Will already knew what Susan's will said, at least in outline; after all, he'd helped her to draft it, and agreed years ago to be her executor. But it was still a shock to see the holograph before him, Susan's familiar handwriting strong across the heavyweight paper, and to realize anew that he wouldn't be receiving any more inter-office memos in that hand again. It hurt, in the way that everyone dying around him had hurt since his father died fifteen years ago, but Susan's death went deeper than the dull ache that immortality usually made of loss. She'd aged very little from the day they'd met until the day she'd died, and he'd realized decades ago that she reminded him a little of the Lady, the Lady as Will had only ever had the odd Time-cracked glimpse of her, wounds rehealed unevenly but not yet frail: strength that the world could not break, strength made stronger by enduring the assaults of life.
Since he was both the solicitor for Susan's estate and its executor, Will unsealed the document alone in their--his--offices on a Sunday morning, the bells of the church nearby pealing at the edge of his hearing. Their tenor sounded a bit like the bells of St. Mary's in Oxford, and he wondered absently whether that Will Parry would take him up on his impulsive offer of employment. He hoped so; there was something about the younger man that reminded Will of, well, himself, or rather of Susan. Both of them had had uncommonly solid mental defenses, as opposed to the vast majority of people, whose thoughts he'd long since learned to tune out before he was overwhelmed.
And both of them, in their way, had seemed older than their age. Will was sitting at Susan's desk; he looked up and saw, in its right corner, the one photograph Susan possessed of her and her siblings together. It had been taken, she'd told him, over the Christmas holidays in 1942, and if the clothing of the four Pevensie siblings looked very Battle of Britain to the eyes of the third millennium, the eyes of the four people in the photograph were all the same: old, and a little sad, and battle-weary, but most of all, unimpressed and unafraid. Will Parry's eyes had looked like that, when he'd told Will in the pub how he'd found Susan in the Botanical Gardens, passed away peacefully. Will knew it was the best that anyone mortal could ask for, and he was glad of that peace for Susan's sake. But enough of the boy he had been remained in him that he resented yet another light of the world passing out of it--and he was an Old One; being left always to go alone was at best bittersweet.
Susan's will was simple: each of her two children would receive half of her money, and the country house was to be donated to the National Trust, save for whatever personal mementoes Helen and James might want out of it, and for--
"The provisions I have made in the codicil enclosed?" Will read aloud. What do you mean, Su? She'd never mentioned anything like this.
The codicils were, as was only proper, at the end; before that, he had to get through a few more paragraphs. The next one concerned Polly Plummer's literary estate, which Susan had left to Jane, "in the hopes that Professor Drew may make Polly's work better known to the academy and the public than I have." There were some specific directions concerning Polly's papers, half of which were apparently at the country house and the other half deposited at one of the Oxford archives, and then provisions for the house in London: if Helen or James wanted it they could take it against the value of their half, and if neither of them wanted it they could sell it and split the proceeds.
And with that, Will was finished reading. There was no provision whatsoever for Susan's ex-husband, which Will wasn't surprised about, but he'd met the man at the odd holiday party, and he made a mental note to provide him with a copy of the document all the same. James Murray had no grounds to contest, which he'd see once he read it, but he'd want to see for himself.
Will took up his monogrammed letter-opener, a present from Susan that he'd always found uncomfortably close to being an actual knife, and slit open the envelope containing the codicil. It was sealed with scarlet wax, the impression of a horn pressed into it. He's never seen that symbol before in his life; where had Susan been keeping the seal kit?
Well, he'd always known she retained some secrets, and apparently she'd chosen to take them to her grave. Closer to him than his own family in many ways, disconcertingly like an Old One at times for someone who'd had no hint of grammarye that he could ever perceive, Susan had been a beloved aunt to him as much as a friend or employer and, later, partner in practice; he'd always hoped she would tell him some of what she'd been keeping bottled up before the end.
The codicil was enclosed inside a short letter.
Dear Will, Susan wrote, now that you're reading this, it means that I've died. I won't waste ink telling you not to be sad; you of all people know that there's a time for grief and that it is rather an honor than a shame. I will tell you again how glad I have been to have you in my life these thirty years, and I won't say I loved you like a son because I don't know that you have ever been that young, Will, and you'll see why I can't say that I loved you like a brother, but I have loved you, Will, with all of my heart that remains. Thank you for taking the Time to share work and life, mine and yours and your Bran's; it has been my honor and my privilege.
