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Queen Susan's Children

Chapter Text

Once there was a boy whose name was James Edmund Pevensie Hastings, but most people just called him James. At the moment this story begins James was on a station platform waiting for his sister’s train to come in. It was the beginning of the summer holidays, and as soon as Alison’s train had arrived they expected their father to come to fetch them in the car. Already James was beginning to have that happy holiday feeling, long weeks of doing nothing much stretching ahead of him. He didn’t really enjoy school. The teachers said he was a dreamer and ‘easily distracted’ and although his work was good, he did not enjoy the kind of games you had to play at school. Even a long summer holiday with only his little sister for company would be better than term-time. So James was glad to see Alison getting off her train and running towards him, pigtails flying, already chattering about school and all the new friends she had made.

‘Oh, I can’t wait to get home, though,’ she cried, ‘Is Father here yet?’

‘No, he isn’t,’ James said, ‘I wonder— Oh look! There’s the car.’

It wasn’t their father who had come, however, but their elder brother Julian. ‘Father couldn’t make it,’ he explained, loading their trunks into the boot, ‘He was held up at work. And I’d better warn you, Mother has sprained her ankle and can hardly get about.’

‘Oh!’ said Alison, ‘Is she all right?’

‘She’ll be fine, but we must all do everything we can to help her.’

This wasn’t quite the homecoming James would have liked, but even so he was glad to be back. His mother smiled her lovely smile from where she sat on the sofa and beckoned them close.

‘Come here, dears, let me look at you. James, you look quite grown-up! Alison, you must tell me all about your first term.’

James let Alison tell her stories for as long as she liked, and then quietly asked his mother, ‘How did you hurt your ankle?’

‘Oh, it was silly of me. I had the idea of clearing out some things from the attic and I twisted it when I stepped off the ladder coming down again. You know, I think I saw an old walking stick up there. I could probably move about quite well if I had that. Will you fetch it for me, James?’

Alison came up to the attic with her brother. She always used to find that dark place a bit scary, but after all, she had been away to school on her own, and felt a lot older now than when she had last climbed the ladder. James went first, holding a torch, for the attic did not have a light of its own. The narrow beam shone on a couple of old trunks, a battered table, a tall wardrobe and a stack of cardboard boxes full of books. The walking stick was leaning against one of the trunks. ‘Here Ally,’ James said, ‘You go back down the ladder and I’ll hand it to you.’

‘Oh! It stings!’ Alison said, as soon as her fingers closed around the stick.

‘Don’t be silly, Al,’ James began, ‘It’s only an old piece of— ouch!’

A horrid, prickly sensation ran from the walking-stick up his arm. ‘Let go of it, Ally!’ he cried. But that was easier said than done. It felt as if their hands were attached to the wood with strong glue. Alison was pulling at one end of the stick and James at the other, thinking that he mustn’t make his sister fall off the ladder, when the world around them disappeared, and in an instant they were standing in a strange wood, and their house was nowhere to be seen.

Alison twirled around, looking at the trees wonderingly. ‘Oh James! Do you think this could be…?’

‘The Wood between the Worlds,’ James said in a low voice, hardly believing it himself.

James knew where he was, you see, because his mother had told him and his sister stories about this place, and the other places it led to. Lately he had begun to feel quite impatient whenever she mentioned them, because he considered himself far too old for fairy tales now. But when they were younger they had always believed the stories, and Alison still loved to hear them. Mother was always happy to tell her about the land of Narnia, a land that isn’t our world at all. She said that she had twice visited it when she herself was only a child, and that she and her sister had become queens in that country, and her brothers had been kings.

‘Let’s explore,’ James said to his sister. He found he was still holding the old walking stick, and he planted it firmly in the turf, to make sure they could find the place again. There was nothing to distinguish one place from another in the Wood between the Worlds, and it would be very easy to get lost. The trees stood tall and far apart, with soft, short grass on the ground between. High up in the branches red and green and golden birds sang in clear musical voices. Dotted among the trees here and there were small circular pools of still water. The sky could not be seen through the canopy, so the light was a warm, friendly green. Alison took off her shoes and socks and held them in her hands, enjoying the cool, springy grass with her bare feet.

‘It doesn’t really go anywhere, does it?’ she said, after they had walked for a while.

James hadn’t wanted to say that himself, because he didn’t want his little sister to know that it worried him. It looked like nothing would stop them from walking here forever. The birds sang, the light did not change. It seemed there was not even a sun to tell them whether it was morning or afternoon. Perhaps there was no such thing as morning or afternoon in the Wood between the Worlds.

‘Let’s sit down beside the next pond for a rest,’ James said to Alison, ‘We can have a drink, and I’ve still got some toffees in my pocket.’

It seemed rather farther to the next pool than usual, but maybe that was because they were so eager to get there. ‘There it is!’ Alison cried at last, ‘I’m going to have a paddle!’ and she set off at a run.

‘Make sure it isn’t too deep!’ James called, hurrying after his sister. But she stopped suddenly under one of the trees and he nearly ran into her. Alison wordlessly pointed to a place beside the pond.

