Possible Spoilers/Warnings: Second person POV. You have been warned.
Summary: There is magic, after all, and then there is magic. One is Aslan’s sort; the other, Jadis’. Both are dangerous, both are subtle and twisting and embedded in the fabric of this world.
rise after a thousand years
i will wade out
till my thighs are steeped in burning flowers
I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness
in the sleeping curves of my body
Shall enter fingers of smooth mastery
with chasteness of sea-girls
Will i complete the mystery
of my flesh
I will rise
After a thousand years
And set my teeth in the silver of the moon
e. e. cummings
The desert spreads out around you in every direction, an endless (and you shudder internally at the cliché, true as it is) sea of sand that undulates ceaselessly, minutely; a strange mixture of constancy and never ending change. Wind whispers through the grains like a summer breeze through wheat, though these fields are dry as a bone and barren as any Winter-swept plain the Witch left in her wake. But thoughts of Jadis are unpleasant, particularly here, particularly given what you fear you might find, and so you push them away for another (much later) time. This land is eerie enough without conjuring ghosts that have been content to rest these past years,
Besides, there is every chance that this place has ghosts of its own to fear.
Ghosts, or worse, if the whispers are true.
But again, this is no time to sink into melancholia, not so soon on the journey. Sighing internally (but never visibly, oh, no, they’re always watching), you turn back to your company, nearly all mounted now and waiting near the remains of last night’s camp. A flash of anxiety darts over Jareth’s face as you approach; he saunters forward to meet you, his tail flicking in irritation.
“My Queen,” he purrs, peering into your face, “is anything amiss?”
He is a good Cat, Jareth- not one of your usual Guard, but loyal and brave nonetheless. And much better suited to these conditions than most of your people. But he is not one of your usual Guard, and so he does not understand your moods, nor does he see that your distraction goes far beyond dismay or irritation. No, there is something in this place that has burrowed under your skin, something that worries your mind and whispers unceasingly in your ears. Something in this desert is calling you, and knowing what you know about things that call, well.
“Everything,” you reply, gracing him with a kind smile, “is fine.”
By the time the rest of the camp has begun to stir, you have been awake for some time, watching the stars slowly recede to pale hues, purples and pinks and blues that could never exist under a midday desert sun. Colors must be bold to endure here and, in your own way, you enjoy that. Yes, the sun here is harsh, your own body can attest to that- what skin you dare free from layers of light linen has been seared a bold brown, your lips have cracked, your cheeks are wind-burned, your eyes ache from squinting at the blazing sand (but but but)- but the very harshness brings out a beauty of its own, strong and stark and wildly different to what you know from Narnia, yet not totally dissimilar. Archenland lacks it, as does Calormen, and all the Isles you’ve yet seen. But… this desert is wilderness, and Narnia is a land still rich with powers that have long since faded from more… civilized realms.
You sit and watch as the sun rises, searing the quiet colors from the sky; the wind picks up slightly, stirring the light fabric of the robes your Calormene hosts gifted you with before you left the southern city of Marresh for this desert. Behind you, the camp has begun its morning ritual; you can hear the grousing of the Archenlandish contingent, the muttered jokes of the Tisroc’s men, the lively conversation of your own party. From your desert guides there is only silence, or near silence: never anything more than a whisper of displaced sand, or a quiet word in their strange, musical tongue. The three nomads who have agreed to lead you where you want- must, your mind supplies- go are more ghost than flesh, it often seems; mere mirages thrown up by the desert heat. They speak but rarely, and sleep on the outskirts of the camp each night. They unnerve the Archenlanders, are objects of curiosity to the Narnians, and of scorn to the Tarkaan Mahmoun and his men.
You find yourself becoming rather fond of them.
“Your Majesty.” Sir Hamman coughs politely behind you, sand hissing as it shifts under his weight. Lune’s liegeman is an adequate protector, you suppose, but deeply unsuited for this place. Still, that is hardly his fault, and you hide your contemplation with one of your shining (empty) smiles as you turn to face him.
