It’s a beautiful day to be a Pevensie in Narnia.
The forest races by them in a green blur as their horses gallop in pursuit of the White Stag. It’s the most exhilarating thing any of the Pevensies have done, their hearts and souls and minds filled with purpose and adventure, feeling as though they and their horses are melding together to form one new creature. The forest thickens, their horses jumping over more logs, the kings and queens tucking in even closer to their horses’ backs to avoid low-hanging tree branches.
Lucy’s horse takes a tumble, throwing Lucy to the ground. Peter pulls his horse up short, throwing himself from the saddle in one smooth motion, and runs to Lucy.
“Oh, Peter, I--” Lucy says, and cuts herself off with a cry, pressing her hand to her side. Crimson blood leaks from between her fingers.
“Where is your cordial?” Peter asks, trying his best to be calm. He rips strips from the hem of his tunic, wads them up, and presses them to Lucy’s side.
“I left it with the hunting party,” Lucy groans. She bends her fingers over the wad of fabric, tries to press it harder to her ribs.
“We will ride back to join them. You shall be fine , Lucy,” Peter says. He bends down by Lucy’s horse, inspecting its injuries, before retrieving his sword and doing the merciful. He gathers Lucy up into his arms and helps her into the saddle. It isn’t long before Peter’s horse canters back towards the rest of the hunters.
Susan and Edmund don’t notice a thing. Several hundred metres away, they dismount their horses and walk into the forest. On foot they have no chance of catching the Stag, but this part of the forest has caught their attention. The air weighs on them like a crown of solid gold.
“What is that strange object?” Susan asks, pointing to an iron pole.
“If I am quite correct, that is a lantern on the top.” Edmund frowns. “How queer!”
“Exceeding queer,” Susan agrees. “It makes me think that I have seen its like before, but how could that be so?”
“I feel the same, sister.” Edmund approaches the pole and walks around it in a circle.
Susan shivers. “I cannot help but believe that if we continue in this forest, nothing shall be the same again.”
“Then we must continue on this path to see what awaits us!” Edmund exclaims, turning to grin at Susan.
Susan sighs. “Must we?” She glances back at their horses. “Brother--where have Peter and Lucy gone?”
Edmund looks over Susan’s shoulder at the horses. He frowns. “I remember hearing them exclaim with joy some time ago.”
“Shall we turn back?” Susan says, in that tone of voice that means she doesn’t intend to be argued with.
“If we turn back now, we may well lose this opportunity -- this must be a great magic, and great magics don’t last forever,” Edmund says. Susan recognises his tone as the one that means he heard Susan’s tone and elected to ignore it.
“And if we go, we may lose our siblings,” Susan says pointedly. “If this is some great journey, who knows when we shall return?”
“My dear sister, I do believe I shall go whether you accompany me or not.”
Susan would rather not encourage Edmund’s old beastly habits, but she doesn’t like the idea of being left in the forest alone… “Fine.”
Edmund leads the way into the forest, Susan trailing grumpily behind. She keeps one hand on her horn just in case.
Peter and Lucy soon make it back to the hunting party. Everyone is much concerned about Lucy’s injury, but with just a drop of cordial, she is soon resting comfortably on a pile of saddle blankets with her injury rapidly healing. She insists the hunting must go on without her, but Peter wants to stay with her, and the others don’t want to go without the King and Queen. They have a merry little picnic in a clearing.
Edmund and Susan feel very, very strange as they move deeper into the forest. Unfamiliar memories creep into the back of their minds: stepping up into mysterious metal pods, listening to music coming from small wooden boxes, watching tiny people living their lives on glass screens.
“Are you suddenly knowing things you’ve never known before?” Susan asks Edmund.
“Yes, I am! It’s dreadfully exciting,” Edmund says, wondering where this strange usage of ‘dreadfully’ came from.
“What is that?” Susan points into the forest. There’s a narrowing of the trees, a distant clear light, that looks very out of place amongst the trees.
“Let’s go find out.”
The branches grow softer around them, trailing across their faces like gentle fingers. Susan stops to run some of the pine needles between her fingers. Ahead of her, Edmund gives a shout.
“Susan! It’s the wardrobe!”
“The--” Susan drops the pine needles and runs to join Edmund. “England!”
“I--I don’t--” Edmund says.
“We can’t just go back to England.”
“I’m not at all sure we have a choice.” Edmund tries to stand his ground, but a force beyond his control sends him taking wobbly steps towards the ever-nearer light.
“I wish it would stop!” Susan tries to step backwards, but she, too, is dragged into the wardrobe.
They tumble out into the Professor’s house, landing on hands and knees. Susan instantly feels much lighter. Her long, long braid doesn’t come tumbling to the ground after her, so she puts her hands --
Her rings are gone. Her skin is smooth and tan.
