Susan woke up. The world around her was silent so she wasn’t sure what had woken her. Her leg wasn’t cold and she hadn’t dreamed of lions so it wasn’t that. Perhaps it was that feeling, the prickle at the back of her neck that had developed over the past year to warn her. She pushed herself up to her feet, grasping her bow and quiver. She had slept in her shoes for months now; several times it’d saved her life. She checked the fastenings, checked that she had enough water in her canteen, that a knife was still sheathed on her arm, that the old clasp was still present in her hair. She ran her fingers over its simple but pretty design. It was still there.
A couple of centaurs were asleep nearby, their bodies shielding a young Narnian girl, Nanette, who claimed to have dreamed of the lion. She’d joined the group nearly a month ago. They had all earned their rest. Susan gazed at them; none of them bore fresh wounds, only scars. Her fingers twitched towards her own collarbone but did not touch it.
Lucy was nowhere in sight but Susan could spy the scrap of blue cloth that her sister had left tied to a nearby fusion of rock and twisted metal. Lucy was here. Mr Tumnus had safely arrived the previous night; the pair of them deserved any privacy they could manage.
Beside the blue cloth was a mark in the rock and metal – three deep slashes as though made by a large ferocious animal.
Susan took a deep breath. She could taste the seamy burnt earth smell that’d permeated the air for so long now. Magic had come to the Penvensie’s world, the world that had never been Narnia until now. It was something that shouldn’t have been possible, a statement now true of so many things.
Two worlds, especially two so incompatible, were never meant to merge so forcefully.
Susan gazed past the lip of their latest camp. Smoke seemed to always billow near the horizon now. She could make out the carcasses of vehicles, picked clean by scavengers, wrecks of buildings, a couple of very secure establishments still locked up tight, and deep gouges across the landscape. She could hear very familiar faint rumbles; the earth was groaning.
From her vantage point, Susan could see familiar glimpses of both worlds; Narnian woodland meshed brutally with concrete that looked as though it’d once been streets and waterways, in the distance great towering mountains and tall buildings stuck out from seas where there had only been dry land before. It was unimaginable but there it was, almost painful to look at; different worlds jammed together, becoming one but losing any sense of wholeness. Two worlds at war.
And somewhere out there, apparently, was Cair Paravel
Magic had never worked beyond Narnia’s borders in the Penvensies’ world, not like this. Not even Jadis had been able to manage this. But she had planted seeds of iron and so Narnian cabals and followers alike had combined and worked in secret and when someone in Suffolk had found books that had showed them great wonders were possible and someone else in government had liked the idea of such power, well, the coming together of such elements had caused the fabric of both worlds to unravel and then combine.
Now factions from both worlds fought over scraps for supremacy, now so many people lay dead. Now, it was said, some people tried magic and ended up locking themselves away, unwilling to let anyone see what they had done to themselves while others stayed safe by secreting themselves away in prisons and bunkers, only occasionally seeing sunlight.
It was said that sons of Adam, daughters of Eve and Narnians alike dreamed of the lion, who did not yet walk this earth but who was still guiding them, he had to be.
Susan had seen friends, from both worlds, die. She’d felt their blood slick her hands; she had watched her own arrows fly true. Those who had once and still ruled Narnia did not hide themselves away, no matter the cost. Who else was there to speak for and to the Narnians? Who else could find and help those Narnians left and ensure something like comfort and a common purpose?
Dirkmark the Red Dwarf was huddled near the entrance of the camp and tending a tiny fire. They’d be moving on today; they could only manage a few days at a time in one place. Narnia had to keep moving, to stay safe. This place was formed of rock and something like quartz and yet there were trees and metal at the outskirts too. It could be seen as beautiful.
Dirkmark twitched his head towards Susan briefly as she approached; she inclined her head in return. Queen Susan was a role she had never truly left behind. It had kept her warm on many difficult young nights, even when perhaps she had tried to think of it as a burden or as silly childish imaginings as she had tried to cope with its absence. And here she was again, queen of impossibilities, bow in her hand and Narnians at her side.
Was it a burden? Wasn’t everything that held weight?
“Sun’s getting red,” Dirkmark observed.
Susan tilted her head. The sun was breaking through the horizon’s smoke, its rays the kind of orange that burned Susan’s eyes. She looked anyway. It seem look red around the edges. What did that mean?
Dirkmark muttered to himself and then raised his voice when Susan turned her gaze towards him, “Means it’ll start bleeding soon.”
He sounded ominous but didn’t say anymore. Susan was used to his snarls of words, now they reminded her suddenly of her own dreams, something she did not want to dwell on. Dirkmark was a steadfast companion no matter his speech. He could be completely relied upon. She’d press him more about this later. She needed to know as much as possible in order to be prepared for whatever came next. She doubted Dirkmark or the sun dreamed of lions or what trickled through Susan’s sleep.
