Disclaimer: Once again I must decline any attachment to this story. The characters belong to C.S. Lewis, and the Biblical concepts were written long before I was born.
Inspiration for this story comes largely from Willow Dryad's works, particularly her first story "Identity," which remains my favorite take on Susan's redemption.
Her siblings never understood what it meant for her to lose Narnia. To be thrust into the world again as a child, purposeless and driven only by dull books and sewing lessons ("Will you tidy the kitchen while I'm gone, Susan?" "Why don't you take Lucy to the park for a while?"), to lose her sense of righteous justice and the ability to act - what use could she possibly be in Finchley? She was once a queen, praised not merely for her beauty, but for her generous spirit. Lucy had her cordial, and Edmund and Peter their swords, but Susan walked amongst her subjects. Taking a hand kneading dough in the kitchens. Sweeping autumn leaves from the sanctuary, where the soldiers paused to pray before embarking from Cair Paravel. Singing with a hedgehog quartet while a turtle and a porcupine accompanied them with carved reeds. Whenever Peter and Edmund were gone, it was Susan who delegated court functions and settled disputes. She was the gentle queen, beloved because she would step down from her throne and love.
In Finchley, she was no longer a ruler. ("Susan, all I ask is that you try to study." "There's not much you can do, Su. They don't let women run for parliament, after all.") Her duties were narrowed down to looking after her younger siblings, cooking and cleaning, and writing dull, onerous dissections of classical fiction and poems. There was no one to serve but her own family.
Screaming for belonging, she sought the only ones she knew would understand. (Did Peter not think she knew exactly what the Bible said? "Honor your father and mother; Thou shalt have no other gods besides Me; I am the Way, the Truth and the Life...") She knew such passages by heart. She knew what they meant. And she knew where to find her answers.
"A life given to God is no mere fancy," Sister Therese told her somberly, when she inquired about the convent. "To give yourself wholly to God means to sacrifice everything that is not of Christ. It is difficult for the young to let go of their dreams."
"I am not a child," Susan said coldly. She was a queen, exiled and longing for her throne. But had she not already given up enough when her kingdom was taken from her hands?
What more do you want? she confronted the grey clouds. I am here. I am faithful. What more can you ask of me?
When her mother learned of her desire for spiritual commitment, she answered with an uncertain hum. "It's a gracious and beautiful calling, Susan, but you're so young! Take a little time to think about it. Live your life first, then give it to God."
Nagged by the sweet reassurance of doubt, Susan put off the nunnery, seeking her place in the practical advise from pulpit sermons. "Do to others as you would have them do to you..." "Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord..." "Be imitators of God, and live a life of love..." "Keep away from every brother who is idle..."
Surely the way of Narnia was no different from England, even though she had left behind her throne. Though she had no royal duties to perform, the work was not yet finished. Determined to fulfill her obligations as a Christian and as the Lord's diplomat, Susan quite accidentally earned herself a reputation as a social butterfly. She volunteered for every church gathering and Sunday afternoon social, insisting on staying late into the evening after school even though her homework quickly suffered and one tragic weekend she realized she had missed Edmund's birthday celebration. (Surely it would never be counted against her. Didn't they understand that there was more to life than merry makings and wrapped parcels?) Soon enough her presence was requested for every function, and her influence branched from the small parish to the flourishing outer circle of Finchley's entertainment. Could she not plan the most elegant table settings, and would she - oh could she please - not spare a little time to arrange the family gathering hall for this year's Christmas party?
Susan was not a ruler, but suddenly she was wanted and adored, with strangers and friends inviting her to tea and socials where she could listen and advise, learning more about the people around her. She had not a woman's face, but a bit of lipstick and rogue and she looked like a sovereign. She did not delegate in court, but people listened when she spoke. She was not a queen, but she had a purpose, however small.
However small Susan did feel as weeks began to pass between invitations, and she found herself longing for a single person to remember that she had helped them pick that gown, or arrange the flowers at that funeral, or watch their baby while they danced for the entire evening undisturbed. She waited for someone to remind her that she was still important in this crushing, unsettled world.
The emptiness consumed her.
Peter, Edmund and Lucy drifted away. They gabbled about fauns and dragons, picking out passages in the Chronicles and Testaments that backed their adventures, until Susan lost track of which recount was a Biblical narrative and which had truly happened. Her own Bible lay on her bedside table, opened dutifully in church, with the marker in the same passage every time she opened it. She couldn't remember what page she had intended to read later. Why did it matter? Didn't her siblings realize that stories were poor expressions of their faith when there was real work to be done?