I hope your friend Jane won't mind my making her Polly's literary executrix; I know Polly's a bit later than her field, but at the very least she won't do worse by Polly's work than I have. I would love for Polly's books to be reissued; there's a richness there that I think has been criminally overlooked.
Speaking of books, the codicil contained in this letter concerns my private papers at the country house. I am leaving all of them and the rights to them to you, Will, with the express directive that they not go to my children, and that you not, at least initially, show their contents to Helen and James. When you read them, I think you'll understand; what I want to tell you now is that every word I wrote in those journals is true to the best of my ability to recall. I think you'll believe me; you always seemed to know that there was more to the world than we could see in it. What you do with the journals is up to you; publish them, deposit them in an archive, keep them in a box--what have you, but please don't destroy them. They are the last record in this world of a place that is utterly gone, now that I am, and it's important to me that they bear witness, even if it is mute.
It's nearly five now as I write this, and I want a cup of tea. I've never once been as old as I am now, and as close as I've come, so many times, I've never actually died. It will be an adventure, I think, though not the greatest of my life--of course not, by definition. Farewell, Will, and go well on the journey.
The next weekend was Susan's memorial--she'd directed that she be buried next to her siblings, and the service itself would be simple--so on Friday Will dragged Bran away from their flat and Jane away from marking papers and they drove down--up, on the map, but going away from London always felt like down--to Susan's country house. It was a bright sunny day, the kind that epitomized English summer, and Will hoped the weather would hold through tomorrow at least.
They'd all been there before; Susan had made a practice of holding biannual house parties here, at least as much to keep the house from taking on the air of a mausoleum, she'd told him, as because she enjoyed the to-dos. Money had never been an object, and it showed in the house's impeccable upkeep, the perfectly manicured lawns running up to a trimmed alley of trees.
When they got there, Bran handled the car smoothly around the gravel drive and eased the roadster into park, and he and Will and Jane stepped out of the car and shut the doors behind them, staring up at the house in silence for a moment. Will thought again of what little Susan had told him about how she came to know this house; he couldn't imagine what it must have been like, to come to a place like this for the first time as a child during the Blitz, even if it was with your siblings.
But then, he'd never been particularly close with most of his siblings, even before he'd come into his own as an Old One. And he knew that Susan's brothers and sister had died unreconciled with her, though he'd never quite been able to ask the root of their quarrel.
Will fished the master keys out of his briefcase, and they crossed the drive slowly, gravel crunching under their feet. The great front door swung open ponderously but without noise when he turned the key, and they stepped inside, leaving house and car unlocked behind them.
Even with sheets covering all the furniture, the house still had a silent, waiting air that Will could never quite convince himself wasn't the withered remnants of some sort of magic. Something had happened here, at some point in the house's history, and the house still remembered it. He'd been tempted since he first set foot inside it to walk back around the wheel of Time and see for himself: maybe now that Susan was gone, he would.
Maybe, when he read the papers Susan had left him, he'd understand without walking anywhere.
"It's so melancholy, isn't it?" Jane said, turning around slowly as she stared up at the roof of the entryway two stories above them. The afternoon sunlight shafting through the mullioned windows turned her hair to honey and softened the lines of her face, restoring the semblance of a youth that would never be resurrected. "I wonder how many funerals this house has seen."
The same sun lit Bran's hair up like a torch, and was absorbed by his dark glasses, heightening the contrast with his pale face. Will was used to the striking juxtaposition by now. "Well, Susan said that Professor Kirke came to live here as a boy in 1895 or so, didn't she?" he said. "And the house must have been old then, so mid-19th century at least. That's a lot of funerals."
"Yes," Will said softly. "But Susan's will be the last."
Jane and Bran traded glances, but they didn't say anything; instead, they hung back and let Will take the lead up the plushly carpeted staircase, the carpet a little threadbare in places, but more than thick enough to muffle their steps. At the top of the stairs, Will followed his dim memories and headed left. On impulse, along the way, he unlocked doors at random, relocking them after they peered in: sitting rooms, parlors, bedchambers, and in one room all by itself, as if in a place of honor, a magnificently carved wooden wardrobe. Will stared at it for a long moment, recognizing the aftertaste of faded gramarye in the air. Whatever it was, the wardrobe had been at the heart of it.
He closed the door on the wardrobe, resealing it into its sanctuary, and they made their way at last to Susan's study. Will knew it had been Digory Kirke's originally, or at least when Susan had first visited the house. It remained, as far as Will could tell, more or less the same as it was then; Jane, as always, made a beeline to the glass-fronted bookcase and the respectable library enclosed within it. There were many other books in at least two libraries throughout the house; they'd have to sort them at some point. Will knew Susan would have wanted a library--probably the Bodleian--to have the rare or important volumes.