She puts her hands up to her hair. It’s much shorter, in an unfamiliar curled style.
Edmund feels lighter, too. His clothes feel wrong against his skin. He looks down to see his polo shirt and shorts, his knees plastered with bandaids, his wristwatch on his wrist.
Susan and Edmund stare at each other.
The hunting party remount their horses after their picnic feeling much refreshed. They’re in a light and happy mood now, less intent on finding the stag, trading jokes back and forth as they ride. They eventually find the part of the forest where Lucy fell off her horse and spread out in rays to find Susan and Edmund.
“What would you wish for if you caught the stag?” Lucy asks Peter.
Peter rubs his reins between his fingers as he thinks. He’s a still man, Peter; he seems to keep his movements in his fingers, whereas Lucy, if she isn’t careful, expresses herself with her whole body. “I could only ask for prosperity for our kingdom. Is that too vague?”
“Of course that is what we would all wish for. It is more fun, however, to think of what our younger selves would have wished for!” Lucy says. “Sherbets and ponies and toys…”
Peter hums. “I...I can’t remember what I was like when I was younger.”
“I can’t either,” Lucy says, after a pause. “How odd.”
“Surely I would have wished for a horse, a sword, books,” Peter muses, “but the memories just… aren’t there.”
They lapse into a thoughtful silence, though the forest is far from silent. There are all the familiar sounds of birds and animals rustling in the trees and the jingle of their horses’ bits.
"Oh, I do hope all of this is a dream!" Susan exclaims.
"It feels rather like Narnia was the dream." Edmund gets to his feet and stares at his knobbly teenage knees.
Susan gets to her feet and goes back into the wardrobe. Edmund hears her rustling through the coats and banging on the back of the wardrobe. He doesn't move to join her.
Susan pokes her head out of the door. "It won't open."
"It might open again later," Edmund says, speaking as though from a great distance to his own body. "Like when Lu went through, and we went through later."
"Yes. Yes, of course." Susan plops down on the floor of the wardrobe.
"What are you doing?"
"I mean to be here when it opens again," Susan explains.
Edmund goes over to sit next to her. They don’t speak or touch each other, just sit, watching the back of the wardrobe.
Peter and Lucy find Susan and Edmund’s horses tied up in a dense copse, but their siblings are nowhere to be seen. They dismount and continue through the forest. They begin calling “Su-san! Ed-mund!” as the sun begins to set. Dark falls quickly in that part of the forest, and neither of them have torches, so they go back to Peter’s horse. No one else has seen Their Majesties either. They all decide to make their way back to the camp that has been set up for the night. It’s possible that Susan and Edmund already made their way back, and it’s better not to get their wires crossed. Anyway, all the Pevensies are familiar with the forest, and the springtime evening is warm and gentle.
When Edmund and Susan don’t turn up by the next afternoon, though, search parties are sent out to scour the forest. As much as Peter and Lucy want to go, their advisors tell them that they can’t risk getting lost, too, leaving Narnia without any of its royalty. All they can do is stay at the castle, pretending not to be worried and going through the motions of their daily duties. They know logically that Edmund and Susan can look after themselves, but something feels wrong.
Later that evening, Lucy finds herself at a window overlooking the forest. Peter comes to join her, draping his heavy arm over her shoulders.
“Oh, Aslan, bring them back,” Lucy whispers. She buries her face in Peter’s chest.
They send search parties out every day for weeks. They only trace of their missing king and queen is one of Susan’s ribbons. Lucy feels empty and cried out. Peter seems to be putting on a brave face for her, but she can tell that underneath he’s just as shaken as she is.
They eventually, reluctantly, plan a royal funeral. Whether or not they’re dead, it’s been months, and the people and animals of Narnia want closure. Lucy sits next to Peter at the front of the great hall. She barely sees or hears anything around her. There’s an ocean roaring in her ears and a horrible clawed monster tearing up her insides.
They’re dead, they’re gone, they’re ripped up by wild beasts, you’ll never see them again, hisses the monster, sinking its talons deep into Lucy’s chest.
She thinks with all the strength she can muster that they’re alive, they all will be reunited, but it’s a losing battle against the monster. She tries to summon a mental image of Aslan, but it won’t come. She hasn’t seen him in years, and ever since her siblings’ disappearance he hasn’t even appeared in her mind.
Why did you let this happen? Lucy thinks. She raises her hands to her face and stifles a sob in her heavy fur-lined sleeves.
Peter leans over and puts his arm around her. Lucy drops her head onto his shoulder, letting her tears soak into his overcoat.
The wardrobe doesn’t reopen.
