Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened:
burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.
- Psalm 40, v.6
The prospect of never going back to Narnia hadn’t seemed so terrible, until Edmund woke up after a particularly vivid dream expecting to be aboard the Dawn Treader, only to find himself in his tiny bed in his cousin Eustace’s room in Cambridge. Eustace’s snuffling was a familiar sound during shipboard nights in their shared cabin, and it confused Edmund for a moment when he realised he could not detect the accompanying sound of Caspian’s snores from a nearby hammock, nor the lulling roll of the ship’s hull in the swell of the Eastern Sea.
Like a great wave breaking over him, memories of leaving Narnia for the final time returned in one awful, sweeping rush. He felt suddenly sick with grief, numbed by it, until Eustace mumbled crossly in his sleep and the thought of his cousin - much improved, though still occasionally insufferable - waking to find him in tears galvanized Edmund into swinging his legs out of bed and fumbling for his dressing gown hanging on the back of the door. He stumbled along the landing and into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. The linoleum was cold, and he wasn’t wearing socks, so he sat on the closed lid of the lavatory and drew his knees to his chest, wrapping his arms around them the way he used to in the Anderson shelter at home when he’d felt cold and Mother had been preoccupied with comforting Lucy. He cried silently and efficiently, adhering to rules every boy learns in the darkness of the prep school dormitory, and then leant over the sink to run cool water into the cupped palms of his hands. He splashed his face, and then gulped down water until it ran down his chin and soaked the front of his pyjamas.
The grandfather clock in the hall chimed midnight. In the bed beneath the window in their small, shared room, Eustace was snoring softly into his pillow. Edmund had no intention of going back to bed to lie awake listening to him, feeling ugly, unwelcome resentment rise and curdle into a hard lump inside his chest; Eustace will get to go back. He stifled it, strangled it, and tip-toed out onto the landing.
There was no use in bothering Lucy, who slept like a log and would only be upset by his being upset. With a burst of misery he thought how much he missed Peter, far away with Professor Kirke in Oxford, revising for his entrance exams. Treading carefully, picking a zig-zagging path down the stairs to avoid the squeaky boards, he crept through the house and, using the key hanging on a hook in the boot room, unlocked the back door.
The stone path in the back garden was shockingly cold, causing him to hop about on the spot, and his breath hovered in front of his face in short, white gusts. Edmund crossed his arms and stuck his hands into his armpits to keep them warm, and craned his neck to see the sky. It was cloudy, and where a few stars showed they were pale and distant. Nothing like the night sky in Narnia, where every star had shone so brightly each one looked as though it might burn a hole through the ceiling of the world and tumble down into the sea. It was never truly dark in England, even in the blackout, and if Edmund listened carefully he could make out the sound of a late bus on the high street, a dog barking in someone’s garden on the other side of the river.
Edmund closed his eyes and let himself be overcome by memories of Narnia. Warm sand between his fingers. The salt-scent of the sea, and its rasping, babbling laughter as it reclaimed waves from a shallow pebble beach. The Dawn Treader. Caspian.
At dinner on their second night aboard the Treader, Eustace is still too green to eat much, and turns up his nose at the food he is offered. He is such disagreeable company that the crew, even Reepicheep, have taken to ignoring him, so for the moment it is as though Caspian, Edmund and Lucy are the only people seated at the table, enjoying a jovial reunion between old friends. It is only if Edmund looks in Eustace’s direction that he remembers his ill-tempered cousin is there at all, and the atmosphere is momentarily spoiled.
“I never hoped I might see you again,” Caspian is saying with a smile while Edmund sends a resentful glare at the back of Eustace’s sulking head. They have finished a fine dinner of salted pork and apples, and moved onto pears boiled in spiced wine. They are delicious, and Edmund hopes Eustace’s stomach is growling with hunger in punishment for his bad manners.
“I half expected to turn up hundreds and hundreds of years in the future,” Lucy replies, grinning around a mouthful of pear. “It’s much better to be here now, though. We did worry about you when we all got home, you know.”
Caspian raises an eyebrow at that, and Edmund kicks Lucy under the table.
“Lu! You used to be much better at diplomacy.”
Lucy laughs and very nearly spills her wine. “Caspian knows I don’t mean we didn’t think he was up to the job. It’s just, we remembered how awful it used to be, dealing with the aftermath of wars, and having to unite Telmar and Narnia seemed an awfully difficult task. I was never much of a diplomat, anyway,” she adds, to Caspian. “I left that sort of thing to Edmund.”
Caspian meets Edmund’s gaze over the top of Lucy’s head, his eyes dancing with laughter. Whatever he is about to say, it is cut short rather abruptly by Eustace, who rouses himself enough to scowl at Edmund and say, scornfully: “You two, diplomats! What a load of utter rubbish! Lucy’s – well, she’s a girl – ” (he ignores thoughts of what Alberta might have had to say about that) “and he doesn’t know a thing about politics!”
Caspian fixes Eustace with a bewildered, offended sort of stare and then looks again at Edmund. “Do you always let him speak to you like this?”
“Let him?” Edmund scoffs. “It’s impossible to shut him up.”