Edmund was the next to wake. He stumbled out of a nearby cave that he’d been sharing with Glintwind the owl, several Satyrs, and Eustace, until Eustace had had to move on without them. The friends of Narnia had to spread themselves wide, to help and guide as many as possible, to gather as many stories as could be gathered, to pass on what needed to be said. Susan had never really gotten to know Eustace, even after hearing from Edmund and Lucy how much he’d changed she’d been taken aback by the witty mature young man she’d met. He was still headstrong and opinionated but he didn’t sneer and his eyes were full of that familiar dreaming clarity.
Eustace had looked at her as though he’d been surprised as well. He’d left to join Jill Pole, another friend of Narnia, who was journeying further South. The two of them did most of their travelling and dreaming together and spent a great deal of time searching for Prince Rilian, Caspian’s son. That news had been a surprise. Susan had been sure that Edmund would say something or storm off to crumple somewhere but he’d only been struck silent and then shortly after had asked to know more.
Eustace and Jill’s quest shouldn’t have been possible because Caspian himself was not how they remembered him. At least, not entirely. Whatever magic had been cast on one or either side, or something in the combination, it had apparently changed time and who knew what else.
Had the Deep Magic that’d once brought Aslan back to life been affected too?
Edmund broke Susan from her thoughts. He looked tired as his arm brushed firmly against hers; he always liked to feel for himself that his siblings were actually there with him. Susan hadn’t heard him cry out the previous night so maybe he hadn’t had nightmares. Eustace was very good at coping with that apparently. Susan often had her own to sort through.
She’d never asked if Edmund had dreamed of the lion. Edmund had told her before that he had, it had only ever made him seem more determined.
Edmund definitely needed new clothes. Susan could see how even the most recent patching needed repairing. He didn’t wear any Narnian armour, none of them did. It didn’t fit them anymore. Here they were, all of them having reached twenty and faltering just beyond except for Lucy who was still on the cusp, no longer children who’d clambered into a wardrobe but still kings and queens.
Narnia hadn’t stopped needing them and, Lucy insisted, they hadn’t stopped needing Narnia.
No, they hadn’t.
Edmund helped himself to the kind of tea that was somehow brewing over the tiny fire. Dirkmark was miraculous at scavenging what they needed. They had enough to survive on, they knew how to live in both worlds and they had many allies. Not everyone could be trusted though.
Edmund was looking at the horizon, searching of course. Susan watched as Edmund touched one of the nearby rock and quartz rock formations, at the clawed symbol that someone had left them there. They’d all touched it at some point during their stay here.
Others were stirring now. A couple of bears rolled out from where they’d holed up together, one of satyrs was showing her face and Sharpfar, the wolf that followed Edmund almost everywhere appeared, dipping his head to both Susan and Edmund.
“The sun’s red,” Sharpfar remarked in his usual certain tone.
Edmund didn’t look surprised and nodded slowly. Sharpfar eyed him and then cast his glance away which signalled Nanette, who’d woken, to start foraging in the larder for the royal siblings. Neither Susan nor Edmund protested. Everyone did their part and some things were insisted upon; Narnians wished to serve their monarchs. In return, the kings and queens strove to lead and guide their people across the country. Susan couldn’t imagine what was happening across the rest of the now-fused worlds.
If she tried to truly comprehend the scale...
Susan shook her head and thanked Nanette for the bread and meat that was brought to her. Edmund echoed her words, his eyes still strong on the horizon. They had to leave that day and if the others didn’t join them, well, they knew the rules.
They left a mark wherever they made camp to show fellow Narnians that they were not alone. They all swore that they would keep travelling onwards, no matter what; because there needed to be hope and they would all see each other again. Hadn’t Aslan promised?
Aslan had promised a lot of things.
There were those that sought the so-called kings and queens of Narnia, the figureheads that the strange talking creatures venerated. The creatures themselves had been listened to in some cases but hurt, killed or locked up in others. The world couldn’t be controlled now. Who could know the creatures’ true motivations? If these monarchs were offered to those who had changed everything, wouldn’t they change everything back again?
And anyway, leaders like that were dangerous. Wouldn’t they want to rule here too? How could they be trusted? What did they really want?
Susan’s right leg felt cold sometimes. She’d taken a hit there almost three months beforehand from a witch who'd managed to get past their defences. Susan had swayed and almost fallen. She’d been able to reach her knife though. She’d thrown it.
Her leg felt cold now as she ate and waited. Then Lucy and Mr Tumnus finally emerged, sleepy-eyed but so happy together. Susan felt warmer looking at them. Lucy was wearing a ribbon in her hair, a present no doubt, and her jacket looked a better fit than before. Mr Tumnus bowed to both Edmund and Susan and sat beside Lucy as she received her breakfast. Neither she nor Mr Tumnus were willing to let the other go, he was one of their heralds and would have to leave them again soon.
There was still a brightness to Lucy, to her eyes and to her smile. She chattered to everyone as the centaurs kept an eye on Nanette and kept a weather ear out for any who might approach. Lucy nudged Susan’s leg, as though she knew the cold that still seeped under Susan’s bones.
