Author: Ruan Chun Xian
Possible Spoilers/Warnings/Disclaimer: More angst than author intended, spoilers for all books and a “blink and you miss it” reference to RthStewart’s universe.
Summary: Susan, the sea and all the ups and downs of a life lived twice.
Author’s Notes: I’m sorry I still couldn’t fulfill your first prompt.
Live By the Currents, Follow the Sun
Susan, whether of Finchley or of Narnia, always loved the sea. The smell of salt and sand that hung the air was always a comforting reminder of home.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she first learnt to breathe in salty air. She was born in their grandparents’ home in a small, seaside village, nearly two months too early. Her parents always said it was a miracle that she lived at all. As a result, their family stayed there for several months after her birth, and she grew into consciousness amidst the sounds of waves against the piers. Some of Susan’s earliest memories were of visits to her grandparents’ seaside home, of the sand, the sun and the waves.
(She had cried for weeks when her parents sold the house after her grandparents died to help with finances at home in the war time.)
Sometimes she almost thought she still wasn’t quite convinced of in the magic of Narnia and of her destiny in it until she saw the glittering blue-green stretch of the Eastern Sea and the castle that stood majestically, overlooking it. The sight of the castle, gleaming in the golden sun, and the soft sounds of waves beating against the rocks brought on joy that echoed in the deepest corners of her heart. She knew in that moment that she belonged there, by the Eastern Sea that glistened beneath the warmth of the radiant sun.
The Sea became a part of her as much as Narnia would. She rejoiced in the way the waves crashed into sand outside her window, leaving their mark in ripples. It was a beautiful sight, how the two fitted together like into a lover’s embrace; the meeting of waves and sand was one of the oldest unions since Aslan first sung Narnia into being.
She loved the peaceful walks bathed in moonlight along the beach at Cair Paravel. Her barefoot made soft dents in the sand, before the water washed it all away, and all her worries and sorrows along with it. The stars danced overhead and told stories of the past, the present and a future that Susan could not yet see. Nereids came and weaved flowers from dark within their depths into her hair and Merpeople sang songs that lifted her spirit.
She loved it most of all because the sea was a source of life. It was from the Sea that He came to bring Narnia life, and to deliver her from the Witch. Just beyond the Sea lay Aslan’s Country.
It was the Sea that nourished them those first few days as monarchs. They had woken up some time in the late afternoon to a silent castle, so different from the lively party that had gone well into the night. The guests had departed and the few hastily appointed staffs that remained behind were mostly hung-over, or at least busy with the cleaning up that must be completed before anyone could think about putting the country to right. Somehow, in the daze of that first morning, everyone wondered who would be appointed to the State Council and who would oversee the rebuilding of this part or of that of Narnia, but no one really questioned what exactly they would eat while doing all this.
Edmund was the first to complain when he could no longer find anything edible in the castle. Inspection of the kitchens told Susan that the leftovers from the food that Aslan had magicked out of the air for the Coronation were all gone, and coming out of a hundred-year winter didn’t speak much for the contents of the cellar or the pantries. Soon, Lucy and Peter had gathered too, apparently with complaining appetites as well. An argument nearly broke out (as arguments seemed always inevitable when they had empty stomachs) before the Beavers suggested they tried to find something to eat in the vast waters that the Witch never managed to freeze.
(Of course it must be said that fresh seafood was good for the first day, but by the tenth day, they were all quite sick of it, but complaining was quite useless as crops didn’t grow and trees didn’t bear fruit in a fortnight, and dumb game was thin and poor for eating, so they all had to bear it out.)
The Sea saved them in those first days and saved Susan when she was in the depths of despair. It was an ominous feeling, rowing out of Tashbaan the middle of the night and sailing much of the return journey in that darkness. It was when dawn came and there was a change in the rhythm of the Sea that Susan finally could breathe normally again, knowing that they had reached safer waters. The waves were friendlier, the boat and she herself felt lighter, and safer too.
Susan liked to think that they weren’t arbitrarily assigned to the points of the compass.
She wasn’t crowned to the Eastern Sea for all that she loved it; that was Lucy’s domain. Lucy, who always had the closest connection to Aslan, was of course crowned to the body that connected His Country to Narnia. Edmund’s Western Woods was the personal choice that linked back to his maturity and growth that started with the Lantern Waste. But Trees did not only need the good earth of Narnia to thrive, it also needed water, and all water sources met back with the Sea. Peter, the Northern Sky, watched over and protected them all.