Caspian leans over the table, and speaks to Eustace very slowly, as though conversing with a simpleton. “You are addressing a King and Queen of Narnia. Members of my crew may take exception to your manners, unless you decide to keep a civil tongue in your mouth.”
Eustace is about to reply, but his thoughts clearly turn to Reepicheep and his sharpened rapier, and he shuts his mouth again with a snap.
“What a relief,” Edmund says. “First respite we’ve had all summer.”
Caspian catches his eye again and smiles. Edmund thinks he might be beginning to feel like a king again, if the warmth suffusing him from the inside out is anything to go by. He raises his glass in a mocking little toast, and Caspian responds in kind, before Lucy begins asking about the Court and conversation turns to Trumpkin, and how he is fairing as Regent in Caspian’s absence.
It is dark by the time they decide to go to bed, and the lanterns which have been swinging heavily back and forth through the height of the storm have nearly burned themselves out of oil. Edmund clambers into his hammock, bids Caspian a good night, and falls into a deep, comfortable sleep.
“Do you remember much about Narnia, Lu? The first time, I mean.”
She looked at him curiously and put down her book, laying it on the arm of her chair with its pages carefully splayed. “Yes. Almost everything. Why, don’t you?”
Edmund glanced down at his own book, open on his knee. “Most of it, I think.”
Lucy nodded sympathetically. “I sometimes get the feeling that, if we wanted it to, it’d all fade right out of our heads. Every morning I think about it for ten minutes before I get out of bed, so I start the day remembering.”
Edmund pretended to carry on with his reading, unwilling to contribute much more to the conversation. Recently, when he thought about Narnia, and their years as Kings and Queens on the thrones at Cair Paravel, he had begun to realise he could no longer recall the faces of many of their greatest friends. Of Tumnus the Faun he found he could remember nothing, except the impression of a face as though seen through a fogged window, shifting and imprecise.
It was the same when he tried to remember their grandmother, who had died when Edmund was small. He had grasped at the memory and tried to push and pull it into sharper focus, but nothing had worked, and in the end he had resigned himself to remembering her only from photographs.
For now, the memories of the most recent voyage to Narnia were as clear as crystal, but Edmund supposed it was only a matter of time before he could not bring to mind the feel of the Treader’s rail beneath his fingers, or Caspian’s face in the moment of victory over the slavers, or the song Reepicheep had sung about the sea.
London felt foreign, half-asleep and crumbling, when the Pevensies returned to the house in Finchley. The front windows were boarded, and across the road was a mound of rubble where two houses used to stand, as though the street had emerged from a fist-fight missing its front teeth.
They dragged their luggage up the stairs and went immediately to their old rooms. Peter and Edmund were to share again, though Peter assured Edmund he would be out more often than not, so Edmund might as well consider it his room to do with it what he liked. In the end, Edmund kept to the rigorous boundaries they had established as children before the war: his belongings lay on the side of the room nearest to the door, and his books occupied the left hand side of the shelves above the mantelpiece, while Peter had the window-side and use of the desk.
Eventually, the glass in the front windows was replaced, and Edmund helped Peter dig the Anderson shelter out of the back garden, the pair of them ripping out the corrugated iron and shovelling rubble and soil to fill in the hole.
“I’m in for Engineering at Trinity,” Peter said at the end of one hot afternoon’s work, flopping down onto the bed next to Edmund’s, the knees of his slacks still dirty and mud underneath his fingernails.
“Engineering?” Edmund repeated, and didn’t mean it to sound quite so derogatory.
Peter glanced at him sideways and shrugged. “Not many places about offering degrees in magnificence, you know.”
It hung between them, too insensitive, too glibly painful. Unwilling to wait for Peter’s apology or offer one of his own, Edmund turned his face into the pillow and pretended to fall asleep.
“Do you think Caspian ruled for a very long time?” Lucy wondered one day in the garden, during a lull in the rush to pack for Peter’s departure and their own return to school.
They were lying on their backs in the grass beneath the apple tree, dappled sunlight breaking through the leaves. Edmund had been counting the apples on the underside of the branches, almost ripe and ready to be picked. He turned his head sideways to look at her.
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged and slipped another daisy into the chain of flowers coiled on the ground beside her. “I was thinking the other day about how Eustace might go back – though I doubt he’ll be in time to see Caspian again – and I wondered whether he might be able to get his hands on a history of Narnia. He could read up and come home full of stories to tell us.”
“Knowing Eustace, he’ll be too busy lecturing the Narnians on the proper way to run their libraries, teaching them to organise everything by Dewey Decimal.”
Lucy sighed. “It’s awful to think of all those years going by while we’re stuck here,” she said, picking up another daisy. “After the shock we had when we realised how long it had been the first time.”
“I’m sure everything’s alright,” Edmund said, his throat feeling tight and uncomfortable. “Someone would have blown the horn, otherwise.”
“What if the horn’s been lost?” Lucy asked. She frowned, glaring at a daisy whose stalk was too thin and broke as she tried to add it to the chain. “Look what happened after we left. What if Caspian had no heirs, and the awful civil wars started up again?”
Edmund’s eyes were hot and prickling at the thought of it. He swiped his sleeve across his face and tried hard not to be such a girl about things, and then felt guilty for sitting beside Lucy and thinking such a thing.