The cruelest day was when Peter came home for Lucy's graduation. They were all together, the four of them, a marvel now that Edmund was in law school and Peter lived all the way across London. Susan half dreaded the family gathering, for inevitably the conversation would turn towards the land of could-have-been, and everyone would look at her like she had thrown her shoe upon her mother's grave. Today Peter looked immensely pleased with himself. The moment he extricated himself from Lucy's embrace he distributed velvet cases from his suitcase. Crimson, violet, silver, and gold; each one of them knew which color belonged to them.
"I wanted you to have these when we first left Narnia," Peter said regretfully as the cases were opened. "I couldn't afford it then."
"How pretty, Peter," Susan said politely, dangling the little golden locket in the light. 'His and Not My Own,' it read. Was it relief or fear that stilled her heart, that she felt no passion upon reading the words? Her feelings about Narnia had long ago fallen cold. Naught but a trinket remained in her hand now.
She excused herself upstairs before the hurt silence could drag into angry words. She would not argue with her siblings today, not when Lucy was at her happiest. The locket would be forgotten in her dresser drawer, next to the unanswered invitation to the church picnic.
Such funny stories, she thought. Why should we place our faith in fairy tales? Surely the pain she felt when reminiscing was because the child within her still clung to dusty, vacant dreams.
Perhaps it was time to grow up.
I did what you advised, Mother. I sang and danced and loved and lived. I've had as many beaus as I had courtships in the make-believe land, and more friends than any girl can boast. Why do I still feel empty?
Lucy's graduation passed in the same way as all of their family functions these days. The three storytellers whispered about Rings and Can't you feel it too? Something's going to happen! but the moment Susan changed the subject by inquiring about Lucy's future plans, uneasy silence quelled the bright mood. She was neither unwelcome or ignored, but her siblings behaved as it they didn't know what to do with her.
It's not my fault you three can't behave sensibly, Susan thought viciously. What good would it do if she, too, laughed merrily and babbled about talking animals? If she was speaking Dutch she would not have more perplexed looks sent her way. The world did not need stories of Aslan. It needed people like Lucy and Peter to grow up and act on their faith.
Is it even faith, if only we know it exists? Susan wondered in her bedroom alone that night. She slammed her dresser drawer shut, determined to forget about the locket. Perhaps Aslan was only a story we invented. How can I serve the Lord if fairy tales stand in my way?
Tomorrow, she decided, the decision fortifying her foul mood. Tomorrow I will tell them that I am joining the convent. That will stop their silly talk, at least while I am in the room.
Her dreams could not soothe her that night, for in her mind's eye she rode on the back of a lion, fearless and daring as they approached the fortress of evil. She woke herself crying, longing for a world she would never see again.
Hardening her heart, she wiped away her tears. Enough of these games! She was tired of pretending that her life once held meaning.
Before she could call Lucy and state her decision, Peter himself came to the door. His stance was awkward and hopeful, the beard adding maturity to his boyish face, and for a moment Susan thought, Why do you hover in uncertainty? Where is the confidence of the High King?
But such had only been their imagination.
"Su, I know..." Scratching his thatch of golden hair Peter amended, "I mean, I understand we haven't exactly... What I mean to say is... We thought perhaps you might..."
"Oh, do come out and say it," Susan implored him. "You know it's unseemly to gab about like a codfish."
"Right." Exasperation hardened Peter's eyes, but he jammed his hands into his pockets and leaned forward, determined to say his piece despite his sister's chiding. "Su, we're going to the professor's estate. We'd like you to come along. For old time's sake."
Startled, Susan stared at him for a moment and then laughed. "Professor Kirke? That dear, funny old man? What on earth would you find in his monastery?"
Mulishly ignoring her scorn, Peter stated tartly, "Narnia."
Disbelief stole her mirth, but she huffed a laugh and repeated, "Narnia. You're still hanging on to that childish - ."
"I don't care if you want to think Aslan never cared two wits about you, heaven knows I've been yelling otherwise at you for years! I'm asking you to come, Su. We think we've found a way into Narnia. For once - just this once - prove me wrong."
