CHAPTER 26: A Memory to Cherish
"Narnia Evenshire!" The old woman shouted. "Where are you?"
"We're no longer in Narnia!" gasped Toulouse, leaping out of the chest. "Hurry! We've got to…" He looked at Nia. "By the Lion, Nee, you're young again!"
Nia hurriedly stood up and looked at the nearest mirror. She was a girl again. Her hair was as messy as ever and her clothes were English.
"We've got to go back," said Toulouse, jumping back into the chest.
Nia was about to follow when the door opened.
"There you are!" cried Mrs. MacReady. "I've been looking all over for you!"
Mrs. MacReady… The Professor's house… Everything came rushing back to her… The memory of a beautiful summer day in a very large house. Apparently, in the sixty plus years she'd spent in Narnia, time hadn't passed at all in this world!
"Skulking around the Professor's office!" Mrs. MacReady sounded indignant. "Shame on you, Narnia! Professor Kirke will be very angry!"
Professor Kirke! He'd be able to help her get back! Of course… This was his house! But where was he?
"Breaking the glass Plato…" Mrs. Macready was saying. "And the priceless suit of armor, too."
"What armor?" she found herself saying at last. Her girlish voice sounded strange… Very strange. She remembered breaking the darned glass bust, even though it seemed such a long time ago. But what was that suit of armor The MacReady was talking about?
"And you dare answer!" Mrs. MacReady thundered. "Come with me, you little chit! Just because you're a duchess doesn't mean you'll get special treatment! Go to your room and think about what you've done, young lady!" And with that, she grabbed her roughly by the arm and dragged her out of the office.
At the corner of her eye, she saw Toulouse climb out of the chest and follow them.
"Narnia Evenshire!" Professor Kirke's eyes were wide. "Are you sure?"
"As sure as we're here in front of you, sir," said Edmund. Lucy was weeping silently and Peter was staring out the window, tears streaming from his eyes. Only Susan and Edmund were stable enough to talk to the Professor.
"But… Why is Peter ... like that?"
"He and Nia were engaged to be married when we…" Susan made a sweeping gesture.
"Then I must assume that she entered the gateway to Narnia almost the same time as you have. Tell me her story."
"We've got to sneak back into the office," Nia whispered to Toulouse a few minutes after the MacReady left them. "We can't stay here. Ramon's bound to be looking for us."
"What? With the MacReady on the prowl?"
"We'll just have to avoid her." She stood up, fluffed a pillow, put it in her bed, and covered it with a quilt. Then, she opened the door, looked left and right, saw that no one was there, and signaled for Toulouse to follow. She locked the door from the inside, and they made their way to the office, with Toulouse often sneaking ahead to look of any of the servants were around. Once, Ivy (one of the servants) was about to meet them in the corner. It was lucky they'd been able to hide in the tapestry.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, they reached the office.
No one was there.
"So… do we wait for Professor, or do we return on our own?" asked Toulouse.
"Let's try this by ourselves first," replied Nia. She lifted the lid of the chest and clambered inside. Toulouse jumped in after her, and she closed the chest. She waited for a while.
"On the count of three, Tou," she whispered a few minutes later. "One…two… three!" She gave the lid a push.
It wouldn't budge.
"We'll do better if we talk here," said the Professor, opening the door to his office. The Pevensies filed in.
What a good funeral party we'd make, thought Susan wryly as she sat on one of the armchairs. Lucy sat on the floor, and so did Edmund. Poor Peter, who was still reeling from their sudden departure, took a seat on the large antique chest by the window and looked into the courtyard. He was yet to speak a word.
"You see, Helaena Evenshire was a very close friend of mine," the Professor began. "You can imagine how upset I was when she and the Duke… passed away."
Susan nodded dumbly.
"Now, when Lena died, I thought of what I could do for her poor daughter, Nia. And so I decided to…"
"That's Narnian wood, isn't it?" Lucy asked, motioning towards the chest Peter was sitting on. Trust Lucy to interrupt something really important.
"Ah, yes," said Professor Kirke. "When I visited Narnia, I brought back an apple, the seeds of which I planted here. The wood was later used to make the Wardrobe, and that chest."
"Interesting," said Lucy, her eyes wide.
"She's gone," Peter said suddenly. He turned his face towards them. Susan could see his bloodshot eyes… He really was taking Nia's loss hard.
Everyone was quiet. All that was to be heard was a dull, thumping sound and a muffled "Help!" which seemed to be coming from…
"The chest!" cried Susan, hurrying towards it. "Peter, what are you doing? Open it!"
It was getting really hard to breathe. And it was infernally hot in that godforsaken chest, too!