“Oh,” Lucy said softly, and he opened his eyes to find her peering at him unhappily. “I’m sorry, Ed. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset,” he said, feeling embarrassed.
“I’m not crying. It’s just – it’s just – ” Edmund closed his eyes and hoped Lucy could not hear it when his voice cracked with misery. “Doesn’t your heart break with how much you miss it?”
Lucy’s eyes were glittering and bright.
“Of course,” she said fiercely, reaching over to grip his hand in hers. “Of course it does, Ed.”
“It doesn’t for Peter, or Susan. How can they forget? How can they bear living here?”
Fat, silver tears rolled down Lucy’s cheeks. “It won’t be forever. We’ll see Narnia again one day, I know we will.”
Edmund shook his head, too sick with longing to speak. They lay beneath the apple tree until called in for dinner, and while they washed their hands they splashed water on their faces to banish the tell-tale redness around their eyes.
Peter’s bags were abandoned in the hall while he said his goodbyes, meagre evidence of his eighteen years of life in Finchley. Edmund glowered at them and immediately felt foolish, too old to be sulking on the stairs, but unable to join the family downstairs in the drawing room and pretend to be happy.
Eventually, Peter came to find him, and stood halfway up, one hand on the banister, peering at Edmund with impatience, sympathy tempered by irritation that Edmund should cause a scene, today of all days.
“It’s not forever, Ed. I’ll be back at Christmas.”
It was on the tip of Edmund’s tongue to point out waspishly that it was forever, for both of them, but that wasn’t what Peter was referring to, so he just nodded unhappily.
Peter sighed, and for a moment considered climbing the stairs to sit beside him, but then Mother called from the drawing room that they must be going, or risk Peter missing his train. Edmund attempted an unconvincing smile, and the moment passed.
They shook hands at the garden gate, and Peter gave Susan and Lucy a hug. Lucy cried, and leaned on Edmund after they had waved Peter and Mother off, leaving a wet patch on his shirt where she buried her face in her hands and sobbed. Susan looked a little alarmed, and ushered them both back inside, where she made a pot of tea and clattered about in the kitchen finding biscuits and a plate.
“It feels like the end of something,” Lucy whispered, when Susan had left the room. “Like leaving for the last time all over again.”
Edmund wondered whether it was normal for siblings to feel so much, and so strongly: for the others to be more like another part of himself than relations. He thought about Peter, for whom there had obviously come a time of acceptance, when the loss of Narnia faded into insignificance and become bearable. Edmund wondered when that time would come for him and Lucy.
On the beach, Edmund and Caspian have drawn their bedrolls a little way back from the rest of the crew, ostensibly to allow Lucy closer to the fire. Edmund is glad of it, pleased to spend time alone with Caspian outside the confines of the ship, and without Eustace’s constant, trying presence. He likes the way Caspian speaks to him. He appreciates Caspian’s insistence on seeking his opinion, Caspian’s recognition that he is not like Peter, is used to taking the role of an advisor, is an able and willing confidant. They have been talking quietly for hours, and have watched the moon become bright over the horizon, spilling the white path of its reflection across the sea towards them.
“You didn’t call us,” he says, during a comfortable lull in the conversation. “Would you ever have called us, if we hadn’t just... turned up?”
Caspian has been watching the stars intently for some minutes, his head tipped back against his makeshift pillow. He turns just enough to see Edmund out of the corner of his eye and Edmund watches carefully the way the shadows shift and settle across his face.
“I don’t suppose it matters,” he adds, lest Caspian think he is offended, or something equally silly. The corners of Caspian’s mouth twitch with amusement.
“I’d have called you eventually,” Caspian replies, turning back to the stars. “Probably when I was already in difficulties on Felimath. But I think you arrived just as I needed you – Narnia herself called you back here, because I was too stubborn to realise I ought to.”
Edmund lies very still, and finds it peaceful to listen to the soft sound of Caspian’s breathing beside him, thinking how very glad he is that Narnia has called them back now, of all times.
It had been worst after that first time in Narnia, when they had all tumbled out of the wardrobe and found themselves fifteen years younger than they last remembered being. Edmund quite rightly reasoned that he’d made rather a hash of growing up the first time. He hated to think what might have become of him had Aslan not taken him up and set him on a better path.
After they returned, Edmund watched Peter quietly waging war on the entire world around him, and only ever intervened to prevent him getting too roughed up. He let Lucy curl up in his bed while she sobbed into her handkerchief and worried about Mr Tumnus, awaiting her return to Cair Paravel, and never minded the wet patch she left on his pillow. He exchanged sympathetic glances with Susan when he found her gazing endlessly out of windows or reading the same page of a book for hours on end, and never once resented the assumption that he was coping better than the rest of them put together.
After the return to the Scrubbs’ house in Cambridge, Edmund found it easier not to go into Lucy’s room too often, because the seascape on the wall reminded him of the sense of missing a part of himself, the feeling that was always strongest after returning from a stay in Narnia.
Edmund understood how very lucky he had been to be saved from the Witch. Aslan had sacrificed himself for Edmund; wasn’t it only fair that Aslan expected him to sacrifice something of himself in return?