Now Susan could breathe again, and she managed an impressive cackle, tempted to slam the door in her brother's face. "Tell me one time in the last decade when someone's proved you right, and I'll concede."
She expected Peter to fly into an argument of examples and old stories. Edmund often did. Blue eyes went cold, however, and Peter shook his head, his mouth a firm line.
"Mum just asked you for your help, you know. She didn't tell you to bloody grow up." Turning on his heel, he marched away, his stance as regal as an emperor who had been denounced in his own court. For an instant the sunlight caught in his fair hair, setting it alike with peaks of gold, and his shadow wavered as though a cloak of fine silk flared behind him.
But then, Peter had always carried himself like he was born into royalty, Susan reminded herself heatedly. The arrogant cad.
She slammed the door and ran to the phone, ignoring the card on the table from (What was his name? That fine-looking dark one who had a nice smile? Certainly not Casp... where had she imagined that name?) and the pretty watercolor invitation from Jenny inviting her to yet another lavish tea. Snatching up the phone, she spun out the number of that dear old lady's apartment where Lucy was boarding and waited impatiently while it rang, folding little creases along the calling card from (Charlie? Camberson? Maybe Casper - what an odd name. Almost as though it came from another...).
"Hello?" Mrs. Nellie's soft, tender creak of a voice answered.
Skipping the polite formalities of idle conversation and inquiries as to one's good health, Susan inquired immediately, "May I speak to my sister?"
"Oh..." Mrs. Nellie trailed off. The dear forgetful soul. "Who is this?"
Before Susan was forced to explain again how she was related to Lucy Pevensie, she heard her sister's voice in the background. "Mrs. Nellie, may I take the call? It's all right, she's my friend. Thank you - I just poured us both a cup of tea, by the way. I'll join you as soon as I'm finished here."
"Susan!" Lucy exclaimed, her irrational cheerfulness springing across the phone line as though the sisters had never argued a day in their lives. "Is something the matter? Are you all right? You never call!"
"Don't I have a right to check up on my sister?" Susan said, affection rising with guilt at the ready admission.
"Bother it all, Peter got to you first, didn't he?" Lucy said crossly. "I told him not to bother you, but he seems to take it upon himself to look after all our welfare."
Susan's throat felt inexplicably dry. "Yes... about that..."
"Oh do say you're coming!" Lucy chattered, her hopes ever fresh as though she was still six and innocent to the world's expectations. "Think of it as a holiday. We'll go visit the old estate with Professor Kirke and we'll have a marvelous time, and when we get back you can go call up what's-his-name and tell him all about your adventures in the country."
"Calvin," Susan corrected automatically. Goodness, what a boorish name. Her voice sounded dull and disillusioned, even to her ears. For Lucy to propose Narnia so innocently, without even speaking its name, reaching out to Susan without condescension or fear that she would refuse...
"I'll talk to you later," Susan said haltingly, blinking back the sudden burning in her eyes. She couldn't break the news to her sister now. "Have a lovely holiday, Lucy."
"Susan, whatever is the matter?" Lucy asked, concern flooding her sweet voice. "Something is wrong. Why won't you tell me?"
"No! Everything is fine!" Susan insisted, forcing a jovial tone as she wiped her eyes. "Have fun. I'll call you later."
She hung up before Lucy could answer, anxiously reaching for her neck in a habitual reflex to fiddle with a golden chain. Ah, but there was no necklace, and she had stuffed Peter's gift in a chest beneath the dried peonies from Mother's funeral.
"Only a game," Susan whispered, and her heart died a little inside her.
She tore up the invitation to tea and tossed the pieces into the hearth.
She didn't know why all three of them had to trounce her in one afternoon. It was only a trip to the country, after all. Yet Edmund's stance vibrated with apprehension, and his dark eyes blazed with a foreboding that Susan had learned never to ignore in ...
The country. (Not that there was much to fear at the professor's house; what an absurd thought.)
"Are you here to convince me to come with you?" Susan said warily. Sighing, she closed the door behind her and shouldered her purse, bolstering herself for yet another argument over childish drivel. "I'm going out. You're going to make yourself late for the train."
"Not for another two hours," Edmund said. He ambled beside her, his jolly long legs effortlessly matching her high-heeled clatter. Not a word was raised against her; not even a nonverbal chastisement. Bugger the man! How could Susan lash her tongue at him if he respected her desire for peace yet refused to budge off!