“Sir. A fine morning to you.”
The knight becomes, if anything, even more discomfited in the light of your sunny disposition, though he tries to hide it beneath his Court Face (but why do people try, honestly? Yours is better than theirs will ever be, and you’re so practiced at the lie yourself that it’s almost impossible to miss it in others). “If you enjoy the sensation of being roasted alive, your Majesty, then yes, I concede it might be.” The fool has refused to wear the turban your guides offered… again, and beneath his blond hair his scalp has turned an even deeper shade of red. Hamman takes a deep breath, as though preparing for a plunge, and you brace yourself for (yet another) tirade. “Please, your Majesty, abandon this foolishness. Call for an end to the expedition. We shall find nothing in this Lion-forsaken desert but sand and heat and death. Whatever it is that is spilling into Calormen, it comes not from this desert. We must turn northwards.”
He stops, his face flushed, though it is difficult to tell beneath the sunburn. Hamman is not the only one of the northern men who wishes to return home, you know; you’ve heard the whispers in the camp, seen the unease on the faces of, well, nearly everyone, the farther south into this seemingly endless desert your expedition goes. And you might consider turning back, might consider abandoning your search for whatever it is that is spilling ghosts and djinni (not seen for centuries) into southern Calormen, except… except what is occurring here is too much like what occurred when Jadis’ power broke in Narnia, too much like the magic and power that exploded into Archenland when the Witch’s ice fell away and the truth of Narnia was loosed. You reeled that power back in, you and your siblings, called it home to Narnia to prevent it from destroying her neighbors, but you remember what it felt like. And this desert roars with that same power, that same newly unleashed, unfettered truth.
How can you leave, when there is so much magic dancing in the air here that you can scarcely breathe?
Hamman, though, would not understand; you know it is probably ungracious of you to think such of him, but he would not. Archenland, for all that it borders Narnia, lacks that magic, and those who have not been steeped in wilderness will never recognize it, no matter how it might beat at them. You could try to explain but, well, you’ve no desire to test the limits of your patience, and besides, arguing with the knight would only make you sweat. These robes are hot enough without the agitation.
“Sir Hamman, we shall not turn back, not for fear or suspicion. You have accepted this task- the task your king has expressly commanded you to fulfill- and there will be no turning aside.”
This rebuke- none too gentle- should silence him, and leave you a little more time to collect yourself before the day’s journey begins. Already the heat is rising; today may be hotter than yesterday, something you had not thought possible. But, with any luck, you will find something, and soon. You may not be willing to abandon the search for whatever is spilling its ghosts into Calormen, but you would bloody well love to find it, and quickly.
Hamman’s voice jerks you from your thoughts and you stare at him, startled. Behind him the rest of the camp pauses, stilled by the urgency in his voice. Upset as he obviously is this morning, he must notice it as well, for he steps closer to you and continues in a lower voice. “Queen Susan, even if this devilry does spring from this desert, it is no concern of ours. Let Calormen deal with their own demons; they certainly have the practice to do so. Let us return to the north, where men may live without fear of this devilish sun and sand all hours of the day and night!”
Breathing deeply, you release the fistful of your robes that you grabbed during his rant. One breath, two, as you smooth the fabric down over your thighs before you whisper, not quite savagely, “And how long do you suppose such devilry will confine itself to Calormen?” He stops, his brow puzzled, and you plow ahead ruthlessly. “Or perhaps you had rather the Tisroc find the source of this power, tap it, and use it as his own. Would you prefer such an outcome, Sir Hamman? I, for one, would rather endure a little discomfort for the sake of knowing what this power is, and who controls it.”
You have to admit that, childish as it is, the look of dawning comprehension, mixed with both grudging admiration and something not unlike fear on his face is deeply, deeply satisfying.
People are always trying to forget or ignore what you are and, for the most part, you allow them to do so. It’s easier that way, and more useful. Sometimes, though, what you truly are escapes, slips out from beneath your silken gowns, your shining crown, your gentle skins. Sometimes it rattles its way out of your bones and rears its head and then- then they cannot ignore you.