Lucy only had a couple of drops of cordial left.
Susan leaned into her sister, uncaring who saw. It was known that the four kings and queens were close and depended on each other, especially now. They were walking this new world, together and apart, and they weren’t the only ones.
It was late in the morning when Susan called a meeting. Lucy had led the morning blessing, she always did. Now the group sat in a half-moon and talked. Susan asked for scouting reports from the centaurs, an update on the food supply and if any word had been received from any of the other parties. They were expecting news from Eustace later that week as well as a meeting with a group of Dryads said to be moving nearby and it was said that Professor Digory had been seen crossing a desert. Whether it was true or not, it was a good story. Stories were important currency now; they were propaganda and advertising, preaching and punishment. They were all some people had to hold onto. They often shaped Susan’s dreams.
Susan’s dreams were often angry, as were her thoughts. But she didn’t let anyone see that. There was enough anger in this new world already. Queen Susan the Gentle had to keep her countenance alive with other things.
She listened as each Narnian spoke, as Edmund asked for clarification and offered a different perspective, as Lucy wove together different scraps of information to produce a new whole. As a faint sound was heard in the distance.
A centaur cantered off to a better viewing point and called back in a way that made Susan’s skin prickle. Friends were approaching. And yes, there was Peter and there was Caspian. Peter was limping of course. He still refused to let Lucy use either of the last drops of her healing cordial on his leg wound. It hadn’t knitted together as well as it could have, leaving him with his limp. He smiled tiredly when he saw them and hugged Lucy who got to him first. Tea was brought and Peter was eased down. He kept his sword at his side.
Edmund and Caspian only had eyes for each other. They touched carefully but with such depth of emotion – Caspian’s hand on Edmund’s shoulder, than his neck, his thumb lining Edmund’s jaw, Edmund’s hand clasped Caspian’s forearm, then spread across Caspian’s chest before his fingers climbed to Caspian’s face and tangled in his hair.
Once they would have been admonished for their public intimacy.
“Did you dream of the lion?” Caspian asked Edmund quietly.
Edmund nodded, “And a guiding star.”
Caspian's face lit up and leaned into Edmund, the two of them drawn inextricably together. Caspian still wore his armour, the kind that Susan remembered. Caspian lowered his voice and his conversation with Edmund went unheard by everyone else. Edmund listened hard and nodded and squeezed Caspian a little, as though encouraging him. He said something that made Caspian smile.
Susan began the meeting again and ceded it to Peter who reported on what they’d seen; how they’d fought both humans and wild Narnians who had either wished for someone to blame or wanted the power someone had promised them. There was a price on the kings and queens’ heads. It was so easy to cope when there was someone to blame.
Caspian reported that they’d seen more claw marks and had heard more tales of otters, crows and horses among other beasts, talking and dumb, who were fighting for Narnia, who cried the names of their monarchs as they fought. Naiads were said to be creating waves and whirlpools. There were bodies left unburied, fires burning, rage and promises painted across walls, so many buildings abandoned, and thieves and scavengers hunting in every sparse leafy corner. There were dreams and there were stories. Susan’s leg felt cold again but she did not fall.
When Susan dreamed, she often dreamed of Aslan. He was always bigger than she remembered and he never turned from her. His paws were always bleeding but he continued to walk, leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind him. They always talked.
“I forgot you.”
“You tried, my daughter.”
“I wasn’t going back, it wasn’t...tangible, not anymore.”
“Very few things are.”
They both gazed at the strange pained world before them, magic and mayhem, rivers where there were no rivers, streets contorted, hills and forests crashing through stone and metal. It was like the most peculiar of paintings, the kind that Susan had never been able to understand.
“You have your bow again.”
Susan glanced towards her bow, hooked over her shoulder. “I feel so angry here.”
“You ask questions, I always listen.”
“But you never answer.”
Aslan let out a sigh that stirred the nearby leaves and mortar. Susan didn’t look away.
“My answers are always with you.”
Here Aslan shifted a bloody paw as if that was an answer in itself. Susan always woke up from those dreams with her jaw clenched and her heart racing wildly. She never spoke about those dreams.
She doubted that Lucy had ever questioned Aslan. She was sure that Lucy’s dreams of the lion were very different.
Someone had to ask questions. Someone had to walk this world for Narnia, for what could be seen and be done. Susan knew how to make arrows, how to carry and use a knife, how to talk to people from both worlds, how to rule. She would accept guidance, if any guidance made itself known.
Stories could only carry you so far. Sometimes Cair Paravel could only possibly exist in dreams.
When the meeting drew to a close, Susan sharpened her knife and went to practice with her bow. Edmund and Caspian had retreated to gather their own privacy, Lucy and Mr Tumnus were talking with Nanette and Peter. As others began breaking down the camp, Susan checked that a look-out was in place and eyed the reddening sun.
It was always said across Narnia that Aslan was not tame. Neither were its rulers.