When they tumble out of the closet, it is to meet the floor and the curious eyes of the Professor.
It is unsure if perhaps the entire adventure was a mass hallucination they collectively suffered together, and Edmund does not quite accept that there is actual wood under him; rather, he is floating.
Then Susan lets slip a “Holy shit,” and they crash down and know, without doubt, it was real, for if Susan knows it, then why bother denying it?
They tell their stories to the Professor, who listens wistfully and in turn enlightens them as to how he built the wardrobe with his own hands from the trunk of the silver apple tree. They tell him how they ruled for fifteen years, and he tells them about dearest Polly and his own run in with Jadis and the chaos it caused.
Shockingly, Missus Macready doesn’t scold them for the window - they are curious as to what lie the Professor must have made up to keep her off their backs. Eventually, when (almost) all their stories have been exchanged, when all but Edmund are worn out and fast asleep, he creeps back into the kitchen and tries his best to replicate the Professor’s thick cocoa, only to run into the man himself, clad in pajamas and robe.
“Leave that to me,” he says amusedly, and Edmund steps away from the pot of milk.
“I couldn’t help but notice you were the quietest whilst retelling your tales,” mentions the Professor after a moment of silence.
Edmund clenches his jaw.
“It is my fault we are back,” he says quietly. “Hunting the stag was my idea.”
“Is it so bad to be back, dear boy?”
Edmund takes the steaming mug handed to him. He follows Professor Kirke to a small sitting area, illuminated by a bare window. He immediately sets the cocoa down again lest it slip through his trembling fingers.
“Lucy loves Narnia,” Edmund tries, struggling with what to say. “She loves Aslan, and so do Peter and Susan. I do as well, of course. I-” he looks down at his clenched hands. “I am twenty-five. And in my thirteen year old body. How is this supposed to work, Professor? What was the point of allowing us into Narnia only to return?”
Digory sips his cocoa. “I dare not say I know what the Lion was thinking,” he imparts humbly. “But perhaps it was what you needed at the moment.”
“Only to send us back to the exact moment?” Edmund near-scorns, unsure if he missed this easy, immature rage.
The Professor gives him an inquisitive look over the rim of his glasses. “But you are different now, no?”
“How different can I possibly be,” Edmund whispers, and tells him of how he almost loved Jadis enough to destroy his siblings, how he was unworthy of the way Aslan saved him, how he is - was - the Traitor King in the beginning, how he doesn’t deserve the redemption he received at the hands of his people only twelve years ago, but in this world, never.
Edmund cries like never before, harder than when Father left, and relives how close he was to death by the White Witch’s hand, a second time no less, and ages later is unsure why he still lived.
He blames himself for his and his siblings’ return, that he should’ve returned alone, the stag was his idea, but he’d gathered his siblings to go with him, and if it were only him who’d gone, maybe they’d still be back in Cair Paravel, not just content but happy with their lives.
Professor Kirke lets him pour out his heart over the little table with mugs of hot chocolate in front of them, watching a young man in the body of a prepubescent boy, neither of whom he even knows, with sympathy and solace.
A part of Edmund’s soul appears to crack. “I’ve lived in Narnia longer than I’ve lived here,” he says, crestfallen. He looks into his mug and senses a stark pain in his chest that he hasn’t felt for years - for years, and yet just yesterday. A longing for his mother, and a regret of not saying goodbye properly.
Please keep her safe, he prays to Aslan or God or both or anyone who was willing to listen.
Drained, he sips quietly alongside the Professor; the latter wonders what the Lion was thinking sending this child - this man, to this place, when it is the wrong land, somewhere he does not require nor want to be. But it was not in his hands, Digory mused, so why question it?
Ed falls asleep on the plush armchair and wakes up to Lucy nestled into his side, asleep, both covered in worn out quilts.
I don’t want to face reality, he thinks blearily. He slowly cards his fingers through his sister’s short hair. But I suppose I will, if Luce does.
And he knows she will. Edmund vaguely wonders if a degree in politics will benefit him in this world as well.
They resume their lives and keep their school grades up for all of half a decade, with enough of an accent for people to know they weren’t from around. Edmund is quite ready to deck Peter across the station for his thankless ass before the train rushes ahead and leaves behind the familiar smell of the only ocean they have ever seen in their lives.