The sun begins to sink towards the western horizon, trailing blood red and crimson in its wake. It’s been a long day, hot and uneventful, with nary a sign nor a hint that there is anything alive within leagues, much less anything to spill wild magic into Calormen. The search has proven fruitless… again, and you’re beginning to sense Hamman’s frustration not only from the Archenlandish contingent but, in a smaller way, from your own party, too. Though the Narnians are, on the whole, more suited to this sort of thing- after all, you’re the only Human in the Narnian party, and the Beasts seem to be far more adaptable to the extremes- the heat, exhaustion, and constant disappointment would wear on anyone.
Besides, even you are beginning to go a little mad at the sight of league after league of nothing but sand and empty sky.
As if sensing your irritation, Nazareen tenses and sidles beneath you, and you are pulled from grim thoughts by the momentary (but not unwelcome) distraction of soothing her. Combing your fingers through her tangled mane, you whisper meaninglessly to her and, as ever, the feel of her silken coat and the bunching muscles beneath calms you. You are not, of your siblings, the most talented on horseback, but Nazareen is something else entirely. A gift from one of the more ardently impassioned tarkaans in Tashbaan, the little desert mare has proven to be Lion-sent; her floating gait and endurance have made the journey more bearable.
Besides (and you willingly admit that this is vanity, if a useful one), with her blood red chestnut coat, she is as close as a horse can be to the crimson of Narnia, and you are more than aware that, with your dark hair and light robes, the two of you create a striking picture, even in this wilderness. You are not vain (much, anyways), but you cannot help but be aware of how important your image is.
And Nazareen can run like the wind, when it counts. Which, you know, it someday may.
Your name in such a lilting accent can only have come from one of your guides and you jerk your eyes from the sunset, following his hand. There, far above you, floating on a thermal, is news.
You give a short, piecing whistle and the glint of gold on the wind becomes a blur; it is mere seconds before Lieutenant Karei has pulled up short and landed with soft thump on the brace of your outstretched left arm. Her talons dig into the leather as she sways momentarily, regarding your with a Falcon’s predatory gaze.
“Lieutenant, you have good news for us, I hope.”
“I do, my Queen!” The scout clacks her beak in triumph and you feel something shift within you; finally. “To the south are ruins- maybe half a day’s journey on foot.”
“Ruins.” You are optimistic, but restrained; true, you have seen no ruins- no signs of habitation anywhere since crossing the border, but ruins in and of themselves mean very little.
“Aye, my Queen,” she continues.
“And did you fly reconnaissance on them?”
“I tried, my Queen, but the winds… there should be no such winds over such an area, but I was unable to get any closer than the highest thermal could take me. It seems a place of much… power.”
Karei is a veteran of the Winter; she understands these things. Her report is not without promise, then. It may well be that these ruins can give you answers. “Well done, Lieutenant. You have my thanks for your service.”
Recognizing the clear dismissal, the Falcon inclines her and departs, leaving you alone, once more, with your thoughts. At the head of the party, Mahmoun calls a halt for the night and, as you dismount stiffly, you consider tomorrow.
Ruins are all well and good, and if they are the source of this power you would not be sorry. But you also know magic and, while you do not fear it, not really, you are… apprehensive. There is magic, after all, and then there is magic. One is Aslan’s sort; the other, Jadis’. Both are dangerous, both are subtle and twisting and embedded in the fabric of this world. This land’s magic has not yet made its shape clear to you, but you cannot help but think that, on the morrow, it will.
You can but hope you’re ready.
Your name is spoken quietly, gently, like a breeze. In fact, a breeze brushes over you, lifting your hair from your neck and rustling your skirts. You turn, hand shading your eyes against an unusually gentle sun- was the desert sun ever so gentle?
But of course not, because this is no desert. It’s nowhere, and everywhere, and the breeze is your name is the voice that is as familiar to you as your own. ‘Aslan,’ you answer, looking through the golden light for the Lion. The breeze pushes your shoulder more strongly.
