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With beauty like a tightened bow

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When everything was over, the battle at Aslan's How won, with the Telmarines vanquished and Narnia on the rise again, Caspian went to find Queen Susan. He moved quietly through the castle, avoiding servants and passerby (it would not do to be found in the Queen's chambers after dark), and very nearly tiptoed past the High King's room. The door was securely shut, but light seeped out into the hall, and he heard a low murmur of voices as he went by. Peter was safely occupied, it seemed, and the knowledge that he would not have to contend with an armed, overprotective brother made Caspian breathe easier.

Now he was coming to Susan's door, which was also shut. Light glimmered faintly under the door; she must have lit a fire. Suddenly he was overtaken by a rush of nerves; his stomach churned and he had to force himself to breathe- she was in there, just behind that door, dark and lovely and waiting. She hadn't asked Caspian to come directly, but he was almost certain, after a week of her company, her flirtatious smiles and coy looks, her gentle laughter and her keen wit- he was certain that she would not object to his courtship.

And so, giddy with hope and more than a little bit nervous, Prince Caspian knocked softly on Susan's door. Nothing stirred in the room beyond; there was no reply. Perhaps she had not heard him. He knocked again, harder, and then waited.

"Susan?" he called, pitching his voice low so that it wouldn't carry down the hall to the High King's chambers. He knocked a third time, and when there was no response, he tried the knob. The door was unlocked and opened readily at the pressure of his hand. When it had completed its wide arc he saw her room- piled with soft carpets and cushions, a fire popping in the grate, a huge four-poster bed hung with red velvet curtains; but the curtains were drawn back and there was no sign of Queen Susan.

He glanced about the room several times, as if the Queen was hiding behind the window-curtains or beneath the bed, but the room was empty; the only movement came from the fire in the grate, which, now that he thought about it, had probably been set hours ago in anticipation of the queen's presence.

Immediately on the heels of that humbling thought came another: what if Queen Susan had another lover? What if she had misled him all this time, with her kind words and her coy looks? She had been famed for her beauty thousands of years ago, Queen Susan the Gentle, who had turned down a thousand suitors. Wars had been fought on her behalf, Peter the High King riding off to defend his sister's honor against any number of slights.

He would be a fool to suppose that the stories were untrue, now that he had seen the very trees move and spoken to Aslan Himself. It wasn't so far-fetched to imagine that Queen Susan might have found herself another lover. At that thought he felt as though his whole world was crumbling to pieces around him. The cloud of pride and hope that had carried him so buoyantly through the aftermath of the battle deflated and he found himself feeling like an utter fool.

Queen Susan the Gentle! He shut the door to her empty room and wandered back down the hall in a haze of depression. As he passed by Peter's room, an ambassador was coming out with a pinched expression on his wrinkled face. Caspian wondered vaguely who the High King had insulted this time, and as he was thinking that Peter saw him through the open door and called his name.

"My lord?" Caspian asked, stepping into the doorway.

"Come in!" Peter said. He seemed in high spirits. His cheeks were rosy and his tousled hair was burnished gold in the firelight. He was sitting at a sturdy table that was piled high with maps and charters; it seemed that most of them had been pushed to the side, and quite a few had fallen to the ground. Caspian hardly noticed the papers, though, when he saw Susan curled up in the High King's bed, sound asleep.

Someone had carefully tucked the covers up around her shoulders, and her black hair was unbound so that it spread across the pillows like a flood of water. She was smiling a little in her sleep, her red lips full in the faint light of the fire. Her gilded cloak and her bow and her red-fletched arrows in their quiver were piled carelessly beside the bed. When Caspian had recovered from his shock, he found that Peter was watching him closely, a faint smile playing around his lips. His eyes glittered in the firelight and Caspian was reminded, inexplicably, of the duel with Miraz.

It's not mine to take.

The High King held his gaze for a moment, and then he turned his attention to the maps. "My sister felt in need of company," he said, and his tongue flickered over his lips. "Now, I've marked out your boundaries here, but you may have some trouble with the Calormene embassy..."

And then Caspian remembered that, in the stories, Susan the Gentle had never married one of her thousand suitors. The most beautiful of the Narnian queens had remained unpromised, unwed, and in Narnia. Caspian looked at High King Peter differently, now, and didn't quite wonder what history had forgotten.

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?
- W.B. Yeats, No Second Troy