They’re back. They’re really back.
Then they find the ruins and Edmund’s self-loathing rears its ugly head.
This is all my fault.
When Lucy places them on their old thrones, Susan concludes that while they have aged a long five years, Narnia herself has aged a longer some hundreds.
Oddly, it is Missus Macready Edmund is reminded of, with her strict rules and indignant shrieks when they placed grubby fingers on statues and artifacts.
Lucy blinks away tears at the thought of Mister Tumnus and the beloved beavers. Ed pulls her in so she can hide while Peter and Susan rub her back, and hopes her too big heart won’t end up hurting her some day.
They wander until they find their things by luck, although Edmund suspects it was likely Lucy’s built in navigator. They open their trunks. Beneath their old, musty clothes, Lucy discovers letters.
“Oh, my!” She exclaims. “They wrote to us! Oh, I can’t even imagine-”
Edmund grabs a random bundle of some of his items and quietly retreats to the top of the stairs, where he can see both out and underground. He knows he did not receive any letters - he didn’t quite make many friends, even after his forgiveness.
“Mister Tumnus, the Beavers, the chef ladies, the children-,” he hears Lucy excitedly rattle off. He looks down at the unfortunate sacks and recognises one he put his carved figures in. He blinks.
I don’t think I told anyone about these, he muses, gently prying the bag’s strings apart.
Inside are not his wooden figures, but neatly folded squares of paper. Edmund stares. He disbelievingly pulls them out into his lap, unfolding the one tied shut with a thick black thread, expecting blankness.
Again, he is surprised.
I’ve kindly asked Mister Tumnus to write this letter - he quite enjoys putting Valiant Queen Lucy’s teachings to work. I still appreciate her attempts to teach me, despite the fact that all of me is hooves and no fingers. Though I can spell my name out in the dirt, if need arises. Do tell her that.
His hands tremble.
You’ve been gone for quite some time now. I believe it’s nearly been a month. Aslan says you will return, though no one knows when. I’ve retired to my family as of a week ago. I fear I might not be here for your return. For someone with an already declining health, you would imagine I’d have had this letter written sooner, but there you have it.
Edmund. You have shown me kindness more than a king is often known to show his subjects. And though you may not see me, or the rest as such, it is only because I am your best friend and you are mine, and you have yet to think of yourself as a king. Poor Tumnus is quaking as he writes this.
King Edmund and best friend Ed; I have no doubt you will still have a problem with following higher authorities when you return, so I hope you will take it from me, considering I am neither higher, nor authority. Be kinder to yourself. Narnia loves you as you are, and you must put a stop at your endeavors of being someone you are not. I’m aware I’ve told you this many a time already, but seeing as it has yet to take effect, I hope you shall allow me this a final time.
Truth be told, if I’ve failed to reduce you to tears by now, I’m uncertain as to the point of this letter. Thank you for taking care of the many times my health took a turn for the worse, and providing me a job I was proud of, for giving me a friend, for being the best ruler I will see in my lifetime.
That ought to do it. Be at ease. Take care, my friend.
Your faithful companion (and steed, I suppose),
Edmund carefully places the letter down onto the pile of closed notes - dear lord, there were more of these - and places his quivering fists in his lap, staring at the innocent sheet. A handkerchief comes into his vision.
“You’re crying,” Susan states. He takes it but rubs his face dry with his sleeves anyway, making Susan snort. Her own lashes are wet, nose pink. Out of the four of them, it is them who don’t divulge in the act of overcompensating in their emotions, the most level-headed of their family. She possesses a parcel of letters herself, and she steps outside, wordlessly inviting him to join her on the warm grass.
They read the rest of their letters - from Susan’s friends in the castle, the kitchen lasses and the laundry boys, chiefs’ daughters and the like; for Edmund, the Beavers, his favourite Narnian debaters, a note from every single outcast he’d saved and took into their kingdom, Mister Tumnus, surprisingly - in silence, barring the occasional sniffle.
It is some hours later that the siblings finally gather their emotions enough to further explore what is left of their country.