And she, Gentle Susan, was Queen to the Southern Sun, beautiful, warm and bright, whom everyone loved and rejoiced in. Most of the time, the sun was benign, but it also could scorch and destroy. The sun didn’t mean to harm, it was just unaware, as Susan was, walking into Tashbaan. Edmund, in his wise way, might have suggested that it was her love for the sea that saved her, saved them all, because longings for the winds and sand of a Narnian Sea allowed her to realise that she would never survive in the stifling, desert city of Tashbaan. Calormen’s own coast was crowded by merchant ships and the heavy, humid winds were poor substitute for the light, cool, uplifting breeze of Narnia.
Even then, out from the sea and on land again, Susan couldn’t help but wonder whether it had all been a test, a test that she failed in magnitudes too shameful for words. Sometimes Susan wondered whether she was being tested most, because of the four of them, she was the last to believe.
“Will my brother and sister be all right?” she asked of Aslan after the last of their troops disappeared over the horizon, marching gaily towards the pass into Archenland. She did not want to see them ride off to face the rage of the Calormene prince, but their allies could not be abandoned, not when the danger was brought on them by a Narnian queen.
“You know I cannot tell you a story that is not your own, Daughter,” came the infuriating reply. Susan wondered whether there was mockery involved as well.
It was times like this when Susan wondered, for an impossible moment, whether Aslan gave this reply simply because even He could not divine what would happen to Edmund and Lucy, since their fates now were so entwined with the prince who did not recognise Aslan’s Grace. She had known that was the answer she would get, but she asked it all the same, because it was easier to wonder about the future, and less painful than facing her own failures in Tashbaan.
Naturally it was the Sea that Susan missed most, back in England. England wasn’t Tashbaan, but still, the grey sky, filled with smoke from factories and an increasing number of automobiles meant that it couldn’t be Narnia either. It took Susan weeks for get used to falling asleep without the sound of waves outside her window. It took her months to realise that every time she burst out the door, the Sea won’t be there to greet her, and she wouldn’t be able to crash into the waves again.
Perhaps it was for the best that their second trip back to Narnia didn’t take them back to Cair Paravel and that Caspian was crowned in Beaversdam instead. It had taken Susan long enough to get used to England the first time, and after being told she would never come back, Susan didn’t think she would ever survive if she had to fall in love with the Sea again, only to leave it forever.
Contrary to what Edmund and Lucy might think, she didn’t jump at the idea of accompanying their parents to America. Oh, the idea of America was exciting and intriguing enough. She was still young enough and adventurous enough in both worlds to get excited at a whole new world, even if it wouldn’t exactly be the vacation that mother and father told everyone about, for who took such a vacation in the middle of a war?
What Susan didn’t look forward to was the crossing over. The Atlantic was not the Eastern Sea, with magic under its depths. The only things hidden beneath the Atlantic were icebergs and German U-boats, both of which could sink ships, plunging them into freezing depths, lost forever. But even those were the least of Susan’s worries. She was more worried about the days that she would spend on that water, with all the time in the world to compare the Atlantic to the magical Sea that she left behind, knowing that this vast ocean would never measure up. How could it, when the Eastern Sea was the road to God himself?
She didn’t want to compare. This was the world that she would have to live in, and she could not spend the rest of her life longing for a more beautiful, magical world that would never be hers again. She could not allow England and Earth to be settled as second-best, and she would not allow herself to think of them as such. She had managed tolerably well in accepting the Lion’s Will and making her peace in England, but only when she was safely in land. Now, faced with a month of a vast sea before her again, a very different sea, it made Susan feel more scared than she had ever felt, leaving Narnia.
The trip to America was hard enough, with the pangs of loss and longings that she knew she wasn’t supposed to feel deeply carved into her heart. She was quieter, more melancholy, and her parents passed it off as seasickness. Susan, their daughter, was grateful to have such an excuse, but Queen Susan had to beat back indignant protests that she who had once travelled the known world by sea could succumb to seasickness.
No, the Atlantic was not the Eastern Sea, but she never expected it to be. She felt homesick on the sea, that was true, but it was an expected feeling and she was prepared for it. It was the unexpected that took her off guard and made the crossing back nearly unbearable.
Just before she boarded the ship back to England, she received a (very, very) long letter from Edmund and Lucy recounting their recent trip to Narnia. They had been back, sailed to the edge of the world, across the entire Eastern Sea itself and stood at the very threshold to Aslan’s Country. And by their side throughout it all had not been Peter and Susan, but Eustace Clarence Scrubb .
And now, Edmund and Lucy were never to return either, while Eustace could (and probably would).
