Narnia, as always, is marvelous. Peter can't believe it when he finds himself there suddenly, in the company of Lucy and Polly and the Professor, and Eustace and Jill, all of them together on the lush green grass of Narnian hillside, under the deepest blue sky he ever remembers seeing (in his life), on a wonderful sunny day in the heart of summer.
Before any of them can do anything more than marvel at their surroundings, a young Narnian man and a Calormene soldier appear, obviously from some sort of battle, and then there is Tash himself, snatching up the Tarkaan, and turning on the Narnian with a terrible gleam in his eye.
But Peter keeps his wits about him, and in his best High King voice, out of practice after so many years but still, it all does come back, he banishes Tash, and turns to the young man, whose face he saw weeks ago, when he appeared at their dinner in England. And then Jill makes the introduction to King Tirian, and Peter, in turn, introduces him to the others.
It's not until Tirian asks for Susan and Edmund that Peter and Lucy finally have a moment to exchange a questioning glance. When their eyes meet, Peter realizes that they both know exactly what has happened. The train - there was an accident - and some survivors were left behind.
And when Eustace and Jill and Polly are describing Susan to Tirian in the most unkind terms, it's Peter who interrupts, after seeing the look on Lucy's face, the shock and sadness in his sister's eyes. "Well, don't let's talk about that now," he says, and then, to distract them, "Look! Here are lovely fruit-trees. Let us taste them."
As they all move towards the trees, Lucy comes up beside Peter and squeezes his hand, and he holds tight, to the only sibling left to him.
Afterwards, when night has fallen on Narnia, when Peter has turned the key and locked the door, when old friends have been greeted with open arms and laughter, when the horn ("Susan's horn," Lucy whispers hopefully, and Peter is the only one who hears, but no, to their dismay, it is not) is sounded inside the golden gates, when they all realize what has happened and where they are, Peter finds Lucy with Tumnus the Faun, and offers her his arm.
They walk together away from the others, to this beautiful Narnia inside the other Narnia, down paths and along the riverside and deep into the woods, until they are sure they're alone. And then they turn to cling to each other and cry over their loss, secretly ashamed to be grieving when such a wonderful gift has been bestowed upon them.
It's not that they're unhappy, Peter thinks, because it's hard to be unhappy in this real Narnia. He tries to explain it to Caspian, as they spar on one glorious afternoon, feinting and parrying for hours, without ever getting a bit tired.
"It's wonderful here," he say, finally putting down his sword, and flopping to the ground to rest (which he doesn't need, but it still seems the right thing to do). "But I miss Susan and Edmund. I think Lucy does too, even if she doesn't say anything."
Caspian flops down beside him, grinning and flushed from the sparring match. "But they'll be here eventually, you know. Aslan said so. And you know how time is here — why, we could wake tomorrow to find them!"
Peter nods slowly. "That's true, I suppose." And he smiles back at Caspian, but even if it's true, it's not enough. He's the oldest, and the responsibility he's always felt to keep his family together doesn't go away even now. A Heaven without all his siblings is not a real Heaven for him.
Peter finds himself exploring all the Narnias, all the places within Narnia, hoping somehow to catch a glimpse of his brother and sister, even though he knows it won't happen. Lucy, at first so content to spend her days close to Aslan, soon joins him. When he asks her why, she frowns and wrings her hands, as if trying to find the right words to explain. "I can't just sit and wait for them," she says finally. "Maybe if we keep looking, we'll find them."
It's Lucy who suggests looking at their old world — not the Shadowlands, of course, where Susan and Edmund still are, but the Real England, the Real Earth. They stop and visit their parents first, and it's a happy reunion, even though the two who are missing are heavy in all their minds.
The Real England is almost as fantastic as the Real Narnia. They go further in, exploring England within England, and Peter is astonished at the things they see, the people they meet, the things they never saw when they were alive.
But Lucy grows restless. "Ed and Su wouldn't have stayed in England, Peter, you know that." And Peter realizes it's true. Their siblings would search for the world for a glimpse of him and Lucy (of Narnia), just as they're searching for a glimpse of Edmund and Susan now.
"They will go south," Lucy says. "To places where there's no snow."
Peter doesn't ask how she knows — Lucy's always had a strange way of knowing things that the rest of them could just guess at - and once she says it, he knows she's right. In this, as he has had so many times before, Peter is happy to follow his sister's lead.
All over the Real World they go, and sometimes Peter feels like they're so close to Susan and Edmund that they could reach out and catch their hands, if they just reached far enough. But no. It's as if they're always two steps behind, as if Susan and Edmund are hurrying towards a future that Peter and Lucy can only hope to guess at.
They wander through the ruins of ancient Greece, but in this Real Greece, the further in they go, the ruins are restored to their old glories, and they mingle with gods and heroes of ancient myths and legends. Lucy makes especial friends with Pegasus and makes him promise to visit them in the real Narnia some day. "You and Fledge will get on very well!"
In the Real Alexandria, they visit the ancient library, and talk to the Ptolemies, and all Peter can think is how marvelous it is, and how much he wishes Su and Ed were there to see it with them. But Lucy just shakes her head, and he knows it's time to move on.
Australia, Hawaii, all the tiny unnamed Pacific islands — they visit them all, flying in aeroplanes and sailing on ships, even though that's not necessary in this world for travel. But they want to approach all their destinations in the same way their siblings did, even though once they get there, all the wonders of the Real places will be revealed to them in ways that Edmund and Susan would never see in the Shadowlands. The stars are brighter and closer, the water is deeper and bluer, the sun warmer and yet never leaves a burn.
Peter loves it, loves all the ways this Real World is different and deeper and brighter and more real. But it feels like a betrayal to enjoy it, when Edmund and Susan are so far from them, away from all the wonder and beauty.
Finally, in the Real America, they travel by car, mirroring Ed and Su's route across the young, wild, boisterous country. Everywhere they go the new crashes into the old, and historical and modern day heroes walk side by side, and every day brings a new place to explore. Peter loves this world too, and thinks he could go deeper and deeper, uncovering more of each Real Place the further in he goes. But Lucy is anxious to follow their siblings, so Peter drives at night, under the wide dark velvet skies, and Lucy dozes next to him, confident that he'll get them where they need to go, as he always has.
They finally come to a stop in Eastern Canada, right on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. As they walk along the beach, Peter feels like they're tracing Edmund and Susan's footsteps, that if he listens hard enough, he can hear their whispers on the wind.
“Do you think they're happy?” Lucy asks, staring at the sea.
Peter answers, “Yes,” because he hopes they are, because he's doubted many things in his life, but this he needs to be certain of. “Do you think they wonder if we are?”
“Yes,” she says, stooping to pull a shell from the sand, brushing it clean. “But I hope they don't. I hope they never think of us. How could any of us be truly happy apart?” She hands him the shell, white and pearly and perfect, and he remembers a beach with a gentler sun, finer sands, bluer water; a place where the two most important parts weren't missing.
“Maybe that's why we're not apart,” he says, taking her hand. “We were left in pairs so that none of us would be alone, in the end.”
She takes one long, deep breath before she looks at him and smiles, just slightly. “Then maybe it's good we're happy,” she says firmly, just before she drags him kicking and fighting into the ocean.
The memories hit them both with the waves, but it feels as if the sadness is washing away.
And in the end, it's like Caspian said it would be — they wake one morning and Edmund and Susan are there. During their silent and joyous reunion, all Peter thinks is finally. And then Lucy says, "We have so much to show you!"
And the four of them go off exploring, together, just as they were always meant to be.