Edmund crosses off places they make their way through, marking off areas and sites on his old map that are now in shambles. Nothing has been spared, not the villages on the outskirts for refugees, nor the center town. They are uncertain if they should be grateful or not that there is a lack of rotting smell from stock stalls.
Peter presses his mouth into a thin line. “There aren’t even any bodies.” They each come to their own horrific conclusions.
When they stumble upon Trumpkin, they fall back into the way they used to fight seamlessly together a lifetime ago, as if not a day has passed. Trumpkin’s rescue is inevitable, and Susan is irked with herself at the escape of the other soldier.
Edmund is the only person capable of besting Peter in a swordfight, though he insisted on the knowledge not wide-spreading. And although he feels a right fool fighting a dwarf half his size, he goes through with it.
Wouldn’t make a great impression to see the damn kings squabling over a dumb fight, Ed thinks mutinuously. I’ll stuff his wet socks down his bottoms later.
Then Trumpkin takes them on their way, all but Lucy fail to see Aslan, and the dwarf gets a front row seat to the dumbassery of the High Queens and Kings anyway.
Edmund means it when he takes Lucy’s side, long since having put every shred of his faith in his little sister.
With Peter and Susan taking the lead, Edmund takes his usual place at the back. Though this time, Trumpkin seems to have a strange sense of protectivity, and hangs awkwardly around him.
“We’re more or less always like this,” Edmund confirms. Trumpkin doesn’t quite manage to keep the flabbergast from his face.
“You’re children,” Trumpkin blurts. “Your majesty,” he tacks on.
Ed can’t help the snicker that escapes him.
“Pete’s twenty now, so don’t let him hear you say that. Keeps going off about how he should be able to support all of us himself by now.” He tilts his head in his siblings direction. “Besides. Don’t we each have thirteen hundred and some years on you now?”
Trumpkin looks like he’s about to go onto his knees out of alarm so Edmund hurriedly asks him how he and the rest of the Narnians have been living.
The initial rage that came with Trumpkin’s first impression returns in full force.
“Surviving’s more of a word for it,” he spats. “Narnia below knows the nightmare it’s been.”
He tells the horrors they’d entailed, starting from Telmar’s first invasion on the throneless kingdom, passing through hundreds of years. They’d had peace, for the shortest while when Caspian IX inherited the throne.
“Obviously that didn’t last,” Trumpkin snarls. “Butchered him in his sleep. Wasn’t any of us. Imagine his friends weren’t too keen on his peace plans. Ain’t nobody on that throne now.”
Whoever all were in charge still sent hunts out for the remaining Narnians, a scant number in the face of Telmarines.
“Whole damn world heard the horn blow not a day ago.” Trumpkin eyes them. “You lot work fast.”
“You mean to tell me someone stole my horn,” Susan says drily, eyebrow raised, “ and blew it to summon us?”
“At least you don’t have to deal with the boy who didn’t get you were saying no,” Lucy points out. Peter snorts.
“As if he could take on a Queen of Narnia, anyway. You’d scare him off before the day was done!”
Edmund claps his hands. “A compliment!”
“That was almost flattery, Peter. Don’t get soft on me.”
Lucy giggles at Trumpkin’s bewildered face, and they watch as over the short journey the scruffy dwarf forms a fiercely protective stance in regards to their younger sister, inevitable as it was, as nearly everyone who meets Lucy does.
That night Edmund pretends to be asleep as his sisters talk in hushed tones, same as he knows Trumpkin is doing, by the stiff line of his back.
“Why do you think I didn’t see him?” Susan quietly asks about Aslan.
Because you lack faith, Edmund suppresses. He’d had no need to see the Lion himself, not holding the same love for him as Lucy did. He had no need to, for Lucy could tell him she saw the future of humans becoming machines, and he’d believe her without a doubt, his faith in her, boundless. He stifles the urge to move when Susan’s elbow hits the back of his hand.
“But you’re happy to be here, aren’t you?”
“While it lasts,” Susan replies, and Edmund vows he will make sure they stay this time, lampposts or trains or not.
His last thought is calculating the number of years they will likely stay this time before he wakes to two empty spots around the dead fire.