"I don't need an escort," she snapped. "This isn't London; I'm perfectly save from vagabonds."
"I dunno; that culprit over there seems to be looking you over," Edmund commented, nodding his head towards David Bloxey, the dapper chap who had already asked Susan to the accompany him to this year's Christmas ball three times (and in August no less!).
"Pooh! Him?" Susan remarked. Did her brothers think she was as empty-headed as those tittering girls with the puffed sleeves and fake ringlets? As if she would have someone with the brain of a donkey!
Rabadash made a rather fine beast when he...
Stories, Susan reminded herself, dismissing the mental image of a donkey kicking about in a luxurious turban and pointed shoes. What imaginative tales they conspired from Lucy's drawings.
No, she had more in mind than a handsome face. Many young men sought her beauty and kind heart. She entertained their attempts and walked away disappointed every time. Her husband - if ever such a man existed - could only be one who reciprocated in traits that buffoons in their gaudy suits and ties could never comprehend; mercy, goodness, a generous spirit, and eyes that never lied.
Such men seemed not to exist. Even Caspian had sought murder when he -
"Su, the curb," Edmund warned her, catching her arm before she could trip up and land on her face. Flushing, Susan mumbled her thanks and tried to resume an elegant gait. Such a gentleman, her brother - both of them, in fact. They treated women like genteel sovereigns to be cherished, their efforts extending even to their sisters. Perhaps her time spent under their jealous protection had taught Susan to look for someone of whom even her obnoxious siblings would approve.
Such a man might never cross her path.
"Hang on a moment," Edmund cajoled, holding open the door to the little town bakery before Susan could even decline. "Just this once, Su. I'm only in town today before the summer term begins. Let me catch up on how you and Lucy have been."
How crafty and underhanded were her brother's schemes. Of course Susan could not refuse. "When will you ever finish studying?" she posed, daintily crossing the threshold. "You could at least get a job in a courtroom office."
"When I'm holding the gavel, I'll put down my books," Edmund compromised. "England has a unique judiciary system compared to N - ah, here we are."
Deceitful little prat, he had just managed to avoid mentioning that vexing name by swinging a cucumber sandwich under Susan's nose. She couldn't even despise him for distracting her with a light, tasteful lunch.
"I thought this was a bakery," Susan commented a short while later, taking small bites while Edmund gustily mangled a thick roast beef sandwich.
"It is!" he protested around a mouthful. (Court manners, hah!) "They make their own bread."
"That doesn't count," Susan snipped. She snickered, refusing to point out a dollop of mustard on Edmund's nose, and relished in the feeling of companionship. She hadn't had a moment to simply be herself since...
"Why are you doing this?" Susan broached, pushing aside the rest of her sandwich.
"Taking you out to lunch?" Edmund quipped. "Am I now a warmonger for thinking of my sister's best interests?"
"The last time we met together like this was after Mum's funeral," Susan rebuked softly. The wound was still fresh. "This is about what Peter said, isn't it?" Angrily she flung her napkin onto the table. "All of you tittering together, talking about me when I'm not around..."
"Wait, what did Peter say?" Honest curiosity brought such vulnerability to Edmund's eyes that if he wasn't her brother Susan would have pinched his cheek. "We haven't spoken since yesterday - did you two get in a snit or something?"
Glowering, wanting to believe him but knowing his crafty ways, Susan drawled, "It's bribery, isn't it. I'm not going to the country on your silly adventure."
Suddenly disinterested in his sandwich, Edmund set it down and meticulously wiped off his fingers. "Actually... I wasn't going to ask," he admitted.
Thunderstruck, Susan looked away. So he'd already given up on her. She should have expected it, but her chest felt heavy with the dismissal.
"I thought Peter was going to ask you," Edmund continued. "And if you were interested you would come. No sense feeling cornered on three sides, eh? So, no - I'm not here to badger you about Narnia. I just wanted to spend some time with you."
"Then what is this all about?" Susan probed. Lucy flung away her time to anyone who appreciated a cup of tea. Peter seemed to be forever making up for lost time and experiences. With Edmund, there was always a means to an end. "Why are you here, Edmund?"
There was something undetectable in his eyes. Something that gripped Susan's heart with a fear that she couldn't understand. He's saying goodbye. The thought sliced through her and she banished it immediately. What did she have to fear; a simple trip into the country?