Will sat down at Susan's great claw-footed desk and unlocked the drawer on its right side with the little delicate key Susan had enclosed with the codicil. Inside at the top there was a thick manila envelope addressed to "Jane Drew, PhD", and Jane took it from him silently. Like Polly Plummer, she'd never married, and these days when Will looked at her he could see the marks of Time beginning to show on her features. Three from the circle, three from the track, and the track was a line that only went to one place.
He could see the same marks on Bran's face, if he were honest with himself, and he was an Old One; he was always honest with himself, or at least, he tried. Will had known the first time he'd kissed Bran that this was what he was in for; known, and accepted it. But that didn't mean that it wasn't bloody hard.
Jane sat down at the spare desk under the opposite window, carefully folding back the dust cloth covering it before opening the envelope and drawing out the papers inside to read. Will and Bran began looking around for the secret bookcase that Susan had mentioned in her directions. It was Bran who found it once Will unlocked the mechanism, inserting yet another key into a cleverly concealed keyhole before reaching up to one of the carved wooden roses that studded the bookshelf and depressing the flower's heart with his long, clever fingers.
They heard the click of a latch and the slow, barely perceptible grind of some mechanism, and then the entire front of the bookcase swung slowly forward. Bran steadied it with one hand and Will stepped closer, unable to suppress an exclamation at the sight within. There were several dozen--no, closer to fifty--red leather notebooks lined up on the shelves inside, and when his hand settled on one of them in particular, with an Old One's intuition, Will knew that they were old, for notebooks: several decades, if not half a century, they'd been sitting here unread.
Jane was unable to keep back her own expression of surprise. "All those notebooks," she said, wonderingly. "Did Miss Pevensie fill them herself? I had no idea she wrote--memoir, or fiction."
"Neither did I," Will admitted. "Susan never said anything to me about this."
"Well," said Bran, "I suppose we'll find out."
Between them, Will and Bran resealed the bookcase, though they didn't relock it, and sat together on the leather couch, Will opening the notebook across their knees and Bran reaching across him to draw the notebook and his hands around it to catch the light better.
The handwriting was Susan's, not that Will really expected otherwise. What was more surprising was the brilliant incarnadine ink that filled the notebook's pages when he flipped through them, almost entirely unblotted. The title page read simply
The Chronicles of Narnia,
as told to and lived and recalled by Susan Pevensie of Narnia,
called Queen Susan the Gentle, the Queen of Summer,
Queen of Narnia by right, by prophecy, and by election under the High King Peter,
recorded in my own hand this June of 1951, anno Domini,
in the first year after that realm's downfall
There was another line under that, clearly added later: volume 1 of 49.
Will swallowed hard. He hadn't thought Susan had anything like this in her--
Beside him, Bran shifted uneasily, the leather creaking under him. "Will, dewin," he said in a low voice, "this can't be true--"
"Susan swore to me that it was," Will said, hearing his own tone going distant and chill, "in the letter she wrote me about it, and she wouldn't lie, and she wasn't mad. I think--this explains a lot, really. Let's just read, shall we?"
They read. They read the first volume closely, and Jane wandered over after a bit and selected a different volume and was completely engrossed, and then they were trying to skim all of them, and then somehow it was three hours later by the sun and they were all growing slightly out of sorts from lack of food. But the outlines of the story were clear, as fantastic as they seemed: how Susan and her siblings were called out of this world from this house to a realm called Narnia and compelled by prophecy and a being called Aslan to save it from the White Witch and be its Kings and Queens, and how they were snatched back to England by Aslan's will or whim to be children again after a Golden Age, only to be summoned again by Susan's horn to save Narnia once more, one year and thirteen centuries later, to put a boy called Caspian on a throne his ancestors had won from the descendants of their subjects by conquest.
There were other stories, about Susan's two younger siblings and her cousin and a schoolmate of his as well, and about Digory Kirke and Polly Plummer when they were children and the world Narnia was being created, but the tales of Susan's reign with her siblings filled the bulk of the notebooks. And they were not, after the beginning, children's stories.
"This is bloody incredible," Bran said at last, taking off his dark glasses and rubbing his eyes beneath them. He glanced over at Will, and on impulse Will leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
Jane raised one dark eyebrow. "Is it any more incredible than what we did?" she asked, stealing Will's question. "If that sort of magic existed in our world, why couldn't the magic of this world Narnia stretch to ours? Will?"