‘Ah,’ James said, ‘It seems we are getting some adventure at last.’

There was a boy of about James’s age lying on the grass, fast asleep. He was dressed in very fine clothes, which made James and Alison feel shabby in their school uniforms. He had a mail shirt under a tunic and his hand rested on a sword that lay by his side. His hair was light brown and a good deal longer than James was allowed to wear it.

‘Let’s go and talk to him,’ Alison whispered.

‘Yes,’ James said, ‘But do let’s be careful. He doesn’t know us, and that sword looks sharp.’

He approached the stranger cautiously. ‘Excuse me?’

The boy did not stir.

‘Hello! Wake up, please.’ James bent down and gently shook the boy’s shoulder. An instant later the point of the sword was resting against his chest. The boy was awake and staring wide-eyed at James and his sister. ‘Hold! What are you?’

You must forgive him for this peremptory form of address. He was in a strange place as well, and English school clothes do look a bit odd to people from another world.

‘I’m James, and this is Alison, my sister,’ James said. ‘Could you please take your sword away?’ he added, sounding rather strangled. The boy lowered his weapon a tiny bit.

‘We’re a Son of Adam and a Daughter of Eve,’ Alison piped up, remembering something their mother had told them. ‘From the world beyond the wardrobe.’

The boy got up and sheathed his sword, still looking rather wary. ‘How did you get here?’

‘Well, we were up in the attic, and—’ Alison began, but James interrupted her. ‘We’re not sure. This is the Wood between the Worlds, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ the boy said, but he hesitated for a fraction of a second, and James thought he was only pretending to have known that all along. ‘Are you really from the other world? Like the kings and queens of old?’

‘Yes,’ Alison said enthusiastically, ‘Exactly like that.’

James could see she wanted to tell the strange boy all about their mother’s adventures, and how they knew one of the ‘queens of old’. But he remembered that his mother had also said that in another world you never know who is a friend or an enemy, and that it isn’t wise to let people know too much about yourself. So he broke in to ask the boy his name.

‘Ja-ames! You keep interrupting me!’ Alison said crossly.

‘I’m sorry, Ally, but we can’t just tell a stranger all about ourselves, we don’t know who he is.’

‘So why should I tell you about me?’ the boy asked, haughtily.

‘We gave you our names,’ Alison told him. She hated it when people spoke to her in a condescending voice.

‘We did,’ James said, ‘It’s your turn now.’

‘I,’ the boy said, drawing himself up and laying a hand on the hilt of his sword, ‘Am Prince Lyrian of Narnia, son of Rilian Serpent-Slayer.’

This did not produce quite the impressed reaction he had expected. ‘You’re Prince Rilian’s son?’ James asked.

King Rilian,’ Lyrian amended.

James turned to his sister excitedly. ‘That means that time has run almost parallel on this occasion. We’re the same generation.’

Lyrian had no idea what he was talking about, and even when James tried to explain, it probably didn’t become much clearer. But one thing Lyrian had understood. ‘You’ve heard of my father?’

‘Oh, yes,’ Alison said, and this time James did not stop her, ‘We are Queen Susan’s children, you see. We know all about your father and our cousin Eustace and Jill Pole.’ She didn’t say that until now they had thought it was all made up.

‘Queen Susan’s children? You mean the Kings and Queens are still alive in your world?’

‘No,’ James said sadly. ‘We never knew them. They all died in a train crash, you see, all except mother.’

Lyrian frowned. ‘A train crash? What is that?’

Then James remembered that of course there were no railways in Narnia, and he had to go through a long, involved explanation of steam power and the internal combustion engine and horseless carriages. Alison sat down on the edge of the pond and dabbled her bare feet in the clear water. In the end I think Lyrian came away with the impression that there were very powerful magicians in James and Alison’s world.

‘And how did you come to be here?’ James asked Lyrian, ‘Did you travel to the edge of your world?’

‘No, we—’ But before Lyrian could tell them how he had come to the Wood between the Worlds, all three of them noticed that something strange was happening. Until then, the air in the wood had been very still, but now a breeze was blowing, a strong, steady breeze they had to brace themselves against. The branches of the trees swayed, and they suddenly seemed to be much closer together. There were shrubs between them now, too, and bracken on the forest floor. Alison scrambled away from the pool, which presently became muddy and overgrown, and came to stand close by her brother. The magical birdsong faded, and from quite nearby the children could hear merry voices.

A train of horses was approaching along a path. The children kept between the trees, looking out curiously. Two tough-looking guards were at the head, followed by a tall, sad woman on a white palfrey and five girls on pretty, head-tossing ponies. The oldest girl was almost grown-up, and the youngest was so small that she had an attendant to lead her pony. Two more guards brought up the rear. Alison fervently wished she had a pony like that, to go riding with in a forest in spring. But Lyrian saw something else entirely.

‘My sisters!’ he exclaimed, and set off after the riding-party at a run.