“Why, Aslan?” she asked, weeping. It was as if only now did she understand what it really meant to be separated from Narnia forever. “You crowned us monarchs and assured us we would always been kings and queens of Narnia. Then why is Eustace to come back? He surely does not deserve it.”
There was no answer, but Susan could feel the air stir and hear a soft growl. He was displeased with her last words and she knew it, but for a moment, Susan couldn’t bring herself to feel remorse. No matter how many times she told herself that it wasn’t a punishment, that they had done nothing to deserve this, that very fact made the exile even more bitter. She was just so tired of having her heart played with, of forcing herself to live a life that as much as she was able to share with her siblings, to everyone else there was still so much to hide, so much that even if she could speak of to other people, they would never fully understand.
Susan knew well that Narnia had taught her and given her more than she could hope to obtain from this world and she had ever plan to make use of them; she understood that she could not spend her time in England longing for what could not be. But still, there were times like this when Susan wondered whether the price her heart was forced to pay for it all was too high anyway.
Grief and envy wasn’t a good combination, even less so when she was trapped again on a ship afloat on a bleak ocean, threats of death lurking beneath the depths, heading back to an equally bleak, grey England.
The truth was, she knew if she had stopped to ask and listen, there would be support and that she was never deserted, not by Him and not by her siblings. But to let herself sink into this comfort was in some way to remember what she left behind and that was much too painful.
It was easier to pretend that she didn’t need to cry. It was easier to tell her Edmund and Lucy about what a grand time she had in America than to admit how she was devastated for them as well as for herself and Peter. It was easier turn her back to the water the moment she was on land and pretend she never fell in love with the sea breeze, the final push that made her fall so deeply, irrevocably in love with Narnia.
It even became easier after a while, to tell herself that part or all of it was a dream: the crown, the castle, the life, the love, the sea… It didn’t really matter then that sometimes her memories were more vivid than dreams were ever allowed to be. It was better this way, she told herself, because dreams didn’t hurt nearly as much as reality.
She could smile at Eustace (and later, Jill) and nod, appearing to hear their stories but leaving the responding, talking and reminiscing to her siblings because somehow they derived comfort in that; for her it only seemed to do the opposite. Susan could not find comfort in the fact that Eustace and Jill could find their way back to Narnia when her monarchs never would again. She could only take in what she felt her heart, in its broken state, could take. The rest, she tried to tune out, and it was frightening how skilled she had become at tuning out unwanted information and conversation while still appearing to be listening. Susan would never have thought she was so good at self-deception, but then she had proven before that she possessed hidden talents.
The deception was made easier by the fact that for a long time, none of them found their way back to Narnia again. For a long time, life gained a rhythm so typically English that it seemed almost as if Narnia really existed only as a dream or a story (one that somehow miraculously made Eustace much more pleasant but that part, Susan could live with). It was only until she declined to accompany Everyone to Polly’s seaside summer home one June after the war that her siblings gave her worried glances. Susan assured them that work was just busy and she simply could not come, no matter how it would so disappoint the Professor and Aunt Polly, no matter how the Professor was sure that they were meant to gather together at that particular moment. As adept as Susan had grown to convincing herself of the dual existence of Narnia as another world and as a story, she didn’t feel that her conviction would hold up if she was at the seaside and images of a castle on a cliff overlooking the Sea flooded her heart again.
She wasn’t sure they were convinced of her work excuse. She avoided the questions in Peter’s eyes, disappointed looks from the Professor and Aunt Polly and suspicion from Eustace and Jill.
“Susan, are you – “ Edmund tried to ask when they ran into each other in the hall later.
“I’m fine, Edmund,” she replied with a weak smile over his shoulder at Lucy, who had followed him out of the kitchen. Lucy simply nodded, either because she understood or because she knew questioning Susan further would be useless.
Edmund looked at Susan thoughtfully for a few moments, and she willed herself not to break under his gaze. In the end, he nodded as well and said, “I know.”
They both headed up to bed, leaving her in the hall to wonder what exactly it was that Lucy and Edmund supposedly understood and knew because Susan for sure didn’t understand herself.
Susan had expected them to spend a week at least away, enough time for her to block the memories out of her heart and hope that they would talk of more mundane, everyday things when they got back, since the entire trip was to remember Narnia after all. She spent the night after they left in foggy dreams and so much of the next morning in a disoriented state that she might as well not have gone to work at all. So she was far from comfortable when they rushed into the house much sooner than expected, all talking at once. It took a while for Susan to understand what they were talking about. There was a vision, a King of Narnia was in despair, they were cooking up a plan to get the magic rings that the Professor and Aunt Polly had used to travel to Narnia to bring Jill and Eustace over to help the King, and wouldn’t Susan help them strategise?