Leaning back, Edmund folded his arms loosely, no longer a boy hanging about in his brother's shadow. He was growing into his frame, long-limbed and lithe, with intelligent eyes that crinkled gently when he smiled. Many a girl must have sent him a coy glance, but he never seemed to look back in the same way. We're all searching for something better, Susan thought sadly.
"Edmund, what's going on?"
"Nothing," Edmund admitted, pushing his plate away. "Absolutely nothing. I don't know what's eating at me. I just..." Looking her straight in the eye, he said brashly, "I didn't want to leave you without saying goodbye."
Terror pooled in her chest and Susan knew she must either laugh or cry. "Goodbye?" she scoffed. "You're going to London, not Austria! Don't be silly, Ed - it's not as if you won't be back for the holidays, just like always."
"Just like always," Edmund repeated with a humorless smile. Sighing, he rose from his chair, offering his hand for Susan to stand. "Silly thing to fret over, I suppose. Never mind that. Let's find you a bonnet, and then I can boast to Peter that I spoiled you before they sent me back to the dorms."
Susan wanted to be giddy - oh how she had missed these days when her brothers were first growing into their manhood - but her voice trembled on a giggle and she nearly sobbed.
"You're welcome to come with us," Edmund said uncertainly, compassion welling in his dark eyes.
Susan shook her head.
"Miss Pevensie, I'm so sorry to have to tell you this, but..."
She dropped the phone, staggering in shock, and the off-white walls seemed to consume her. Her eyes darted about the room (Lucy always perched in that velvet-cushioned chair at tea, Edmund presented her with that enchanting music box with the dancing duke and duchess last Christmas, Peter assembled that clock on the mantle...) and she fell into a chair, pressing her hands against a scream (she put lilies on Mother's grave just yesterday, they'd have to extend the plot, oh why, why wasn't she also among them?) while the tinny voice from the telephone continued to console her (Lucy, they just spoke yesterday, dear Mrs. Nesbit was right there, it must be a mistake!).
"I was the constable on scene, Miss. We'll be wanting you to identify them..."
To see emptiness in once cheeky black eyes, blood in Peter's mane, Lucy's bright countenance forever still (Oh Lucy, no!) - Susan shrieked and snatched up the telephone, flinging it as far as the cord would allow. No! No, they are not gone! They would not leave me here alone!
Gentle Peter who always met her at the train station with a beaming smile and a squashing embrace. Compassionate Edmund who never scolded her, yet infallibly flattened her arguments with soft-spoken logic. Irrepressible Lucy who could earn the respect and affection of the most grizzled cab driver. Why did you not take me with you? You could have badgered me - insisted - I would have gone just to shut you up! Why would you let me have the final say? Where was the selfish, thick-headed defiance that had rousted her temper more than once, compelling her to accompany them to a silly little service in an unmemorable parish just to earn herself some peace of mind? Where was the nagging, gabbing insistence that the disappointment would be worth her snapping tongue it if she would only humor them this one last time? I wasn't ready! How was I to know it was the last day?
Sobbing, she fell against the wall, clasping her hands against tears that poured between her fingers in streams. Where are you? My little sister? Why could I not have seen you one last time? Peter, if I had but invited you inside for but a minute, would you have stayed? Edmund... oh how could you have known? Why didn't I cherish those moments when you wished me goodbye?
She huddled against the wall, numb and shattered, until Annie Finch jimmied the lock with a hatpin and dragged her into a cab. "It's all over the town," the pug-nosed country girl sympathized, adjusting her tilted hat over golden curls. Tenderly she offered Susan her own embroidered kerchief, saying nothing about the smeared rogue and lipstick. "The train was going too fast. Half of Finchley's lost a friend in that wreck. Oh Susan, I'm so sorry!"
She didn't want to see them. Broken bodies, bits of bloody bone, jagged metal torn from the engine, corpses burnt beyond recognition, smoke pouring around the station. She would not look at the first body uncovered, for the stench of burnt flesh spoke for her. Sorrowfully the constable cupped Lucy's scorched pendant into her hands. His and Not My Own.
Oh Lucy, your soul only belonged to Him. Surely you could be no happier now, but why is such a way!
"They were together," the constable said when he uncovered the others - as if that would comfort her! Both of her brothers were broken - struck by the train as it careened off the tracks. Peter's face was mangled nearly beyond recognition, as though he had taken the brunt of it, shoving in front of his brother seconds before they were both catapulted into Aslan's country.
