And the next lungful of air she breathes in doesn't smell of dust or must or dying, and when she opens her eyes she is standing on the shore, facing the sunrise. She doesn't have to look behind her to know that Cair Paravel’s towers are reaching for the sky, white walls reflecting the dawn’s burnished gold. She doesn't have to run and call her siblings’ names to know that they are here. They are here, somewhere, and she knows they will eventually find each other, as was the way of things long ago.
She doesn't look around for Aslan. He is here, too. He is everywhere. Susan doesn't rush, doesn't hurry, and even her joy is an eventual thing, accreting at the back of her mind, the bottom of her heart, as she watches a new day begin.
Lucy, radiant with happiness, can't seem to decide whether she wants to take Susan's hand or run ahead as guide. Her sister dances back and forth as old stories tumble from her lips and jostle each other for space: this is where we had a picnic once, this is where the Maenads taught us their wild dances, this is where this, this is where that. Do you remember?
And Susan does, but she is content to be led through her memories, finding it solid beneath her feet and warm to the touch. She delights in Lucy’s artless embraces like so many years ago, and Lucy herself: laughing and exultant and full of do you remember, do you remember without expecting an answer. Queen Susan has returned to Narnia, and this is answer enough.
The Narnia of Aslan's country is Narnia as Susan has always remembered it to be. It is not like in life, where you return to a place to find the cracks that memory has mended in your head, the dust it has swept under the carpet; where you learn what kind of stories you tell yourself so that you can get by.
“I thought death could bring any number of things,” says Susan, as she and Edmund walk through the orchards, “but I never thought it would bring… you know."
“A second chance.”
“I’d say it’s more like a last chance,” Edmund muses, then chuckles. “Oh, but that makes it sound so gloomy. You don't need chances here, Su, not a second one, not a last one, not anymore. It is enough that we are here, do you see?"
He reaches up and picks a low-hanging apple as they walk past, offers it to her, and when she reaches to take it, he moves it away. Susan rolls her eyes, says, “Fine, keep your apple.”
Edmund chuckles. “Just joking, Su.” And he gives her the apple, and when she takes a bite it is crisp and sweet, just the right amount of tartness. The juice dribbles down her chin, and she lets it.
Her feet lead her back to the sea before her heart knows what she is seeking, and waiting on the shoreline, looking just as he did the day they hunted the White Stag, is Peter.
“Your majesty,” he says, smiling.
Susan inclines her head. “Your grace.”
He bows, and she curtsies.
Then, he says, “Su,” and she says, “Pete,” and they are in each other’s arms.
“I thought you were here,” he murmurs into her hair. “I heard the trumpets sing.”
“Yes,” Susan replies, “they were very loud.”
Peter laughs. “Oh, Susan. Never change.”
They walk along the shoreline and the noonday sun is neither too hot nor too bright. The gulls call in the distance, their cries mingling with mermaid song as Peter tells her of the wonders of this land. While Lucy uses this country to catalogue her loves and Edmund to contemplate redemption, Peter takes it in whole and entire, as a High King in love with his land.
“It's mind-boggling to think that half a century has gone by,” muses Peter, “yet here you are, so they must have. There is nothing here to divide time except sunrise and sunset, and even then, they barely mean anything more than a lights show. Clocks won’t do a bit of good here. The nights are as gentle as the days, and the days as cool as the nights, and it all sort of blurs into one another until the words lose meaning.”
“Then how does everyone keep their appointments?”
“Appointments!” he cries out. “Oh, you are an old woman.”
“I did spend the past many years as one,” she replies, amused.
“Shall I ask the dwarves to fashion a cane for you? Or perhaps Tumnus knows of a salve for those creaking joints.”
She shoves him, so he tugs her braid and she yelps, and when she makes to swat him he ducks out of the way. They dodge each other, giggling like children, and when he runs, Susan gives chase. She wouldn’t have done so, once upon a time, but death has washed the grit of life from her bones and she is young again, she and Peter: children again, as they were before the years parted them in the way branches split from saplings’ trunks. Before convention tamed them, before prophecy claimed them, it was enough to be children, as it is enough to be here now. She catches up to him, because she wants to, because he wants her to, and they tumble into the sand dizzy with something she hasn’t felt since that first breath of spring in Narnia.
Susan does not see Aslan until days later, and she does not begrudge him the wait this time. She has learned patience in life, and in death her heart is light; her hours are occupied when she wants them to be, lazy and long when she wishes otherwise. She can nap on hillsides to her heart’s content and never be late to tea with Tumnus. She can dance with Caspian and Peter and Edmund for an age at one of the many feasts and still have enough night left over to slip away with Lucy to Paravel’s tallest tower, where the queens would watch the constellations and share wine and stories until the eastern sea glitters with sunlight and the penultimate flicker of the stars.
When Susan sees Aslan at last, he smiles at her, his tawny eyes softening, and she falls in step with him as they walk together through the forest in gentle silence. She rests one hand on his body as they walk, like many years ago, his fur thick under her palm. They ask each other no questions and offer no answers, for the Lion knows her inside and out, and can read her heart as easily as the centaurs read the stars. And as for Susan herself, she feels the warmth of the sun on her skin and the familiar weight of the crown on her brow, and it is enough.
They walk to the edge of a meadow where, in the distance, Edmund and Lucy practice sparring as Peter sits under a shade of a tree to watch.
“Be at peace, Daughter of Eve,” says the Lion, and his breath is warm and sweet in her soul.
Susan hesitates only briefly before embracing him, and she feels him purr against her arms. She strokes his mane, smiling, and then Aslan turns and disappears between the trees.
She turns around and goes, head held high and footsteps light, to her family.