For a moment, Susan felt as if the world was coming to a halt around her. Any sense of safety from memories she had gathered over the years were crumbling.
“It’s just a vision, Peter, a hallucination, it’s not real.”
All seven seemed to freeze around her, staring at her. She knew that if they had asked her for help, it was more of a polite formality and that they all expected her to jump into this venture with them. But Susan could not.
“How could you say that, Susan?” Peter asked. There was definitely hurt in his voice. “We can’t all have the same hallucination, even if such thing was possible about Narnia. Narnia is in trouble! We have to help!”
But that was the thing that Peter didn’t understand. Susan had often felt used, as if the only times they were needed was to pull Narnia out of a tight spot and then when it was all done, to be sent back again, each parting harder and more bitter than the last. There was nothing to do about it when you were being whisked away and were helpless to stop it. This was different. She would not willingly jump into another world, knowing that in the end the result was the same: you would be forced back with memories that tried as you may to beat back, kept creeping up on you, taking you by surprising and wrecking havoc inside your heart.
Of course, they weren’t suggesting that she literally went, or Peter or Edmund or Lucy for that matter. At least they all remembered that the Pevensies were barred from Narnia. But Eustace and Jill would have to go through the same, and it was too much to ask that they would be able to come back, after this trip. They were older than Edmund and Lucy both on their last trip to Narnia. The eight of them were bound together by this world and where would they all be when none of them could come back? If none of them could ever come back, then would the world have ever existed? Or would it all really just be hallucinations that they shared?
She didn’t want any of them to go. Susan couldn’t stand to lose Narnia again, like this, especially when this time she knew there would be a finality to it.
She didn’t remember what she said in reply to Peter, only that it had something to do with claiming that Narnia was just a story, and it all escalated so fast into a row that soon, Susan couldn’t remember how it began. It ended in Peter storming out, Edmund running after him, and Susan dashing up to her room, refusing to open the door even for Lucy. In her room she still heard the whispered, heated discussion of the Professor, Aunt Polly, Eustace and Jill, and she knew that whether they went on this mission or not, everything they shared together would all change because of this afternoon anyway.
Susan woke to the sound of the telephone ringing. She didn’t remember when she cried herself to sleep, but it must be the next day, because the sun was indicating early afternoon. How she managed to sleep so deeply for so long was a mystery to her.
She half-considered waiting for someone else to pick up the telephone or let it ring itself out, since by the time she got downstairs to it, perhaps the person would have hung up already. But no, no one was home. Her parents headed off to Bristol early that morning, and her siblings…well, they had laid out the plans quite clear from last night.
The telephone kept ringing insistently and Susan dragged herself out of her room and down the stairs.
The sound of sobbing echoed through the line. “Susan, oh Susan.”
The sound of her aunt crying went on for what seemed like several minutes and Susan didn’t dare put down the phone. She just listened as dread started to settle at the pit of her stomach and she knew, she lost more than just Narnia that morning.
There were scuffle noises as apparently Harold took the phone from Alberta.
“Susan, there’s been an accident…”
It was strange that now, when they were all gone and no one was forcing memories and reminders on her again, that she voluntarily allowed all the memories to come rushing back: memories of a wardrobe, of Trees and Talking Beasts, of a Queen rescuing the King her brother from a Hoard of Bankers and of a whiskery Lion’s kiss.
She never forgot, she merely suppressed the memories, because it was beyond her ability to face them. She never had Lucy’s conviction, Edmund’s hard-earned faith or simply Peter’s hope. She only had pain of being forced out, kept away and wondering if there was everything anything that she could have done differently to have prevented all of this ever happening.
It had hurt when she was separated from Narnia, but she had tried to deal with it without help from her siblings or Anyone Else. A day or two ago, Susan would even say she dealt with it adequately by herself. Now she knew she never dealt with it at all, and that loss only added to this even more devastating new loss. Now she understood that she could not take it all by herself.
For the first time in years, she opened herself up to feel the pain, raw and blinding, and scorching a path for her to stumble into comfort in the form of warmth, music and a Lion.
Aunt Polly and the Professor left everything they owned to Susan. Well, technically it was all left to the Pevensies, but she was the only Pevensie left now.
Everything belonged to her now – the wardrobe in the spare room of the Professor’s house, the rings hidden in Peter’s pocket and Polly’s cottage by the sea.