Heaven, Susan told herself, yet the correction rent her heart. They both believed. They are at peace.
Peace had indeed retained its beauty in Edmund's still face. Were it not for the crushed cavity of his chest, exposed for fleeting moments before the constable reverently covered the damage with the white sheet, he could have been teasing Susan, waiting until she cried sweetly before springing up and brushing her tears away. If it were only a sly trick of yours, Ed. If you would only speak to me...
Susan wept behind her hand, nodding affirmation. These were her brothers. Her sister was dead. She was alone.
Three chains were pooled into her hand. One severed, one crushed, one charred. The lockets were untouched, still displaying their holy message. His and Not My Own. In life and death, the Pevensie siblings had been one in their faith.
All except for one, Susan thought brokenly. Where was I when you spoke together about Narnia? Where was I when you reminisced stories of a white stag and a lamppost? Where was I when you left?
I am alone.
Alone she rapped tentatively on the doors of the convent, a black moth captured in mourning's grief. Alone she petitioned the somber Sister who answered her timid call. Cool, worn hands pressed against her heated cheeks, and crinkled brown eyes shared her sorrow as the Sister whispered, "You are home now, my child."
She left the house and her family's possessions to be divided by Eustace's extended family. How could she polish Mother's silver tea set without thinking of Lucy and her imaginary animal friends? How could she play Edmund's music box without remembering those clumsy, sore-toed sessions when she taught him how to dance? How could she inherit Peter's fortune, knowing what circumstances forced him to leave it behind?
There was nothing left on earth that was worthy of their memory. Susan had lived her life as her mother advised her, and now she had nothing left save to offer herself to Christ. What worth was such a sacrifice, when she succumbed only because there was no other choice?
"We are all lost without God," the Reverend Mother consoled her after the third time she was overheard crying during prayers. "I gave my fine young man four sons and two daughters. All of them succumbed to the plague. I could not even hold my children one last time; all had to be burned. My faith shall never bring them back, yet through Him I have found joy and purpose."
"What could possibly be done through me?" Susan asked bitterly. "All my life I've tried to serve Him. What more does He want?"
A wise smile spoke of one who had traveled a similar road. "You have accomplished much in the eyes of the world, dear one. When you put your head on the pillow each night, do you hear His affirmation?"
"I hear nothing!" Susan answered jadedly. Nothing but my own heart beat as I lie alone, wishing I had died with them.
The Reverend Mother did not scold her vicious retort. She merely folded her hands, her gentle, creaking voice doing little to soften the condemning words. "Will He know your face when you stand at the gate, my child, when you cannot recognize His voice?"
Cold sweeping over her, Susan asked, "Then what am I supposed to do?"
The Reverend Mother observed her calmly. Sunlight played against the wall as the clock ticked. A school child called out as a hoop clattered. A robin chirped once, its fluttering wings nearly deafening in the silence.
"Wait," the Reverend Mother said, startling Susan with the sudden rupture of sound. "Do you think I cannot recognize a soul that has been choked in the thorns of life's tangled affairs, until there is no more joy to be found in the scorched earth? You tire yourself running. Put aside this fretful spirit and find the Lord in the stillness, and you will not want for His love."
Snorting, Susan brushes a hand across her nose. "How?" she croaked. As if anything could be so simple.
The Reverend Mother smiled. "Wait."
Susan did not heed such vexing advice, for in her mind she had waited long enough. Clearly the Lord had grown impatient of her and drifted off to find some more worthy daughter who would do as she was told in the moment, and not when all else had failed. She flung herself instead into the work of the convent, busying herself with every chore they would give her. Sweeping and dusting, scrubbing pots, taking baskets of bread and vegetables from the gardens to distribute to the poor outside the door, aiding the nurse who tended those who lay ill in the streets, washing the blood out of soiled bandages, preparing tea for the Reverend Mother and Sisters before they rose for morning chapel. Around her neck she bore the dainty gold locket given to her by Peter; the one possession she kept with her, besides Lucy's Bible and the corrupted necklaces of her siblings, stowed under her pillow in a violet case.
"What precious words," spoke a woman in a threadbare black shawl, reaching whimsically for the locket before Susan drew away from her. "You are truly the Lord's child, aren't you?"
"God's grace be with you," Susan mumbled, pressing a small loaf into the old woman's hands.