Nia pounded mercilessly at the lid.
"Help!" Toulouse yelled. "We're stuck!"
Suddenly, the weight on the chest vanished and someone from outside lifted the lid.
Nia found herself looking at the face of someone she hadn't seen in a long, long time. He was a but younger than when she first saw him in Narnia, of course, but it was still him.
Peter couldn't speak. It was Susan who rushed forward to help her up. Her face was a bit red, and she gasped a lot.
But it was her. And the sight of her gave life to his shriveled heart. He never thought he'd see her again… Never… He pulled her to him and hugged her tight.
"I missed you!" he said, tears falling into her unruly hair. "I swear to Aslan, I missed you!"
"I missed you too," Nia whispered back, then broke away and stared at him. "You were here all along! And the rest of you! And you never came back!"
"I'm sorry, Nee." Peter said. He didn't know whether he ought to laugh or cry. His tears were falling, anyway. "I mean I…"
"It's alright, Peter." Tears spilled out of her eyes, too. "It's alright now…"
"We just came back half an hour ago!" exclaimed Lucy.
"Actually, I returned here at… almost the same time! I just returned here so I could go back to Narnia and," Nia gestured sadly at the chest, "I suppose the way's closed."
"But we have to get back to Ramon" said Toulouse urgently.
"Who's Ramon?" asked Edmund.
"My heir – Cor and Aravis's younger son."
"You became Queen!" squealed Lucy in delight!
"Yes, and they called her Narnia the Wayfarer," said Toulouse, who'd leapt out of the Chest right before Nia climbed out.
There was a commotion after this. Edmund began asking about Narnian politics, and Lucy wanted to talk about the people of Narnia; Susan wanted to know about the social scene, and Peter was mainly concerned about what had happened to Nia after they left.
"Wait!" said the Professor loudly and suddenly. Then, he smiled warmly at Nia. "Nee, tell us your story, right from when you first entered Narnia."
"It's a long tale," said Nia, after disentangling herself from the Pevensies. "After all, sixty-three years is a long time."
It was a year later, Nia had just returned to her school after summer break - a co-educational boarding school called "Experiment House" (Uncle Nicky decided to send her there a year ago because he and the Professor thought it was the only school worthy of Nia's intelligence). It was interesting there, actually. The teachers challenged Nia's mind and pushed her to the limits of her intellect.
The only problem with Experiment House was the students. Nia had never met a more cynical group.
To be sure, Experiment House accepted very few students, and fewer than ten managed to graduate every year. It was a good school. Nia just wished the people there were friendlier. And a lot less cruel to animals, too! Toulouse very nearly became a guinea pig for Adelaide Poe's investigatory project!
Nia spent the summer in Finchley with the Pevensies. Oh, it was a fun summer! They played archery and hide and seek! Mr. Pevensie came back from the Army, much to the surprise of everyone.
Best of all, Nia and Peter had renewed their vow of love. They agreed to wait until both of them had stable jobs before they get married. They had a lifetime together ahead of them, and they were still young, after all!
The Pevensies were probably in their way to school by now. Nia (who was sitting on a bench by a pond at the back of the school) smiled at the thought of little Lucy going to boarding school for the first time.
It was nice, sitting here by the pond. Here, no one would disturb her while she recalled her years in Narnia. She wondered what Ramon was doing? Was he a good king? She knew he was. She wondered if Aravis was still alive. She wondered how King Ram fared as King of Archenland (he ascended the throne a year before Nia returned to England). There were a lot of things she wanted to know… She wanted to return to Narnia. At first, she found it hard to accept that she couldn't come back, but now, she'd sort of accepted that Aslan had other plans for her. But deep in her heart, she knew she would return home – for Narnia was her home now. In Aslan's time, she would return.
Besides, Peter was here, and that was more than enough consolation.
"Will's coming," whispered Toulouse, interrupting her reminiscing. Nia turned to see her cousin Will striding across the lawns towards her. He was a tall, lanky young man with a mop of red hair, and he was her only human friend in this school.
"Telephone call," said Will. "It's your friend, Susan. Says it's urgent…"
Nia was running back to the school before Will could finish his sentence.
"Su, what's up?" she asked the moment she reached the receiver at the Administrator's office.
"Nia, we've just come back from – you wouldn't believe this." Susan's voice sounded very excited (the fact that it was palpable was remarkable, considering that she was calling from somewhere halfway across the country). "We've just returned from Narnia!"
THE END… (of this story, anyway)
Author's Note: A big THANK YOU for all those who've read and/or reviewed my story, For Narnia. It's been so much fun doing this story, and now it's done. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all! Cheers!
P.S. Watch out for the sequel, coming soon!