‘Aslan, I’m here.’ The breeze becomes a wind, knocking you off balance; the golden light falters and you frown.
‘Queen Susan, my Queen, please...’
And that is never the Lion’s voice, never his tone, and from your belt you draw a dagger that wasn’t there seconds before because-
“Please, Queen Susan, you must wake up!”
You bolt up, the dagger in your hand pressed against Jareth’s throat as you breath hurriedly through your nose, trying to shake off the lingering effects of the dream. And you’d been so certain that you’d heard Aslan’s voice, though the Lion has never come to you in dreams before.
“My Queen,” Jareth hisses, his golden eyes wide, “please, you must go!” You have scarcely seen a Cat so agitated, and never one of Jareth’s history and experience. Rather than question him, you sheath your knife and rise, casting your eyes around an obviously panicked camp.
“What’s wrong?” Thoughts of bandits, monsters, djinni dance in your sleep-muddled head and you wish for daylight, a little sun to clear the fog.
“Nay, my Queen-“ and Jareth is pushing you, crowding you insistently towards the picket lines where you can see that someone has hastily saddled Nazareen. The mare herself is
uneasy, tossing her head and half-rearing in the flickering firelight. “A storm is coming. You must ride.”
And then you notice the sound.
It roars like a lion, like an army of lions, and in your darkest nightmares you have not imagined this: dimly visible only by the occasional flashes of lighting that precede it, the desert to the north has risen and is flying towards you, a solid wall of sand and wind as high as the eye can see. Dust storms you’ve endured on this journey; this is the end of the world.
You know you must get away, know you must use all of Nazareen’s speed to escape, but still, you hesitate, even as you scramble gracelessly onto her back, thanking Aslan that you sleep in full desert garb these days. These are your people, your countrymen; you cannot abandon them to this… “Jareth…”
“Go, Queen Susan!” And he is all soldier now, following not your wishes but his deeper duty to Narnia to keep you safe. You know this, you do, and beneath you Nazareen is panicking, fighting to flee. Shouts and screams are lost in the roar of the wind; from the corner of your eye you see Mahmoun riding to the south as if all the demons of hell are after him, spurring his grey stallion mercilessly.
And then Jareth springs, slamming into Nazareen’s flank. The mare, already terrified, loses all composure and screams a whinny. She catapults off to the south, away from the wall of sand, with you clinging desperately to her back.
The two of you fly through the desert night like arrows, wind rushing in your ears but also roaring behind you. There is no earthly way that anything could catch Nazareen now- she is flying, soaring over the sand, her lungs pumping like bellows and her lovely long legs ghosting over the desert.
And yet, within minutes (or maybe lifetimes, who can say?) the towering sand is licking at your back and your head is full of the noise and there’s no thought, no light, no breathing, only sand and wind and roaring lions…
When you finally wake, minutes or centuries later, it is not, as you expected, to the sounds of sand howling in your ears or even to deathly silence; rather, it is to the quiet, incongruous sound of water lapping gently around you.
You open your eyes- slowly; you’ve learned by now the dangers of sudden sunlight- to find yourself sprawled in a crimson pool. For one horrifying moment you think it must be blood, that you must have finally, unintentionally, stumbled into whatever it is in this desert that has been calling you all this time. Shifting slightly in an attempt to gain some purchase, though, you realize that the crimson isn’t blood… it’s petals. Thousands, tens of thousands of blood red water lilies surround you, their subtle fragrance finally piercing your panic. And if these are lilies, as ridiculous as it seems for what you’re certain is still the middle of the desert, then this water? A reflecting pool.
You rise slowly, water streaming down your body; your filthy robes cling irritatingly to your arms and legs and, after only a moment’s hesitation, you strip them off and toss them aside, taking care to remove the several concealed knives that Lucy has always insisted you should carry with her. Thank Aslan for her persistence now, you can’t help but think, else you would be completely unarmed. But your little sister has always been both inordinately fond of sharp objects and uniquely in-tune with the will of the Lion, so perhaps her foresight is not totally unexpected.