Somehow, Edmund found himself sure that Aslan’s love was not supposed to come with conditions attached.
Standing on the balcony outside Caspian’s cabin, the sun blazing towards the horizon and still warm on the back of his neck, Edmund is watching Caspian inspect the swords for the third time in as many hours. He wishes he could find something to say to strip the tension from Caspian’s hunched shoulders, but he shares Caspian’s anxiety, and knows there is nothing to be done until the remaining swords are found and the Treader sets her sails for the opposite direction, away from Dark Island.
The setting sun casts Caspian’s face into tones of gold and fire. Edmund lived a lifetime as King in Narnia, centuries ago, and returned and met Caspian, and returned a second time – it seems so unfair that Caspian should be a man now and Edmund still a boy.
“We don’t even know whether the Lords reached Ramandu’s island,” Caspian says drily, and Edmund realises Caspian is looking at him, looking to him for advice.
He pushes himself away from the railing and steps inside, taking the seat next to Caspian at the table. Caspian smiles at him, though wearily, and Edmund wants more than anything to prove himself worthy of Caspian’s trust in his good sense.
He takes a deep breath. “Does it really matter whether they did?”
Caspian frowns, and is about to interrupt, but Edmund continues: “We need food and water. If there’s a decent landing stage we can refit the Treader, bring on provisions, and let the crew prepare themselves for what comes next. Whatever Ramandu’s Island has in store for us, we’ll all be better off for a good night’s sleep on dry land.”
“And if we don’t find the swords?”
Edmund shrugs. “Then we’ll have to look elsewhere.”
He does not mention his secret hope that the search for the swords on Ramandu’s Island be unsuccessful. It is selfish and not at all noble to wish the swords scattered to the corners of Narnia, so he and Caspian may sail on together in pursuit of them forever. Recently Edmund has been having many similar, selfish thoughts.
He reaches out and touches the curve of Caspian’s cheek, the rough, stubbled angle of his jaw. Caspian’s eyes are dark and his lips part around a sharp, surprised sigh. Edmund wants – Edmund wants so very badly – to close the distance between them with a kiss, but desire is a dangerous emotion in Narnia, especially here, in these treacherous waters, where Edmund has been dreaming so often of the Witch. He leans back, reclaims his hand, and there is a sharp, painful moment in which Caspian sways towards him in disbelief.
All pretence of kingliness evaporates, and Edmund is a boy again, flushed and embarrassed, avoiding the ardent, thirsting look in Caspian’s eyes.
“Before we went back through the wardrobe, we ruled Narnia for year and years,” he blurts, blushing furiously when he realises how it must have sounded.
Caspian looks as though Edmund has kicked him, and reaches out to touch Edmund lightly, apologetically, on the arm. “Since we left Deathwater, I’ve had the strangest feeling, as though there are harsh words hanging between us.”
“I’m sorry,” Edmund says. “I only meant that I had a whole life here, once. I wish...”
He never has to decide what exactly it is that he wishes, because Drinian knocks upon the cabin door and steps smartly inside bearing charts and soundings of the waters to the west of Ramandu’s island.
Father was home often at the weekends now he had been moved to the Home Office, and the Pevensie children returned to Finchley every other week to have Sunday lunch and a trip to town for Susan to buy a new dress, or Lords because Peter still loved cricket and Edmund was happy to feign interest for an afternoon.
Peter had gone up to Oxford in October for the start of his final year, and acquired the put-upon expression of someone struggling under the combined pressures of academia and parental expectation. Despite that, Edmund was irritated to find, now Peter was reaching the end of his own university career, his attention had turned to doling out advice to the rest of the family on their plans for the future. Most notably, to Edmund.
“You must start giving it some thought,” Mother said, when Edmund objected that Peter ought to mind his own business.
“What about Law?” said Peter, and Edmund glared at him over the roast potatoes.
“It’d be a capital idea to follow in my footsteps, eh, Edmund?” said Father.
Edmund frowned and poked at his cabbage, feeling very hard-done-by. “What if I don’t get my Higher School Cert.?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Susan sharply. “You’re cleverer than the rest of us put together.”
“You’ve already passed the matric., Ed,” Lucy agreed.
Edmund settled for ignoring them both and asking Peter to pass the salt.
After lunch, Father retreated to the drawing room to make a telephone call to the Home Office, and Edmund and Peter left the girls helping their mother with the washing up. They went out into the garden to enjoy the cold, wintry sunshine, and to share one of the cigarettes Peter had brought back with him from Oxford. Edmund did not really enjoy smoking, and thought Peter looked ridiculous, holding the thing as though he thought it might make him look more of a man and not a boy playing grown-up.
“I wish you’d drop it about me going up for Law,” he said, while Peter blew smoke into the air in a single white plume.
“I’m only trying to help, Ed. You know how good you were at that sort of thing – ”
“This isn’t Narnia,” Edmund hissed. “I’m not – I can’t be that here, so what’s the point in pretending?”
Peter had the familiar look of earnestly wanting to punch Edmund on the arm. “Stop it, Ed. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought it’d be good for you - ”
“I can’t see how you’d think – ”
“ - to start thinking about the future. You’ve got to – there’s a point at which you have to make the best of it. Being here, I mean.”
