„My dear boy“, Mrs Beaver had said, a cupboard and a lifetime away, when Rhindon was heavy in his trembling hands and Edmund’s lip was split open and bleeding. “You are not Atlas.” She’d smiled, and whistled through her teeth. “You cannot shoulder the world alone.”
“It’s a small world”, Susan had said, the plaid of her skirt still damp and heavy. Peter had stared at the quiver on her back and said nothing.
“I ought to wear the blue one, what do you think?” Susan turns around and he hums.
“You look good in both of them”, he says. I prefer the dark one, he thinks. It makes you look like yourself. He doesn’t say it, so Susan turns around again, her hair in perfect curls, petticoat snug around her waist. “Why is this party important?”
She shrugs. “There’s a soldier there.” She puts on the blue dress and pulls up her hair. “Help me?” He gets up and starts buttoning it and counts the buttons as he goes. Susan shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “Anyway, I think he fancies me.”
Peter frowns. “Do you fancy him?” His sister shrugs and he loses count of the buttons as they slip away from under his fingers.
“I don’t know”, she says. “It’s not that important anyway.” She pauses and Peter finishes buttoning her dress. “He wrote me a poem.”
Once, when Lucy was twelve – eight – years old, she picked up a dagger and hit her target perfectly on the first try. Once, when Edmund was fifteen – ten – years old, he picked the first spring flower of the year and tucked it in Susan’s hair, who laughed and kissed his hands. Once, when Susan was seventeen – twelve – years old, she walked into a world she did not know and feared. Once, when Peter was eighteen – thirteen – years old, he cradled his siblings close to his chest and kissed their hair.
When Susan comes to his room, three days later, eyelashes curled tightly, lips painted red, and sits down on the floor, Peter immediately puts down his reading and sits down next to her. She smiles at him, her Queen smile, beautiful and studied and then she starts crying.
He holds her close for hours, sings lullabies she doesn’t recognise and wishes he was home.
The year Edmund turned 23, the winter was colder and longer than usual and he would sit on the windowsill and stare at the sky, watch the snow. Susan would sit down next to him, smile a red painted smile, and talk to him about policies and galas. They would fall asleep together, Edmund’s head in her lap, her fingers tangled in his hair. Peter would find them, pick up Edmund and carry him to bed, tucking him in and then go back to find Lucy in Susan’s lap, singing Narnian lullabies and prayers.
Susan doesn’t go to church that Christmas. “There is a gathering that morning”, she says. “All my friends will be there.” Peter buttons her dress, red this time, a shade too bright for Narnian manufacturing, and says nothing. Lucy, dressed in her itching Sunday dress, looks as if she wants to cry. Susan smiles, hugs her and leaves, her shoes click on the tiled floor of their hallway.
Peter picks Lucy up and she hides her face in his dressing shirt. He thinks about the height she should be and kisses her hair. Her shoulders shake.
A lifetime ago, Edmund would braid Susan’s hair every day. They’d come up with elaborate hairstyles and intricate patterns, would hide jewellery and flowers in the braids. And every morning, Tumnus would come to wish Lucy a good morning and compliment Edmund’s skill and Susan’s beauty. Peter would look up from his writing to see Lucy and Tumnus intertwined and talking privately amongst each other while Edmund and Susan would prepare for the court affairs to start.
He misses the beard, he thinks as he stares into the mirror after mass. The face looking at him is too young – wrong – and Susan next door hogs the telephone while father knocks every odd minute to remind her how much money she’s spending. She ignores him and talks about boys.
Edmund clicks his tongue. “How long until he tries to take the door off?” He laughs quietly and Peter smiles.
“Another mention of that soldier should do the trick”, he says and frowns. Lego, legis, legit, he writes neatly in a column, but he can’t remember how to continue. “But do you really think that would faze our Susan?”
Edmund cocks his head. “No, I don’t think that.” He sits down on Peter’s bed. “If the world is not ending, there is time for breakfast”, he says and Peter laughs.
“When did she say that again?”
“That horribly rude Calormene nobleman and the war with the giants.”
Peter hums. “Ah, yes. That.”
When Mrs Beaver died, the whole court wore black for a year and Susan made a point of bringing a fresh bouquet of flowers to her grave every day. She’d stand there, praying, and kept the grieving widower company. Peter quietly took over her duties for the time being and held Lucy whenever he found her crying in her room. Edmund threw himself into work, disappearing for days on end until Lucy would send a herald because Susan started to feel cold.
Mealtimes weren’t the same after that.
They’re on their way to the professor’s, a whole compartment for themselves, Edmund and Eustace bickering quietly, Lucy’s head on his lap and Peter thinks of Susan and her dresses and her perfect writing, studying stenography. “You go on your little adventure”, she’d said and Peter had smiled and kissed her goodbye.
Mother and father sit next to Jill Pole, who looks a bit lost, and just as father starts telling them about the last time he was in the country, the world turns black.
“My sister Susan”, Peter says gravely and quietly. “Is no longer a friend of Narnia.” She has to bury us all, he thinks.
I wonder if she’ll bring us flowers, too.