More important than such considerations, though, are your immediate surroundings. You stand now clad in only the light tunic and leggings you’ve been wearing beneath your robes, though for some reason the desert’s heat does not pierce this place so much as it ought. Slowly, carefully, you begin to wade through the lily-filled water, the crimson flowers brushing against your knees as you go. Around the pool, cracked and tumbling alabaster columns rise into a flawless blue sky; there is no wind, no sound other than the movement of water and the whisper of flower petals.
From the corner of your eye, a flash of white catches your attention and you freeze, a knife suddenly in your hand. And there, settling itself on the rim of the pool, shuffling its feathers slowly and regarding you with a skeptical eye, is an ibis.
The bird regards you steadily for a moment, and then lowers its head and drinks, long and low, from the pool. When it raises its beak, water and crimson petals drip down and the eyes that meet yours are, for an instant, more human than avian. Thirst slams into you without warning and you remember that you’ve weathered a sandstorm since you last tasted water and regardless of the absolute impossibility of this pool, it hasn’t harmed you yet. Besides, in this place, death by dehydration is a far more present danger than that of poisoning.
Still, it is with a quick prayer to the Lion that you cup your hands and bring the water to your face, unable to avoid brining petals up as well. They brush against your lips as you drink, soft as velvet and warm. The water is surprisingly cool, but it warms like fire in your stomach and spreads through your limbs, burning away heat and exhaustion and panic. You haven’t felt anything like this since the last time Lucy forced her cordial on you, and you nearly stagger under the surprise.
On the pool’s rim, the ibis gives an approving clack of its beak, straightens its wings, and launches off into the impossible sky, weaving around the tumbled columns, heading off towards the distant end of the pool.
Watching it go, you consider your options. You can wait, of course, stand in this pool until someone comes to find you- but then, you don’t believe, in your heart of hearts, that anyone will. This place is nowhere; it does not exist, and you know surely as you know the song of Narnia that no one who is not called, not invited, can reach this place. So really, in the end, following the ibis is the only thing to do, a fact which, though galling, gives a certain grim sense of satisfaction. Sighing, you wade to the side of the pool and step out, taking only a second to mourn the demise of the soft leather boots you’d had made in Tashbaan.
Steeling yourself, you check your knives, slip your sharpest dagger into your arm brace, and begin to follow the ibis, trailing water and crimson petals in your wake.
It’s here that all the desert’s magic has been emanating, obviously. You realized it soon as you woke, though at the moment you’d been slightly more concerned with ensuring that you weren’t about to be attacked. But now that your guard is up and your mind is engaged, the sheer power, the memory of the place is astonishing. It rolls off the cracked alabaster in waves, leaks from the reflecting pool. You’ve not felt a place so strongly steeped in Deep Magic since you were last at the Stone Table and that is a truly worrisome thought.
You wonder what has happened here, what has caused these columns to tumble, the stones beneath your feet to crack. It’s obviously a place out of time, a temple of something ancient and untouchable as the Stone Table on Dancing Lawn. The water that drips from your sodden clothes is still cool to the touch, the petals, despite being trodden upon and ripped from their stems, are perfect, unbruised. Even the air is calmer, not burdened with the deserts unbearable heat. The sand stretches out all around you, true, but there is no wind, nothing to mar that unbelievably blue sky. This place, like the Stone Table, does not exist.
And here you are. Brilliant.
You have not walked so very far when you catch up with the ibis where he has perched on- imagine that- an altar. Like the columns, it is of alabaster, bare save for a simple stone box. Slowing, you regard the tableau carefully: Narnia has taught you an instinctive mistrust of things that seem too simple, particularly where magic is involved. Alter, ibis, casket…
Something slinks out from the altar’s shadow and there, suddenly, is a jackal. There are Jackals in Narnia- not many, it’s true, and not a few of those fought in the south for Jadis not so very long ago- so the beast itself is not overly alarming. Still, you loosen the dagger in its sheath and pause, waiting. The ibis watches you passively; the jackal, intensely.