Will spread his hands. "I don't know, Jane," he told her. "We Old Ones are bound to this world, not to any other; I have no idea whether there are one or many worlds. Though," he added, "I don't see any reason why there couldn't be, many of them, that is. And the physicists say there are, if the Times science reporting is correct."
Bran was frowning. "But do you really think Susan--her own brother, Will--"
"I'm not going to judge her," Will said flatly; indeed, it wasn't for him to judge. He was of the Circle, and Susan was not, in the end. But he hoped for her sake that, wherever it was that people went when they died, she was with her siblings.
Jane stood up and stretched, arching her arms over her head before crossing them over her chest and regarding the piles of notebooks scattered over the couch and tables thoughtfully. "I think," she said slowly, "that we should publish these stories."
"Publish them?" Bran and Will both said together. They glanced at each other, speaking without words, and Bran continued, "And who's going to write them, Jane? There's a story here, certainly, but these aren't stories that you could sell."
"If you're saying that they need polishing, yes, of course you're right," Jane said, waving a hand, "but in case you've forgotten, Bran, I teach literature and creative writing, and I've written books."
"Academic books, Jane, and only you and the other ten people in your field knew what you were saying." Bran leaned back on the couch, his arms crossed, but Will could tell that whatever his inchoate opposition was, it was beginning to dissolve.
Jane, uncharacteristically, blushed. "Not just academic books," she muttered. "I've--"
"You've what, love?" Bran asked. He still hadn't put the glasses back on, and in the indirect sunlight he looked like he was made of the palest gold, and Will could see the Pendragon in him so clearly at times, and every time it broke his heart. They'd done what they must and played their parts and broke the Dark in its greatest hour; if that hour came in an age that had no use for myths and no space for the glory it might have known, that was no fault of anyone's.
"I--well, if you must know, I've written books about what we did," Jane said in a rush, not quite looking at either of them. "The Grail and the Greenwitch and the Tree, and about you and the Signs, Will, and you and you, Bran, and the Grey King, from what you've told me. I changed everyone's names," she added, at their identical surprised expressions, "and anyway I decided not to try to publish them, at least not yet. I could do the same with Susan's stories about her Narnia--I think I'd like to, really. And I think she'd want them told."
"You wrote books," Bran repeated.
"Yes," Jane told him, raising her chin slightly, and Will saw that they had come to one of those junctures upon which Jane placed great importance.
"Did you change anything besides our names?" Bran asked. He was good at controlling his voice; there was no telling what he thought.
Jane studied him for a moment longer. "No," she answered, "not really. A few identifying place names, for privacy's sake, but nothing else."
"I'd like to read them," Bran said at last, and Jane nodded.
"I'll email you copies when I get back to my computer. And you too, Will."
Will nodded. "Were you ever going to tell us?" he asked.
"Yes," Jane said quietly. Her gaze flicked between the two of them. "But the time wasn't right."
Will resisted the impulse to say that it almost never was; golden ages appeared only in retrospect. Instead he said, "And Susan's Narnia stories?"
"You'll be my first readers," Jane promised.
"You couldn't publish them under legal names," Will said, because it seemed so obvious now that Jane had said it, "not hers or yours. And you'll have to change the location of the house," he added, "or say it was sold or some wise, or you'd have hordes of people trying to get a peek at the wardrobe."
"I know," Jane said, "but a joint pseudonym would be easier to manage anyway. And we could get Barney to do illustrations for the books--he'd be brilliant at it."
"Illustrations?" Bran put the glasses back on. "These really aren't children's stories, I think."
"Not all of them," Jane agreed. "But some of them are, or for young adults anyway. And the rest--I could write the rest into adult novels." She turned back to Will, the same passion lighting up her face as when she talked about teaching her students, or digging through dusty libraries for her latest research. "Will, what do you think?"
Will had always envied her that passion; he was dedicated to the law, and he truly did believe what he'd told Susan when he'd interviewed with her, that it was the best recourse people had in society, but he didn't have the same ardor for it that Jane did for literature. It was, he thought, one of the drawbacks to being an Old One.
Well, there would be plenty of struggles in his future before he was allowed to set his burden aside that would call for passion, and there were people in his life now who still called it up in him. And Susan Pevensie, for all that she'd just left it, was one of them.
"I think," he said at last, "that Susan would have wanted this. She clearly wasn't ashamed of anything she'd done, at least not anything she'd done in Narnia, and--I think these are stories that people need to hear, children and adults."
