Susan has always been good with words.
She loves them, words and languages, the simplicity of them, the complexity of them. She loves the way they can be both easy to remember and easy to forget, if you stop using them they just slip away from your grasp. She’s good at it to, this remembering. She learned English quite quickly and with ease, moving past simple words to complicated ones long before she should have been able to.
There’s nothing really special about it.
Peter is smart and brave, able to retain calculations and talk about things that Susan is unware of. Edmund can remember things about history with precision, should he want to. Lucy has this grand imagination that is beautiful and terrifying at the same time. And it’s war, their world is shattering around her. The fact that she’s good with words doesn’t mean anything at all.
But she loves it anyway.
In Narnia everything changes.
This is where Susan’s gift, the one nobody paid attention to, truly starts to shine.
It starts a few weeks after their coronation. When they’re done rebuilding Cair paravel and have been taught everything that the centaurs have decided they must know. That’s when the Narnians start to teach them the basics of the Old Narnian language. Nobody speaks it anymore, not really, but still they’re the kings and queens of their land and they must learn.
Peter is horrible at languages, he falters after one sessions and is never, no matter how hard he tries, able to truly understand old Narnian, let alone speak it.
Edmund understands it, the way he understands other languages, but is unable to speak, unable to put his thoughts into words.
Lucy, Lucy picks up the old songs with ease, remembering them better than anyone else, singing them constantly.
But Susan, Susan learns the language with ease, loving the new words she had never known before.
By the time the month ends Susan speaks a language that is technically no longer spoken.
She loves it.
It’s not just old Narnian.
It’s every language she hears, every language out there. And she learns them with ease. She can speak to politicians, have complicated conversations with ambassadors from other countries.
It’s an asset.
She can speak to the people they want to charm in their own language, putting them at ease and letting them believe they can lead the conversation because she’s only just learning the language. With those they don’t trust they can use it to their advantage. Susan can understand others when they don’t think she should be able to, learning of plots before anyone else.
She stumbles out of the wardrobe, her life washing away.
She’s an adult in a child’s body, a whole life lived and nothing left to show for it. Nothing but the memories and the things she’s left behind in another world she can no longer reach. But the words don’t fade away, don’t disappear, don’t fade despite the fact that she doesn’t use them. They stay in her head, swirling around. Dozens upon dozens of words, in various languages that nobody but her understands, at least in this world. She can describe everything she sees in more languages than anybody else can but nobody will ever be able to understand her. (Well, depending on the language she chooses her siblings might, at least, be able to somewhat understand her.)
The words are useless, they have no meaning because nobody can hear them.
Nobody knows them.
Two weeks later, when they’ve finally accepted the back of the wardrobe won’t suddenly give away, they each go out to look for a way to deal with the pain. Susan finds herself in the library, standing in the section of other languages. This is the way she will deal with it, this is the way she will heal, she thinks, by learning new words in a new language.
One that somebody in this world will actually be able to understand.
She begins with French.
But it’s not enough.
They’re just more words, dozens upon dozens of them.
She’s lost her whole life, everything and everyone – besides her siblings – that mattered to her.
No words will ever be enough for that.
She goes back home to London knowing dozens of languages nobody can understand and three that some people actually can.
She’d thought of learning German, because of the war, and she had almost done it to. Before she remembered that this was not Narnia and she was not a queen or a diplomat. Her skills would not be needed here.
She learned Spanish instead.
Susan can speak with heads of state and small children, switching between the two with absolute ease.
Adjusting to the way they speak and the words they use without breaking a sweat.
And it’s not enough.
Upon their return to Narnia they find a world at war.
Everyone they knows is dead, everything they know has been destroyed. Susan knows more languages than anyone else in the world (this one or the other one) and none of them will be helpful, none of them will save this world. None of them will turn back the clock and give them their world and friends back.
Caspian teaches her his language.
She’d already known some Telmarine, from when she was a queen, but that was 1300 years ago and she suspects the languages has changed quite a lot. By the time he’s crowned king Susan speaks it fluently. She could have talked her way around his uncle, she could have learned of all his plans before anyone else.
But she hadn’t known the words back then.
She suspects they wouldn’t have saved them anyway.
The second time she loses Narnia she knows what is coming and she knows she’s never getting it back.
It doesn’t make it any easier.
Back home she gets books on Italian and emerges herself in a new language, learning new words and uses them.
This is her way of dealing with the loss.
After Lucy and Edmund’s return from Narnia, Susan decides to learn Portuguese.
It make sense to her.
Her knowledge of different languages and her fluency in it attracts the attention of several people at her school.
This is why she’s invited to her first party.
One of the girls at her school is holding a birthday party and there will be some French kids there who barely speak English. She goes because she likes the girl and she wants to make friends. She goes because she wants to see what parties in England are like. And she goes because she loves words, loves using them, loves knowing them.
And she goes because they live in England now and they must find a way to live in it.
The party is fun and wonderful, she speaks French and English, switching with complete ease.
For the first time since she was a queen the words are not just soothing, they are useful.
She uses them to protect herself, to heal herself.
You might even say she uses them to forget.
As she and hers siblings grow apart Susan emerges herself in a new language.
This time she aims for the old and dead.
She emerges herself in the Latin words and books. She emerges herself in a language that a lot of people understand but nobody truly speaks anymore.
Peter thinks, loudly making sure she can hear it, that the only reason she learns new languages is so she can impress people and keep being invited to her stupid parties.
That is not why, Peter, she thinks, the words are soothing, the words heal.
Susan knows dozens upon dozens of words but she can never quite find the right ones to explain herself to her family.
There are dozens of languages out there for her to learn, but she has a lot of time to learn as many as she wants.
One day though, after a horrible fight with her siblings that ended in Lucy crying and Peter calling her a horrible person, Susan had gone to the library, gathering up every dictionary she could find, searching for a handful of words.
In more languages than she even knew in Narnia, in more languages than she’ll probably ever know, Susan knows four words, even if she’s not sure she’s pronouncing them right.
She learns them because words are soothing, words heal, words matter.
(They’re not enough.)
If they’d ask her she could say them, in more languages she even knew existed.
But nobody ever asks, and she never offers up the knowledge.
Susan stands alone on the platform.
She finds only darkness.
Everyone is dead, everything is gone.
The words can’t help her now.
Magnificent, Just, Valiant and Gentle, she whispers softly in every language she knows.
It’s a while before she tries again because the words aren’t quite good enough.
She finds books on Old Celtic languages. Mostly because those languages, she realizes, are the closest she gets to Old Narnian.
It’s not the same, of course, but in her grief close is good enough.
Somewhere in between, before the crash but after they start falling apart, Susan learns Greek.
It’s her way to try and tell them, to try and explain the things she can’t.
They never quite hear her but then she knew they wouldn’t because she wasn’t explaining anything.
But at night Susan dreamed of lions and love and she thought, briefly, that it seemed like at least Aslan understood.
But then the crash happened and she’s not sure of that anymore.
But then she’s not sure of anything anymore.
Susan knows languages nobody else knows.
She knows languages other people do know.
She can speak to heads of state and small children without breaking a sweat.
Susan knows so many words, dozens upon dozens of them.
And they’ll never be enough.
The right words to describe what she’s feeling, to describe what she has lost, to describe what is no longer there, won’t come.
She will never find the right ones.
The pain is too grand, the loss too immense.
There are no words to describe it.
Susan has always been good with words, she’s always loved them.
They’ve always been soothing and healing.
She’s not sure they will heal her this time.
Perhaps they never truly did.