And then, in that place with no wind, no sound, a whirlwind springs up flying along the length of the reflecting pool and the columns that flank it. Water and crimson petals fly through the air, blinding you momentarily. The wind is over in an instant, gone as quick as it had come, and you breathe again, opening your eyes.
In that one moment, between one breath and the next, everything has changed.
Gone are the cracks in the alabaster; these columns stretch tall and unblemished into a sky that wheels achingly between dawn and dusk, night and day. The sun chases the moon and stars, reds and golds and crimsons bleeding into blues as pale as milk and as dark as midnight.
Forcing yourself to remember what else is watching, you tear your eyes away from the beautiful madness of the sky to watch the jackal and ibis. Despite the seriousness of the situation, you cannot quell the sharp, sarcastic voice in your head (which sounds very much like Edmund) that gives a snort of triumph when you realize that the beasts are gone.
You stare at the altar. The two men stare back. One, tall and gangly and dressed all in white, grips a scroll and looks merely vaguely interested. The other, though, much smaller and, you recognize immediately, more dangerous, starts forward almost eagerly before checking himself. It is this second man that you turn your attention to, he for whose benefit you draw your dagger and let it rest by your thigh.
Under a mad sky, in the middle of nowhere and everywhere, you stare down eternity armed with nothing but a dagger. That voice that sounds like Edmund whispers about how you loathe magic, and you cannot help but agree.
“Queen Susan,” the dangerous man says, and in his voice is howling and cackling and hunting and night. “Queen of Narnia.”
Breathe in, out. You tighten your grip on the knife’s handle. “I am,” you reply. “But you I do not know.”
A laugh, barking. “No. But we know you. And we know you have questions.”
“Not so many,” you reply, your voice bland. A defensive reaction, one you thought you had banished long ago. But then, you’ve never dealt with someone (something?) quite so unnerving before. “The magic in Calormen... it comes from this place. I don’t know why, but the whole desert reeks of it.”
“Yes.” He grins. You fight back a shudder.
“Ah,” the taller man says, stirring for the first time. “Why.”
“It is not as we would wish,” his companion takes up, and his empty expression sours momentarily. “But the old places, the Deep places, must do as they will. We cannot stop the Deep Magic calling out for its own, no more than the Witch could stop the workings of the Magic at the Table.” He is still as stone, standing beside his alabaster altar, and you begin to understand what he is, what they both are.
“You guard this place.”
“Indeed. Guard and, when the occasion arises, serve.”
Serve… “Serve what?” you ask, but you think you already know. You’d suspected from the onset that this was not a place a mortal could reach without invitation, nor without purpose. Yet here you are, and you can feel the magic wrapping around you, pushing at your bones.
“The Deep Magic, Queen Susan of Narnia, and the Deep Magic has called you here, to ask of you one question.”
Questions, questions, always these questions. Part of you wants to turn and flee, but the greater part of your mind recognizes that this would do, well, nothing. It’s not as if you have anywhere to go until the Deep Magic releases you. Besides, you are not leaving the relative safety of this place until the sky stops wheeling. It’s beautiful, but so are sea serpents. You’ll stay, answer their question, and then, hopefully, you will go.
“Queen Susan. Will you hear the Deep Magic’s question?”
“I will.” If I must.
The white-robed man’s passivity falls away; the other’s fists clench and… nothing happens. You cock one brow, unimpressed. And then there is a question. In your head.
It’s like wind and storms and the howling of wolves and the passage of stars and the burning sun and…
The knife clatters to the stones and you follow, landing heavily on hands and knees, gasping for breath. Such… such space, and emptiness, and power. And there are no words, but somehow the Deep Magic has made itself quite clear.
You take a moment you regain your breath before slowly, purposefully, pushing yourself to your feet. The two men still stand framing their altar, but you know them better now; you can see them
“Did you hear the Deep Magic’s question, Queen Susan of Narnia?” The man with the scroll speaks softly, but you could never miss his words.
“How could I not?” you laugh. “I heard every part of every question it has ever asked. How could I not?”