There was something so wistful, so miserable, about the way Peter said it that Edmund knew he was wrong to be angry. If anyone could understand the deadening feeling of imagining a life without prospect of returning to Narnia, then of course it was Peter.
He nodded, and Peter sighed, wrapping an arm around Edmund’s shoulders and pulling him closer. Edmund closed his eyes, remembering battlefields and wars, and the two of them hunting together, racing each other for sight of the quarry.
“I think one of us ought to write to Eustace,” he said, when Peter released him.
Peter frowned. “It’s a shame he hasn’t any siblings, though I suppose he does have that Pole girl to talk to.”
Edmund grinned and nudged Peter in the ribs. “If that was a hint, it wasn’t a terribly subtle one. I know how lucky I am to have shared everything with you and Lu.”
“And Susan,” Peter said, sharply enough that Edmund knew that he too had started to think of Susan as somehow separate from the three of them, set apart by the apparent ease with which she had taken to life back in England.
They smoked the rest of the cigarette, and then went inside to help the girls put away the plates.
Edmund and Lucy had been packing for days, Lucy stirred into an almost unbearable whirlwind of excitement. It was all decided: Peter was to meet them at the station in Oxford, and then they would go together to the Professor’s house, to the inaugural meeting of the Friends of Narnia. They would stay for the weekend and have tea with Miss Plummer, the Professor’s oldest friend, and spend hours talking with Eustace and Jill, discussing the latest journey to Narnia at exhaustive length.
The packing had mostly been completed, and Lucy had spread herself diagonally over Edmund’s bed, her head hanging upside down off the side, talking rapidly about whether she might spend her birthday money having a Narnian-style dress made, and whether Miss Plummer and the Professor might think her silly if she wore it to a meeting in the future.
Next door, in the room she and Lucy still shared, Susan was playing her records. The jazz backbeat was muted and trumpets sounded discordant through two layers of plaster and a brick wall, and it was impossible to make out the words. Lucy lifted her head to scowl at the wall and kicked her heels heavily against the side of the bed.
“She’s been at it all day; I can’t even bear to go in there to get my suitcase. If Mummy were here, she’d make Susan come with us tomorrow.”
“If she doesn’t want to come, Lu, there’s no point forcing her.”
“I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to,” Lucy said softly. “It’ll be the only time we get to talk about it without fear of anyone overhearing.”
Edmund wished he shared Lucy’s naivety, because he understood perfectly Susan’s reluctance to reminisce about Narnia, and a dark part of himself was jealous of the way she had left it all behind. It must be easier, he thought, than dreaming of it every night, or pining for it the way Lucy did.
“Lucy!” Susan called, her voice muffled through the wall. “Have you seen my lipstick?”
Lucy rolled her eyes and deliberately stuck her hands over her ears.
There were footsteps on the carpet outside Edmund’s room, and then the door opened and Susan glared at Lucy fiercely, her hands on her hips. She was wearing a dress, a very nice new one picked out by Mother on the most recent trip to Selfridges, and she carried with her the sound of Frankie Laine, whose voice came clearer through the open door.
“Lucy, I asked whether you’ve seen my lipstick, and I know jolly well you heard me.”
Lucy sighed and rolled over to rest her chin on her hand. “I haven’t seen it. I don’t know why I should be the one suspected every time you lose something; I’ve never even borrowed any of your ghastly makeup.”
“Wrap your troubles in dreams,” sang Frankie Laine, for the fourth time that afternoon.
“Well, I’d appreciate a little help finding it,” Susan said. “I’ve got to leave in half an hour, and I daren’t be late again or Jeremy and his friends will stop inviting me.”
“Oh, alright.” Lucy sighed heavily and swung her legs off the bed. “I’ll help you look, but only if we can have on some different music.”
“This record was a birthday present.”
Lucy pulled a face. “From Jeremy?”
Susan stuck out her tongue, and the image created by the dress and her curled and set hair briefly crumbled. For a second, Edmund saw the girl who’d run into the sea on the first day back in Narnia, and splashed water at him, daring him to join her. Resentment flared swiftly and cruelly.
“Anyone would think you’d forgotten all about Caspian and the others, the way you carry on,” he muttered, throwing a pair of socks into his suitcase.
Susan gaped at him. “What did you say?”
“I bet you didn’t love Caspian at all, did you?” Edmund snapped viciously, his hands curled into fists. “All that business before Aslan sent us back was just... part of the game you play with all your suitors, wasn’t it? You were just pretending – ”
“For heaven’s sake, Edmund,” Susan sighed, and it infuriated Edmund that she sounded so impatient, as though dealing with a child. “Of course I didn’t love Caspian. We’d barely known each other five minutes.”
“Go round kissing everyone you’ve only known five minutes, do you? If Peter saw you dressed up like that, knew about all these parties, he’d – ”
“Oh, grow up, Ed! If Peter were here, he’d know it was none of his business! As for Caspian, there wasn’t any hope of me and Peter going back to Narnia, so I didn’t see what harm it could do to be nice to him!”