It was simple enough to sort through all the things she was left with, though the task was by no mean easy on her emotions. She moved the wardrobe to her parents’ house (it would always be her parents’ house) but hesitated to sell the Professor’s. In the end, she rented it out. The rings were hidden deep in the back of the wardrobe and she resolved to forget about them. She half-hoped that the magic of the two things combined might open up the wardrobe again, causing the rings to fall through and she would not feel tempted by the powers of the rings ever.
For a long time, she left the cottage alone.
It was strange how everything around her kept going and going and flowing and flowing, on and on, as if nothing had changed. Life was slipping through her fingers like water, and tried as she might, Susan couldn’t find any sense, explanation or reason for all that she’d lost.
“This is not punishment, my daughter,” a voice like music answered her unvoiced question.
So why did it still feel like it? Why did it feel like not just punishment for her self-deception, but for every failure in judgement she’d ever made, Tashbaan included?
“It is not punishment,” the voice repeated, firmer this time, and this time Susan almost believed.
“Then what is it?”
There was a long pause, wherein Susan no longer tried to block any out, but simply listened. But the answer didn’t come and for a long time she thought there was none. But then, finally, softly:
Life went on. Eventually Susan found the balance between letting her life to go on and keeping memories. She allowed the memories to simply be now, because that was all she had left of them, even with the wardrobe residing in what had been Lucy’s room. She needed all the memories she had of them. If the memories were painful, it couldn’t compare to other pains she could be feeling. If the loss of Narnia made her cry, the tears still couldn’t be as bitter as they were on the day of the funerals. And in crying, in allowing herself to feel, she discovered something that deceptions of make-belief only ever numbed her and tears brought relief instead. People were not just saying it in comfort when they said letting it out made things feel better. (There were some days when it wasn’t better, no matter how long she cried, but well, at least, she tried, and the knowledge of that made it better.)
It was a few years later before she could find the courage to spend her summer vacation in Polly’s cottage. Well, vacation was not quite the right word to describe it, considering the cottage was badly in need of repairs. Still, overseeing the work and participating in it gave Susan a sense of purpose, drawing up memories of a time when she had done similar work, but for a castle instead. Now, she left the memories guide her.
Perhaps it was the memories, perhaps it was the familiarity of what she was doing, or perhaps it was because of the sounds the sea, but even among the dust and cobwebs, Susan finally found the peace that she had struggled to find ever since the train crash. It was as if she had been holding her breath for all this time, and this was the first gasping touch of air.
In the evening, Susan cradled a glass of wine in her hands and stood outside the cottage, watching the moonlight glittering on the water. All the little truths she had gathered over the years chose that moment to come to rest here and she gathered them all about her like a cloak to protect her from any pain in the past.
This was England and she could not expect stars to dance or Merpeople who serenade their Queen. There was only water, glimmering stars, sand, wind and sky. There was a sea in Narnia and a sea in England too, and they were different, but they were also the same. It was still an endless stretch of water that headed out towards the horizon. Susan knew what lay on the other side of that sea in Narnia and what lay at the other side of this sea in England too. Perhaps England’s waters did not lead literally to the Lion, but that didn’t mean journeys travelled in England could not bring her closer to Him. The path was just different, but she realised now the purpose was the same. She sought to do her duties and fulfill the Lion’s will in Narnia and she must do so here as well, though those duties were different.
Whether here or there, the sea was endless, its waves rose and fell, regardless of births and deaths, of monarchs who came and went, of empires that rose and fell. She had to move forward, not run away from the past. The tide would catch up with her eventually, knocking her off her feet. Waves fed on waves, and it was the past that made up the life she had now and she would treasure it all, even the tumultuous memories of lives lived twice, in the deepest corners of her heart. She would allow herself to be taken up by the flow of life and let it take here where she was meant to be.
She listened to the gentle crashing of waves. In the salty sea breeze, she saw the road before her as clearly as she saw her destiny the first time on the beach at Cair Paravel.
She was once a Queen, but now Susan Pevensie was woman who had lost too much for a lifetime but who had also been given too much for a lifetime. Like the Queen she once was, she was to rise above everything she’d lost and everything she’d been given.
Perhaps it was best that she didn’t just live a single lifetime.
Original Prompt that we sent you:
What I want: I saw a prompt for an exchange a while back requesting a crossover where Holmes and Watson (any incarnation, though I do adore the canonical versions of the characters) find Narnia, and I would love to see that filled! If that's not your cup of tea, I adore character studies, especially ones involving Susan. Golden Age fic is always nice, too, and I'm a sucker for AUs!
Prompt words/objects/quotes/whatever: "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"