With the desert pouring itself through your head, asking for nothing and everything, offering you the world and death. It is the nature of the Deep Magic, you realize, to do such. After all, didn’t Aslan die as well as rise that night?
It offers you a similar dichotomy. Power, knowledge… and emptiness. To guard this desert, hold back its demons and restore its balance; and in exchange, gain its knowledge. Trade your heart for its own. A small thing. An impossible, mighty thing. You feel the import of the question weighing on you even as you live and breathe in this place that exists only, you suspect, in memory and magic.
“There must always be one who gives themself to this land, and is given the land in return.” He unrolls his scroll, and though you cannot read it, you know it lists the names of this land’s hearts, its guardians. “To know its power, to admire its soul, to hold its heart. Only such a one can maintain the boundaries that keep in the desert’s magic.”
“And the last such a one?”
“There is only now,” he replies placidly, rolling up his scroll.
“Of course,” you breathe; here, all times are now. You look up at the stars, the sunrises, sunsets and blazing noons. The Deep Magic echoes in your head, sounding very like a Lion’s roar. When you lower your eyes to meet those of the altar’s guards, there are tears in them.
The shorter man steps forward and extends one arm; the tendons stand out like cords from his bared shoulder to his weathered hand, which hovers, palm spread, over your chest. The barely-there motion of your breathing brings your breast to within a hairsbreadth of his fingers and he is close, so close; you can smell him, something older and far vaster than even this desert. His features, absolutely still, flicker unnervingly between those of a placid, ageless man and a jackal.
“What say you, Queen of Narnia?” The taller man’s voice is soft; the rustle of reeds. Your gaze flickers to his eyes and you cannot help but wonder if his nose is really so prominent or if that is truly a beak; if his hair is the thinnest of white wisps or if those are feathers. And then you wonder if it truly matters either way. You are inclined, on the whole, to think that it does not. The truth of his nature does nothing to change his offer, nor your answer. “You will not be as you were,” he warns, “but you are Queen of Narnia, given guardianship of the South. It should be you, but if you are not willing, another will be found.”
You cannot resist the call of the Deep Magic, of this place. Throughout your journey you’d heard something calling; now you know. And something must be done to stop the desert’s power flowing into Calormen, and Archenland, and Narnia. Narnia…
“Will I… will I still be able to hear her song?” you ask, feeling like a child. “Narnia’s?”
“They are all one song,” he replies gently.
Closing your eyes, you step forward into his hand- his jackal’s paw- and it plunges into your chest. You gasp quietly, feeling the hand-that-is-not contract around your heart. There is a tug, some slight resistance, and then everything changes.
His hand is at his side once more, but you scarcely notice because you are so empty for one terrible, eternal moment: the world goes dark and silent and you are hollowed out, beaten and forgotten and alone and-
And then you are full, so full, and the world comes rushing back into your every nook and cranny, banishing the darkness and the emptiness and replacing them with shifting dunes blazing sun the whisper of wind through the stars the sweetness of the brief morning dew bones held gently in soft graves time and light and remembrance and-
The rush of knowledge is so great, so strange, so vast that you stumble back, screwing your eyes shut in a vain attempt to block out the desert. It rushes over you, threatening to break you, and you cannot breathe, cannot think, cannot-
“Don’t fight it,” the man-who-is-an-ibis counsels. “It will strengthen you, if you let it. Don’t fear its power.”
It’s too much, too big, too empty, and you can feel it breaking you, tearing you apart, consuming you like a sandstorm, like an army of lions…
A Lion’s breath brushes against your face; the sandstorm calms, the blazing sun is transformed, briefly, into a golden mane, and then- your eyes fly open, you gasp for breath, because the desert is in you and filling you and it’s everywhere, you can feel it, sense it, understand it…
A hawk dives for a lizard in the dunes, and the wind rushes past your face. A horse bends to drink at an oasis; the water slides down your throat. In the east, near where the sand meets the waves, nomads sing in their lilting tongue; the song teases your memory. In the night, a wolf pounces on its prey and you feel the blood slip over your teeth. It’s all there, all of it. And you can, somehow contain it, because the desert has given you its heart.