Edmund pulled a face. “I think it was a beastly thing to do, to lead him on like that!”
Susan’s face contorted with anger. “Oh, what would you know about it? You’re too young to understand anything about love!”
There was an awful silence, until Lucy spoke up from the doorway.
“Susan, that’s not fair,” she whispered. “When we were grown-ups in Narnia – ”
Susan threw her hands in the air in a gesture Edmund found vividly, distastefully reminiscent of Mother. “How many times, Lucy? We’re never going back to Narnia. It might as well have been a fairytale!”
For one blinding moment, Edmund felt hatred, ugly and violent, curling in his chest. Lucy, her face white and shocked, took a moment to draw herself up and look Susan in the eye.
“I don’t think I shall help you find that lipstick, after all,” she said, firmly.
Susan glanced at Edmund and, finding him unsympathetic, huffed a great sigh and returned to her room, closing the door sharply behind her.
To anybody else, it might have seemed that Lucy was merely angry; to Edmund, it looked as though she might at any moment shatter into a thousand, glittering pieces. He stood, awkwardly, while she sat on the side of his bed, and then sat beside her and offered an arm around her shoulder in comfort.
“Come on, Lu,” he said, in his gentlest voice. “You know she only says it because she’s trying to fool herself. Even Susan can’t pretend it didn’t happen.”
“She is,” Lucy whispered. “She is pretending. She wants to forget about all the wonderful things we saw – ”
“Then Susan’s a bloody idiot,” he snapped. “She’s a bloody, bloody fool.”
Lucy clutched a pillow to her chest and her eyes shone. “Why are we all being so awful? It isn’t Susan’s fault we can’t go back. It isn’t our fault we want to.”
She leaned heavily against Edmund’s shoulder and he dug around in his pocket for an almost clean handkerchief.
Edmund used to kneel at the foot of his bed every evening. He didn’t know why – he suspected the kneeling really had very little to do with it, but his prep school habits were still proving ridiculously difficult to shake. Once a King of Narnia, always a King of Narnia, he used to repeat to himself every night before bed, before praying, mindful of Aslan’s instructions to them on the beach at the end of the World.
“Jesus,” he would begin, and then, for good measure: “God, Our Father, Our Lord.”
“I know I’ve been terribly selfish, not being grateful for all the years we had in Narnia as Kings and Queens. I am grateful. I only wish we could have had more time. Or rather, I wish we could have had a different time, because then – ”
Sometimes, after a meeting of the Friends of Narnia, he would bow his head low over his clasped hands and say, “I don’t really mind being back here. I don’t even mind the years we never got to spend in Narnia. I understand that we had to come back here, to live our lives in England. Susan’s managing very well, I sometimes wish I found it as easy as her, and Peter tries hard to get on. But Narnia means the whole world to Lucy, and even though she puts a brave face on it stuck here it’s as though she’s... wilting in front of us. She pines for Narnia, and I know she thinks she’ll go back again one day, and I wish... Please, if I could have one wish, I’d want Lucy to get to go back. I wish that more than anything, even if it means that I never get to see Narnia again.”
Of the crash itself, Edmund remembered very little. Only a terrific bang, the sense of tumbling head-over-heels, and then silence. And a feeling, very peaceful, of returning home; the same about-to-be-home-for-the hols feeling he knew from journeys back to London from school. He came to wearing armour. Very Narnian-looking armour.
Aslan’s country really is just like Narnia. The hills between Beaversdam and the Fords of Beruna are the same rolling hills Edmund remembers, Cair Paravel sits atop its cliff above the Eastern Sea, and the Lone Islands sprawl towards the horizon. Edmund breathes deeply and thinks how remarkable it is that even the smell is the same; the iron and salt scent of the sea, and the sharp fragrance of the pines in the Great Forest.
It ought to be incomprehensible, he thinks. This world within a world, where every step further in makes things bigger and brighter. In a great procession they go through a pair of golden gates, led by Reepicheep – Reepicheep! Looking sleek and young and as noble as any mouse has ever looked – and find that the country within is much like the country without, except more brilliant in every way.
“Edmund, look!” cries Lucy, clutching his arm, and Edmund realises suddenly that there are people and animals coming to meet them.
Centaurs lead the way, followed by creatures whom the Pevensies knew well, back in the days of their adventures in old Narnia. Trumpkin the Dwarf and Trufflehunter the Badger bow before them and are hugged and kissed by Lucy, their hands and paws shaken by Edmund and Peter. Lords Drinian and Bern, younger than Edmund, Lucy and Eustace can ever remember them being, greet the Kings and Queens of Narnia as old friends.
The crowd shifts and between a beautiful woman and a handsome young King, Edmund catches a glimpse of a familiar face, turned away in conversation with a tall, dark-haired centaur whom Edmund does not recognise. Caspian is no older than when they sailed the Dawn Treader to the Lone Isles, but also seems older, and somehow more kingly. He is wearing his dark tunic bearing the flag of Narnia proudly on its breast, and shining as though lit from the inside by a thousand candles. He is the pinnacle of every one of Edmund’s half-remembered fantasies of his time in Narnia.
Edmund watches him open-mouthed for a long, torturous moment, but a sudden shriek distracts him and he turns to watch Lucy fling herself across the clearing.