They’re dealing with their de-aging, the loss of their kingdom, and the loss of their siblings all at once. Edmund felt scooped out and hollow when they were first tossed through the wardrobe; now all that empty space is filled with a desperate, burning need to do something, anything, licking at his insides, hot on his heels whenever he stops to think, the ocean of his grief threatening to flood through him and knock him to the ground.
He stays in the wardrobe room all day, pacing, barely leaving to eat. Susan vetoed his initial plan to sleep in there, saying he needed a break from the constant desperate hope and despair. He sleeps a fitful few hours, if he sleeps at all, in his and Peter’s room. He’s not sure whether it’s better or worse that Peter’s bed is neatly made, just how he left it on the day they went to Narnia, leaving no trace of Peter’s personality behind. Edmund takes to wearing Peter’s shirts.
Susan approaches Edmund one day. She says that the Professor knows about Narnia. When they go to him together, he offers them the use of his uncle’s rings so that they might go back. They go out and dig in the garden, but the rings have been lost to the eroding forces of time. Edmund spends three full days digging even deeper, turning the Professor’s yard into a mess of dirt.
Susan retreats to her room for a few weeks. Edmund pokes his head in, once. Susan had tidied Lucy’s side of the room, putting all her things out of sight. She’s at the window, staring out, writing in her journal. She didn’t journal much before Narnia, Edmund thinks. It’s hard to say whether Narnia or this tragedy has changed her more. At least Narnia changed them slowly, as they grew. This has fallen on them all at once.
They don’t talk much at all with Edmund by the wardrobe and Susan in her room. The Professor, while sympathetic, is not exactly the person Edmund wants to talk to, and Mrs. MacReady is even less suitable. Edmund just leans his back against the side of the wardrobe, running his hands through fur coats, and tries to remember as much as he can. It’s easy to remember England now that they’re back, but his memories of Narnia are rapidly draining away. He suspects Susan is experiencing the same thing.
It’s a few weeks after It that Susan begins to leave the house to go to every social event under the sun. She begins to talk to Edmund more at mealtimes, but if he says anything about Narnia, she goes tight-lipped and silent.
He stops talking about it.
They have to deal with their parents somehow. The Professor’s house is behind the times and doesn’t have a phone, so they have to write a letter.
“We should just tell them they’re dead,” Edmund says, hoping he can get into a screaming match with Susan, anything to make him feel alive again. He hates how cold and quiet she’s gone. He doesn’t realise that they’re opposites: Susan’s fiery on the inside, Edmund on the outside.
“They would want to see their bodies,” Susan says.
“We can tell them they were torn up by a--”
“Don’t say that,” Susan snaps, looking at Edmund for the first time in days.
“Say what? That they’re dead?” Edmund says, viciously triumphant. “It’s no better to give them false hope.”
“I’m not the one who’s sitting by the wardrobe every day! They’re gone, Edmund, gone for good, but they weren’t torn up! I just don’t want--”
“You don’t know they won’t come back!”
“You just said that we shouldn’t give our parents false hope!” Susan stands up from the table, bringing herself to her full height. She has two inches on Edmund, which is just enough to force him to look up at her.
“If we say they’re missing our parents will come over here and look in the forest for months, and they won’t find them!”
“Oh, but we’ll somehow magically find them in the wardrobe?” Susan mocks.
“Maybe! But we know they aren’t in the forest!” Edmund shouts.
“Stop trying to bring them back! They’re gone! But I am not going to tell our parents that they’re dead just because you want to make things easy on yourself!” Susan shouts back. She claps her hands to her face and takes a few deep breaths before whirling on her heels and marching out of the room.
Edmund goes and hammers his fists on the side of the wardrobe.
Decades pass on the Narnian side of the divide. Peter comes to accept that his siblings are likely dead. Lucy never quite gives up hope. Susan is with her whenever she draws a bow, writes a seating chart for a complicated dinner, dances in the Great Hall. She feels Edmund’s presence when she uses a sword, writes a tricky diplomatic dispatch, plays a game of chess. She and Peter talk about them often. When each of them gets married, they have new thrones made rather than having their spouses take Susan and Edmund’s thrones. In lighter moments, they joke that their disappearance was a good thing, since there really isn’t space for eight thrones on the dais in the throne room. When they have children and grandchildren, they tell them about Uncle Edmund the Just and Aunt Susan the Gentle while sitting on the abandoned thrones.
On the other side, Susan and Edmund tell their parents that Peter and Lucy disappeared. As expected, Mr. and Mrs. Pevensie search for months and come up empty. They cancel their planned teaching trip to America. Susan decides to go to America anyway. Edmund stays with their parents, away from all the memories and ghosts at the Professor’s house. He writes one letter to Susan. She writes back a jolly letter full of sweet nothings, and Edmund doesn’t write again.