"Excellent!" Jane beamed at him, and Will shook his head.
"Won't you be busy enough with the Polly Plummer estate?"
"Oh, not at all. I have a friend who's been dying to write some articles on her work, and Sarah--my friend--has some connections with the Literary Supplement; she can write an essay about Plummer and prime the pump. We'll have Polly Plummer's books back in print by the Olympics, Will, just you wait."
Jane was as good as her word; two summers later saw her and Will and Bran and Will Parry, who had indeed come to see Will about a job, and duly been offered and accepted one, sitting in a pub in Oxford watching HM the Queen formally open the Games of the XXX Olympiad on the television. London was Bedlam, and Will had told his office to work from home for the week.
The IOC President was speaking, saying something forgettable in his thick Belgian accent; Jane, under cover of the conversation of everyone else in the pub, took the opportunity to slide a paper-wrapped book across the table towards him and Bran. "I got these in the post the other day," she said. "What do you think?"
Will removed his arm from around Bran's shoulders and straightened up, but Bran had beaten him to it. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," he read out from the book's cover, and then flipped to the title page. "By S.J. Finchley, illustrations by Barnabas Drew." He read Jane's inscription silently, and then passed it to Will.
To Will and Bran, she had written, All shall find the Light at last. Yours, Jane.
Will looked up, caught by a surge of emotions he couldn't parse, and Jane met his eyes steadily. It occurred to him, looking at her, that he was by no means as opaque as he thought he was. "Thank you," he said at last, and she smiled.
"It's I who should be thanking you, Will."
"May I see?" Will Parry asked from Jane's left, setting down his pint, and Will handed him the book. The cover was good, he thought, though he knew nothing about fashions in the young adult publishing world.
Parry, however, was reading the cover flap, which Will himself hadn't bothered to do; he knew the story the book contained already. "Aslan…" he repeated out loud, half to himself, chewing it over. On the television, David Bowie was singing "God Save the Queen" for a global audience, which was surely giving people around the world fits. "Aslan…"
Parry's head came up, like that of a lioness who's scented prey, and he looked around at the three of them as if seeing them clearly for the first time. "I know that name," he said slowly. "That was the name that--that I heard Ms. Pevensie shout, on that day in the Botanic Gardens."
Beneath the table, Bran squeezed Will's knee, and WIll was grateful for the contact, though he kept his eyes on Parry, and didn't look away from the younger man's gaze. "The day you found her dead, you mean," he said, and Parry nodded.
"Yes," he said. "That name, in this book--it's not a coincidence."
Will marveled at the certainty in his voice, and he hadn't missed the way that he kept glancing around at the exits, body poised in that relaxed posture that bespoke, to those who knew it, a readiness just short of tension. Parry would run and never look back if this were not handled very carefully.
"No," Will replied calmly, taking a drink of his own ale, "it isn't a coincidence. And if Susan called on Aslan that day, Will, then I can only hope that she found him."
"So these stories are real," Parry said, his voice gone very slightly brittle at the edges, and Will wondered again what stories of his own hid behind his junior partner's brown eyes. After the revelation of Susan's past, he was more certain than ever that Parry had a rich secret history of his own.
"Not quite," Jane said, glancing at Will before she spoke. "I've novelized them a fair bit. But the bulk of the story is drawn directly from Susan's journals of her time in Narnia."
Parry nodded slowly. His familiar mask of concentration had lowered again, restoring his habitual air of intense focus, but Bran was the sort to see that as a challenge.
"You don't seem surprised, Will," he said, posture as casual as his voice, and Parry looked around the table at them, a subtle movement of the eyes.
He was silent for a long moment, expression ever so slightly abstracted, and then he said, "Why should I be? There are many worlds, after all."
Again, the casual certainty. "So you follow quantum physics in your spare time, then?" Will asked lightly. "Clearly I'm not giving you enough of a workload."
Parry's expression flickered, too quickly to parse. "One of my friends--Mary Malone, she came to the office party last Christmas--is a theoretical physicist, here at the university. She and I…" He trailed off. "We've known each other for a long time. I think," he added, "I'd like to read this book, Professor Drew."
Jane reached down into her bag and actually pulled out another copy. "They gave me a lot of author copies, don't look like that," she said tartly, at Bran's expression, while she uncapped her pen. Carefully, she opened the book at both covers and then turned to the title page and wrote something Will didn't try to read. Straightening up, she handed the book to Will Parry. "I hope you enjoy it," she said simply.
"I think I will," Parry said, taking the book carefully. "That is--thank you."