“Mr Tumnus! Oh, Mr Tumnus!”
The Faun, upon seeing her, gives a happy cry and catches her up about her waist, spinning her as fast as his little faun legs allow. She covers his face with kisses and buries her hands in his long, red scarf.
Edmund turns away from it, because suddenly something about it makes him embarrassed; he did not realise Lucy had aged when they arrived there, but suddenly she is a young woman again. He searches for a second glance of Caspian, and is rewarded by the sight of him, the beautiful woman by his side, whom Edmund recognises as the Star, Ramandu’s daughter, and a young man in Narnian armour, making their way towards him, their faces bright with smiles.
“Rilian!” cries Jill, and hurries forward to embrace the young man, receiving a kiss on her cheek. Eustace joins them and claps Rilian on the back, and the three of them fall to laughing over how wonderful it is to be reunited.
“Aslan’s kingdom has almost all of its Kings and Queen again,” Caspian says to Edmund and Peter, presenting himself to them with a bow. “Peter, you haven’t met Lilliandil, my Queen.”
Peter and Edmund bow their heads and Peter kisses the Queen’s hand.
“I’ve heard Edmund describe your beauty, my Lady, but he failed to do you justice.”
The Queen laughs, her voice like silver and running water, and Edmund fights the urge to roll his eyes.
Caspian catches Edmund’s eye and smiles, as though sharing the joke. He reaches out, while Peter and the Queen are occupied in conversation, and draws Edmund a little to one side.
“I see Lucy is also here,” he says quietly, his eyes soft and concerned. “Did Susan not accompany you?”
“Susan isn’t here. She wasn’t - ” Edmund realises, for the first time, that Susan will have to be told about the accident, and wonders whether she will know that they are alright, and in Narnia once again. He wonders what she will do without them or their parents and feels awful for her, alone in her life in England. Somehow, though, he knows she would not have wanted to return to Narnia just yet. He resolves to ask Aslan about her later, and whether she is happy.
Caspian, meanwhile, is smiling at him again. He is as he was when they first met, excited yet hesitant, taking a step forwards and then rocking back to observe, the smile curling at the corners of his mouth. It is painful for Edmund to look at him head-on, easier to steal glances in between examining the lion on Caspian’s chest and glancing over his shoulder at the Creatures gathering around Peter and Lucy to introduce themselves.
“Edmund,” Caspian says, as though it is a new, enthralling word. “Edmund Pevensie. King Edmund the Just, Duke of the Lantern Waste, Count of the Western March, Knight of the Noble Order of the - ”
“Caspian, stop it.”
Caspian laughs and pulls Edmund into an embrace. They could be aboard the Treader for all that the time elapsed since then has ceased to matter.
“I’m so happy to see you,” Edmund mumbles into Caspian’s shoulder.
Caspian draws back and holds him at arm’s length, studying carefully the changes wrought by four years in the unknown world of England and Spare Oom. With one finger he traces the shape of Edmund’s cheek, and then fits his hand to the curve of Edmund’s jaw. It is too much for Edmund, for he finds himself blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.
“You’re a good deal older than I remember,” he says, and Caspian laughs and lifts a hand to his own face.
“Am I? I thought I was younger.”
“I turned nineteen last month,” Edmund tells him hurriedly, and Caspian smiles at him, neither a boy nor quite yet a man, like all who dwell in Aslan’s Country.
After that there are all manner of friends to greet, from Tumnus’ fellow fauns, to the merry old Giant Rumblebuffin, who shakes Edmund’s hand between his finger and thumb, so vigorously that Edmund is rather worried he might take the arm off altogether.
Eventually, once acquaintances have been remade, the Talking Animals begin to take up the cry of ‘Further up, and further in!’ and the procession of Narnians starts once more to move off, turning towards the west and climbing towards the sky.
Lucy, however, gazes wistfully over her shoulder at the land they leave behind, and hesitates, calling Aslan to her as she grasps Tumnus by his trembling hand.
“As beautiful as this land is,” she says, quietly yet with great conviction, “it isn’t quite the Narnia I remember. I wonder whether – before we go further in, to somewhere even brighter, and more beautiful – I might stay here, Aslan, for a little while longer?”
Edmund does not think Aslan will be pleased with such a question, but when the Lion turns, he looks at Lucy with such kindness that Edmund feels silly for imagining otherwise.
“Of course, dear one. This country is my country, and the journey upwards and further in is eternal. Anyone who loves me as you do may reside here as long as they wish.”
Lucy’s smile is wide and bright.
It is difficult to say goodbyes. All their Narnian friends wish to bid Lucy a farewell, and for some minutes she is quite overwhelmed by a steady stream of Beavers and Dwarves, and all the other Talking Animals they had met during their adventures.
“Be careful, Lu,” Peter tells her eventually, giving her a hug.
“Mr Tumnus will look after me,” she says, smiling. “Besides, what could possibly happen to me in Aslan’s Country?”
She folds her hand into the crook of Tumnus’ elbow, and the Faun bows before the great Lion. They turn themselves towards the bright spires of Cair Paravel, and set out into the sunlight.
