Anna knows this is a dream because she is in Cair Paravel. (She knows she is in Cair Paravel, because this is a dream.
It works both ways.)
And not the Cair Paravel made of plaster and fiberglass whose true grandeur you can only see in two dimensions, projected on a screen. This wasn’t bits of a fantasy, constructed by skilled lie-makers and surrounded by cameras and wires and cranes and doubles and prompters and any number of people vital to keeping this world alive.
The marble banister under Anna’s hand is smooth and cold and as real as dreams can be. At the top of the stairs, waiting patiently, is Queen Susan the Gentle, whose dark hair tumbles past her shoulders and whose face Anna recognizes as her own (except for the eyes, which remind her of the sea when she longs for it in the wintertime).
“Anna,” says Queen Susan, her smile warm, “I have been waiting.”
“Do you ever,” Anna asked over lunch break, “have dreams about Narnia?”
“No,” shrugged Skandar.
“One time I dreamt I was riding a centaur,” said Georgie around a mouth full of potatoes. “And sometimes James was with me and sometimes it was Skandar, and we were running in a forest but then it became my old school, and my uncle was there…”
“Well, once I was napping in the trailer,” said Skandar, “and I could hear them filming outside, so that sort of became part of the dream. But I wasn’t properly asleep. You know when you nap and you’re not properly asleep but you dream anyway?”
Will was quiet, pushing the food around on his plate, so Anna said, “Will? What about you?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Sometimes.”
Except it was almost not a dream, and Anna could almost remember the taste of Susan’s lips, and it tasted like–
“Something troubles you, my dear,” Susan murmurs, her fingers trailing down Anna’s spine.
She shivers despite the summer in the air and softness of the queen’s body beside her. “I don’t know,” she replies. “Are you real?”
Susan sweeps Anna’s hair back, and kisses the side of her neck. She says, “Aren’t you?”
“What kind of dreams?”
Will blinked. “What?”
“What kind of dreams do you have about Narnia?” asked Anna.
He shrugged. “You know.”
“Oh,” said Will, distantly. “I think you do.”
Susan threads her fingers through Anna’s and leads her to the balcony, where the air smells like sea salt and the waves’ susurrations sound like whispered secrets.
“Look,” says Susan, and points to the shoreline.
So Anna looks, and she can just make out two golden-haired figures bobbing in and out of the waves. She can see where their clothes lie discarded on the sand.
Susan says, “That is my brother.”
“Who’s that with him?” asks Anna.
“I think you know him better than I.”
Peter and his companion splash towards each other, and Anna hears the faint sounds of laughter on the wind. One of them points at the balcony, at her, and Anna gasps. Susan laughs. One of the figures – she can’t tell if it’s Peter or his friend – waves, and then both figures are waving.
“We’ve been spotted!” Anna exclaims giddily.
“Wave back,” says Susan.
And then, because she didn’t know how to bring it up without sounding stupid, Anna blurted, “So, the beach is nice this time of year?” and felt stupid anyway.
“You thinking of going?” asked Will.
Will nodded thoughtfully. “You should.”
And she does, next time. She rushes to the shoreline, an amused Susan trailing behind, and there they are.
“We have been waiting,” says Will, or maybe Peter.
“Fancy a swim?” asks Peter, or maybe Will.
“That sounds lovely,” smiles Susan.
Anna is already kicking off her shoes.
Already in costume, hair sprayed and face made-up, Anna studied herself in the mirror for longer than usual.
It was like a stereogram, she thought. You saw one thing first, but then you squinched up your eyes and you saw another.
She just wasn’t sure what she saw first these days.
“Is that you, Will?” Anna gasps. “Or… Peter…”
Will can’t tell Susan or Anna apart either. But somehow Peter and Susan always know.
“Yes,” replies the boy in her arms. His hair is golden and he smells like the earth, and his lips are just as Anna has always imagined them to be, whoever he is.
“Are you real?” she asks Will. She knows it’s Will and not Peter because Susan doesn’t curl up against Will in her sleep the way she does against Peter. Susan sleeps beside Anna, head on her brother’s shoulder, Peter’s hand tangled in her hair.
Will kisses her forehead. “I’m as real as you are.”
“Yes,” says Anna. She pulls the covers to her chin and snuggles closer to him. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”