Susan,

First, be careful and use gloves when you touch the rings.

Second, the rings are for you. I no longer have need of them. I know you say you don't remember Narnia, but by the time you receive this letter, I think you will again.

The rings have been responsible for all my adventures, from my first to my last. I know you think you're done with adventures, but you're not. You don't have to be. Take the rings and find a new life. Or lives. There's so many to choose from.

I know you are brave, and I know you are strong. I want you to remember that and be the Queen you once were. Leave the silly life behind, and find a new one (or ones!) with purpose.

With much love,
Polly Plummer