“Goodbye, Ed! Bye, Peter!” Lucy calls over her shoulder. “Goodbye Eustace, and Jill! Goodbye Professor, goodbye Miss Plummer!”
Edmund and Peter watch while a trick of the light makes it seem that Lucy recedes from view far quicker than walking pace should allow. Soon she and Tumnus are a speck in the distance, and can just about be seen making for the edge of the Lantern Waste, in the direction of the lamp-post and Tumnus’ old cave. Edmund knows the path they have taken, over the grasslands of the Great River, and through the ancient boughs of the Western Woods. He has spent long nights imagining himself there, wondering what might have happened had the hunt for the White Stag not taken them past the Lamp-post and back through the wardrobe.
“Will we see her again?” Peter asks, turning solemnly to Aslan as Lucy and Tumnus fade from view.
“In your heart, King Peter, you must know you will meet again. It will not be for a very long time, but Lucy will make her way further up and further in eventually.”
Peter nods and raises his face towards the setting sun, ready to continue the journey. When the time comes to set one foot in front of the other, however, Edmund finds himself unwilling to go further. He looks behind once again and sees, in the distance, the glittering expanse of the Eastern Sea.
Hesitating, because Aslan has always loved Lucy best, he stands quite still and speaks up quietly: “I was wondering whether I might stay, too.”
Aslan turns to him, and Edmund feels awed by the majesty and might of him. Aslan’s voice, when he speaks, is stern but kind. “You have sacrificed much, King Edmund; my country is yours, as it is Lucy’s. Stay, if you wish.”
In his heart, Edmund knows the journey upwards and further in will eventually become longer, the way more arduous, but he knows the sacrifice is worth it. He is almost sure he can taste the smell of the sea upon his tongue and feel the roll of a ship’s deck beneath his feet.
“I can’t stay with you, Ed,” Peter says, sadly. “I’m ready to follow Aslan now, I want to see what waits for us further up and further in.”
Edmund embraces his brother. “We’ll see each other again, Pete.”
“Come now, High King Peter,” says Trumpkin the Dwarf and, catching Peter by the sleeve of his tunic, leads him away towards the head of the procession, where Maenads and Dryads dance and sing, and the Fauns are playing pipes, their hooves stamping the ground in time with their music.
Edmund hugs Jill and Eustace, and shakes Polly and the Professor by the hand, and then watches as the party moves on, receding swiftly into the distance, as they continue to climb.
Edmund turns towards the east, and finds himself in grassland, among the rocky outcrops at the foot of Aslan’s How. The air smells like Spring, and there are wildflowers blooming amongst the grass. By Edmund’s reckoning, it will be at least a day’s walk to Cair Paravel, though if Lucy and Tumnus’ progress is anything to go by, some magic of Aslan’s Country might make the journey much shorter. Frankly, Edmund is so overjoyed to feel his feet upon Narnian soil again, he does not care whether it takes four hours or four weeks to reach the coast. He sets one foot in front of the other and begins to walk.
After half a mile or so, or perhaps five yards – distance really is very difficult to judge in Aslan’s Country – Edmund thinks he hears someone calling his name, struggling to make themselves heard against the wind, which always blows sea-wards over the plain of the Rush River. He stops at once to listen.
It comes again, clearer this time, from behind him: “Edmund!”
He turns and has to raise a hand to his eyes to make out the figure standing on the last outcrop before the How gives way to open ground. He makes out the shape of a man in Narnian armour, silhouetted by the golden light of the setting sun.
The figure jumps down from the rock and comes nearer.
“Aren’t you going with Aslan?” Edmund asks, his heart in his mouth, when they are within speaking distance.
Caspian smiles at him and shakes his head. “Aslan will be waiting for me when I make the final journey, and Lilliandil and Rilian have given me their blessing to travel with you. For now, my heart will only allow me to go in one direction.”
Edmund swallows nervously. “Oh?”
Caspian nods and takes Edmund’s hand in his. “That which lies by your side.”
It is a curious sensation, Edmund thinks, to have everything one desires presented on a plate, after years of schooling oneself not to long for it. He clutches at Caspian’s hand, and then lets go, because he is finally sure he will not be sent back to a place he thinks might have been called England, or possibly Spare Oom, and because he knows Caspian will follow him when he sets out again to find the sea.
“Come on,” he says. “There are so many places in Narnia I’ve longed to see again. I’ll show you the cave under Cair Paravel where I used to keep a rowing boat. I wonder if it’s still there.”
Caspian smiles at Edmund as though he is made of gold.
“I’ve spent many years awaiting your return, and now you want to take me off paddling in rock pools.”
Edmund grins and begins to run away over the plain, towards the river. He is struck, suddenly, by a rush of exhilaration. His time away from Narnia, because he’s sure he has spent years far away from all this, though he cannot for the life of him remember where, might have been millennia or minutes for all it matters now.
Caspian laughs and gives chase. Running along the banks of the Rush, Edmund catches sight of the distant spires of Cair Paravel, a Narnian standard fluttering high over her tallest tower. He whoops for joy and spreads his arms wide, feeling the sharp, eastern breeze whipping through his fingers and tangling knots in his hair.
There is time now, time for everything.