She scrubbed the floorboards of the chapel that evening until her fingers were raw, and fell into bed too exhausted to wonder how she might recognize a voice so still that only the truly silent could hear Him. There was a light layer of dust on Lucy's Bible - she would have to brush it away before chapel, for there would be tears in Sister Constance's eyes if she should see it so badly neglected. In her dreams she laughed with her brothers and sister, and they were children again, dancing in a great ball room with fauns and centaurs clattering around them like merry lords.
She wept, knowing that such days would never be imagined again.
"Listen!" said Sister Priscilla, grabbing Susan's arm one morning as they plucked caterpillars from the garden plants. There was naught but the sound of the wind around them, and the call of crows against the blare of London's traffic. "Do you not sense His presence in this beautiful city, Susan? Listen how even the crows shout their praises!"
"Yes, it is beautiful," Susan said hollowly. Why can I not hear it as you do?
The train had been the final catalyst that sealed her abandonment, but loneliness had stolen into her heart long before death claimed her family. When had she been left behind?
That night she could not sleep. Flustered from tossing about, tossing the blankets back and forth, she finally lit her lamp and reached for the book on her bed stand. Lucy's Bible. The pages were worn and creased, the leather binding sealed with glue lest certain passages be lost. Sentimental, careless Lucy, Susan thought fondly, stroking the faded cover. She flipped it open, finding her bookmark that she had retrieved from her own untouched Bible before she had left it behind. The passage was in the book of Samuel, and there was a small picture of a beheaded griffin drawn in the margin. How curious, Susan thought. She let the pages flicker past her fingers, catching sight of more doodles of fauns and soldiers and animals wearing funny hats. Faded, comforting words drifted to her mind; "When he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."
Was I wrong to criticize? she thought, longing for those simpler days when she held her sister's hand at a train station, waiting for the pull of belonging. If it was truly a game, did it matter? Surely in Lucy's sight, it was still honor meted to the Lord.
Where is the Lion of Judah? she wondered, flicking open her locket to the verse Peter had inscribed inside, as though connecting for them all the bridge between two worlds. "Do not weep!" Words she remembered Edmund quoting to Lucy on a dismal rainy day, though she herself had ignored the reference. "See, the Lion of Judah has triumphed!"
Is the God of Revelations still interested in a wayward child? Susan thought, closing the Bible despondently. I run towards Him, yet He is still so far away.
"Wait." The Reverend Mother's words sprang to her mind. Could the answer be so simple? Would the Lord answer if she quieted her fretful thoughts? Yet how will He find me if I do not strive to reach Him first?
In the stillness of the room she almost thought she heard a gentle rumble answer, "Wait."
Susan did not rise with the others after morning chapel. She remained on her knees, her head covered, her hands folded and her cheeks flaming as one by one the Sisters rose and departed without her. The Reverend Mother patted her shoulder as she passed by, and Susan ducked her head in mortification. Here I am, Lord, she thought, determined not to let the awkward stillness dissuade her. Will you not speak to me?
The bells of the chapel rang. Once, twice, thrice upon each hour. The Sisters drifted in and out, each with their whispered prayers for strength and guidance in their daily tasks. Sister Prudence only knelt for a few minutes before rising, her harried stance strangely eased as she returned to her duties. Such moments of devotion Susan had never considered in her tumultuous days: surely with so many tasks at hand, to rush inside for a brief prayer would only disrespect the Lord. What does that mean for me? I have stayed here for hours. Why do I feel no different?
The bells for lunch rang, and still she knelt. Afternoon rest. The call to supper. Evening chapel began, and the Reverend Mother brought her a cushion for her sore knees. Sweet singing filled her ears, and still she heard no other voice save those of the worshipers. Her own throat ached too much to sing; were she to open her mouth, she would only burst into tears.
Chapel ended, and Susan remained in her place. Her shoulders ached and her hands twitched in revulsion for such idleness. How long must she be still before the King took notice of her humble state? The bells gonged mournfully, signalling the late hour. Lord, must I leave empty, as I came?
This is futile, her mind tortured her. The only way to the Lord is to prove that you have changed, and are worthy of His attention.
Yet when we were still lost in our sins, Christ died, Susan argued feebly. Surely she could do no more to prove her determination to serve. If the Lord would have her, He would find her here.