The jackal smiles, holding his hands so gently cupped that he might be holding the very soul of the world. “We will guard it for you, Queen Susan of Narnia, Lady of the South, and none shall touch it until the very breaking of this desert.”
He steps back, places it (your heart, your heart) in the alabaster box. At his side, the ibis adds your name to his scroll. The Deep Magic sings.
Looking up, you see that the sky has returned to an impossible, stable blue. When you lower your eyes again, you are alone. Ibis, jackal, altar… all are gone. The wind picks up again, caressing your face and the heat of the desert suddenly springs up around you. From behind, you hear a familiar whinny.
The smile that spreads over your face belongs to a wolf.
Nazareen tosses her head gently at your approach, her wide nostrils flaring in something like confusion. For a brief moment you fear she will startle and flee, but she is suddenly calm, and her nose is somehow buried in your shoulder, soft breath stirring your hair. She smells of horse and sweat and sun; you run your fingers through her blood-red mane, combing out tangles, and your mind conjures thoughts of hoofs tossing up sand light as the wind rushing through space like a spirit hot desert air, precious as water. You smile, and between one breath and the next you have mounted her, smooth as silk, because she’s one of yours now.
Saddle and bridle are long lost, but no matter; you hardly need them now, because Nazareen is a creature of this desert and, well, what are you now? Lady of the South- you have this land’s fire in your veins and its soul winding through your mind (disconcerting as that is) and you have no need of false connections when you can feel your mare’s blood thrumming through your own body, ghostly sensation overlaying ghostly sensation. Her blood runs within you and you could no more tumble from her back than you could allow your own head to fall from your shoulders. No need now for coaxing or persuasion; you think, run, and you are flying.
If you’d thought her fast before, that was nothing as to now. Now, you truly fly. The pair of you pass over dunes like clouds through the sky, gentle and silent. You can feel each grain of sand that is disturbed by your passage. It is beautiful and terrifying and so right that you do not even stop to wonder at what you have taken on. That this immediacy will lessen somewhat once you are out of the desert you do not doubt (and thank Aslan for that- such knowledge is heavy). But the power will always be there.
Nazareen mounts a dune and you know, before you even reach the crest, that on the other side you will find your party, bedraggled and searching desperately for you. Mahmoun will not be there (and you will insist, with much regret, that you leave for the north without him; after all, you already know under which dunes his bones are buried), but the rest will be. And you will greet them with joy and exhaustion, and say nothing to anyone of the sand and fire and blazing sun in your veins.
Beneath your crown, and your embroidered silks, beneath your skin and your gentle smile and your bones, you are not a girl at all.
You are a wolf.
You are Susan, Queen of Narnia, Lady of the South. You leave your heart in a place of memory and magic, to rest for a thousand years.
Everything you traded it for is yours.
Original Prompt that we sent you:: I'd love some previously untold Narnian adventures - stories from the Golden Age, or stories from Caspian's reign, Caspian and Rilian bonding, sea voyages or other journeys out of Narnia. Maybe an unexplored island we didn't read about in VDT? What's up north besides the giants?
I'd love to read about a threat to Narnia that the Pevensies faced during their reign - perhaps another evil trying to infiltrate Narnia - and how they all worked together to stop it.
Ship-wise, I'd always love some Caspian/Peter, if you're so inclined. Maybe an AU where the Pevensies stay in Narnia after PC? Or an AU where Caspian finds his way into England for a while.
I love Susan best of all, so anything featuring her in a starring and completely awesome role would make me happy. I'd love to see her in Calormene, before everything went so wrong with Rabadash. Or a story about Susan as Queen interacting with the Narnians - what makes her the Gentle Queen?
1) I will rise
After a thousand years
And set my teeth in the silver of the moon
-- e.e. cummings
2) For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea
-- ee cummings
3) I woke up and one of us was crying.
-- Elvis Costello