He goes to visit Professor Kirke in the summer. They spend many quiet hours together in the Professor’s extensive library while Edmund studies in preparation for Oxford. Sometimes, when he can’t sleep, he goes to visit the wardrobe. He can almost hear Lucy’s voice begging them to believe her that Narnia was real.
Fifteen years after Edmund and Susan’s return to England, the antagonism in their relationship has softened somewhat. They attend family Christmases with their parents, spouses, and children. It’s at one of these holidays that Edmund and Susan go for a walk in the snowy forest.
It’s a beautiful evening, the snow blue under the shadows of the pines and orange where the setting sun sets it aflame. It reminds Edmund of Narnia, a little, as everything does. Snow, sleighs, turkish delight, beavers, crowns, castles...nothing is safe. He presses his hands to a tree trunk and feels the rough bark against his skin. He leans his forehead against the trunk and breathes in the scent of pine.
When he pulls away from the tree, the snowy wonderland around him seems even more sparkly than usual.
“Susan?” Edmund turns to his sister, who’s looking up at the sky, letting snowflakes fall on her cheeks and nose. She looks more peaceful than he’s seen her in quite a while.
“Hmm?” Susan turns to look at him. The snow in her hair reminds Edmund of making Christmas cookies that morning. Susan’s daughter threw flour in the air that sifted down over them like snowflakes.
A warm, flower-scented breeze blows through the forest.
“Oh!” Susan frowns.
“We have to find where it’s coming from!” Edmund stalks deeper into the forest, Susan walking behind him.
There’s a pair of oak trees that have grown together like twins. Green grass and otherworldly flowers are visible through the gap between their trunks.
The siblings stop and stare at each other.
“Look!” Edmund exclaims. He closes his eyes and takes in a big breath. “It’s Narnia!”
Susan covers her eyes with one hand. “Maybe--”
“It’s Narnia,” Edmund says again. “Look at those flowers!”
“I can’t do this again,” Susan says. She looks heartbroken. “I can’t go back, Edmund. And what about our families? What if we don’t come back?”
“Peter and Lucy,” Edmund says simply.
“It’s too much!” Susan begins to cry. “We don’t know where they are, if they’re alive. They probably think we’re dead! And I can’t go back to this country that might just throw me back to England at any moment! We lost so much, Edmund, don’t you remember?”
“I thought you didn’t remember!” Edmund says.
“Of course I do!” Susan fumbles for her handkerchief, but her cold, shaky fingers can’t manage it.
Edmund takes his handkerchief from his pocket and holds it out to her.
Susan accepts it and dabs under her eyes. “I can’t just leave my family behind.”
Edmund looks again at the gap between the trees. “I have to give it a chance. If Peter and Lucy are out there, I can’t just abandon them, Susan. They’re our family, too!”
“Go without me, then!” Susan chokes on her words. “I suppose if you come back it won’t feel like any time has passed for me!”
“And if I don’t?”
Susan looks up at him. A line of mascara trickles down her cheek. “I don’t know, Edmund. I just don’t know.”
Edmund looks between her and the gap in the trees. He tears up as he folds Susan in a hug. She leans down to tuck her chin over his shoulder, still taller than him after all that time.
“I understand,” she whispers.
“Yeah.” Susan releases him and taps her hands on each of his shoulders. “Yeah. Go on, find them. Bring them home.”
Edmund laughs wetly as Susan dabs her face with the handkerchief. “Can’t have mascara on your cheeks, eh?”
“Never.” Susan smiles as she holds up the handkerchief, though her smile wobbles.
Edmund gives her another hug. He can’t remember the last time they’d had a proper hug, more than just a quick arms-around, air-kiss kind of hug.
“Go on, before I start to think you might like me after all!” Susan smiles and gently pushes him away.
“I’ll be back before you know it.”
With that, Edmund walks backwards into the portal to Narnia, keeping his eyes on Susan’s face until it vanishes into the forest.
He steps from a snowy land into one in the middle of spring. It’s much too warm for his coat, but he’s too occupied looking around him to take it off. The landscape is achingly familiar, the greens a different shade than in England, everything just a little bit different.
His heart soars.
He has no idea where he is. Visibility is low through the forest, with no obvious vantage points to head towards, so Edmund picks a random direction and starts walking. He soon finds a hill to climb, the top of which is bare of trees. From there he can see Cair Paravel, far, far in the distance. He’s too far to really see, but he imagines he can almost see a tiny red speck of a flag flying above the ramparts.
With that, Edmund scrambles down the hill towards his destiny.
It’s a beautiful day to be a Pevensie in Narnia.