Night eclipsed the chapel, and she was alone. She had waited for fourteen hours. Her candle was a sorry lump of congealed wax beside her, and the chapel grew cold. Shivering in grief, Susan bowed her head. It appears that even You have left me behind.
Suddenly light filled the chapel, gentle and radiant like moonlight on fresh snow. Shrieking softly, Susan arched away, tumbling as her numb legs collapsed beneath her. Yet there was no fear, only love bursting within her as one like a Son of Man appeared, his tender eyes capturing her with such endearment that her own angry spirit could never disappoint.
"Susan, I have never left you."
Words wrapped around her in a physical crush of joy and she squeezed her eyes shut, crying into her palms. When she opened her eyes the One was gone, but a solid presence bumped into her shoulder from behind. Daring to look up, she saw the same eyes, golden and radiant with affection, in the face of a Lion. Though His shoulders rose above those of a horse, He was no more frightening than Dad after he returned from war four years past their last Christmas together. In that moment Susan remembered the stories of Narnia, of soldiers riding into battle against a wicked demoness, and the roar of the Lion who vanquished evil and brought statues back to life. She fell at His paws, trembling.
"You are mine," Aslan breathed over her, his affirmation winning her soul. "Mine and not your own."
"Aslan, Aslan!" she wept, clinging to the sense of love that seeped into the wounds gouged into her heart. "Aslan, forgive me!"
And He covered her with a Word, one that spoke louder than a rushing train and the call of a magical horn. He spoke not forgiven, but with His Word he crowned her loved.
When the light faded Susan wrapped her fingers about the necklace, sobs of relief tearing her from within. For she had been running not towards Him, but away from His goodness all this time, but now He had sprung forth and captured her and she would never doubt Him again. A song burst from her lips, the song of Narnia and of Aslan, that she once sang with her brothers and sister when the grass was green and the summers long and they ruled from four thrones.
"The Lion roars, we do not fear.
For the Kings belong to Him.
Between His paws we boldly stand.
For the Kings belong to Him.
Filled with His might and crowned with His love.
He breaks all the bonds and brings evil to shame.
For the Kings belong to him.
For we belong to Him.
The Lion roars, for He is freedom.
The Lion roars, for He is peace.
The Lion roars, for He is joy.
The Lion roars, for He is love.
The Lion roars, for He is spring.
The Lion roars, for He is life."
The melody furled to the high ceiling, sweet and pure, a lone worshiper filling the chapel with words that only the beasts and birds of England had comprehended before this day. The richness of the voice stirred the sleeping convent, and more than one nun thought for sure that her Sisters had congregated without her, for surely the peal of many worshipers accompanied this one inspired by a new song. Yet when the bells ran for morning chapel Susan was discovered alone, her face stained with tears of hope and the dullness in her eyes rejuvenated with new purpose.
Indeed, in the days after that she was found in the chapel on many a cold night, softly singing to her beloved King. She was cherished among the poor, lighting down from the convent steps to grasp dirty hands and whisper, "He loves you!" She served cheerfully, her work an extension of the love she bore for the Utmost and Highest. For she herself was loved.
About her neck she wore a trim gold locket, and in her pocket she carried three tarnished chains. There was a Bible on her bedside table; weathered by frantic fingers and many tears, with her own handwritten notes squeezed amongst the clever drawings of centaurs and Telmarine foot soldiers. No other possessions did she carry with her, and when the day came and the dear old eyes of Sister Susanna smoothed closed, her worn fingers caressing the pendant about her neck, it was said amongst the Sisters that never had a more selfless soul been carried from their midst. For her life had never belonged to her.
His and Not My Own, such beautiful words engraved upon her coffin. The young novice who looked upon them laughed. For during the night of the Sister's last breath the novice had heard singing during the night, and in the chapel alone, she had seen a vision of a young woman lighting down from a horse, flinging herself into the embrace of a young man with the brightest blue eyes and a lion's mane. Alongside them, in fine robes of blue and crimson, hovered the raven and doe-eyed sovereigns who swept up the gentle queen before she could breathe, and together the four of them knelt before the Christ. And the novice laughed, for their ecstasy was unparalleled in this world, and she would never fear for her own sense of belonging again.
For if the legendary, stubborn Sister Susanna had found her joy in the cross, then so could she.
The song sung by Susan is taken directly from Willow Dryad's story, "At the Sound of His Roar." The necklaces "His and Not My Own" are also her creation and are threaded throughout many of her stories.