C.S. Lewis owns the stories. I just borrowed a character or four.
It Should Be
The war had yet to be over. Peter still wanted to sign his name to be a soldier, and it took all of Lucy's worried scolding to stop him. Edmund had thought that Peter could handle warfare, but Lucy's tearful protest that she was more concerned about bullets finally stopped that idea. Susan had kept at her drawing, tracing out the lines in a dove that had obligingly perched on the windowsill. They didn't ask her opinion often. She was the mediator, just in case they reached a deadlock, and felt that she didn't understand her siblings any longer- not since she had started to receive letters inviting her to tea.
Peter had been confused by her careful barrage of polite letters in the months leading up to the Season, and had been flummoxed by the response. She had started and kept a correspondence with all of the local grand dames, because it was what a lady Susan's age had to do. She had weathered teasing with only a mild hint of being cross, because that was what ladies did. She wasn't going to cry because her older brother thought that she was being silly. She had waited, instead, and let him see just how many invitations had gathered. The maids brought a new notice nearly every day, inviting her (and her elder brother, should he be available) to a ball.
That should have been enough, but Peter was infuriating. After all her work- he refused to go! He instead made it clear that he would stay home with Lucy and Edmund. She had kept her composure, since a lady must always keep her composure, and walked with perfect posture back to her rooms to regard the stack of neat letters.
Lucy had come, while she still was crying, to hold her tight and tell her to go be a lady. Lucy, being Lucy, wanted a full story upon Susan's return. Edmund and Peter, being boys, didn't want to hear about the balls. They thought that balls seemed perfectly dreadful, even a waste of money while the country was at war. Susan's perfectly cultivated fingernails clenched into her fist. She had kept her arguments to herself. Once, perhaps, she had debated with them on any slight royal decision to be made- but she had been Queen. Peter had been the strongest, Edmund had always tried to be loyal enough to be worthy of that second chance, and Lucy had been the laughing young queen.
A queen might argue, and be responsible for many of the decisions of a country, but a lady did not. It wasn't seemly, and it was not Susan's part to explain to her brothers that she had to be a lady. In England, it was all she could be. She wouldn't be able to be more than a secretary or teacher or nurse, otherwise. Peter could be a soldier, or a politician, or a constable- or anything. Even prime minister, if he wished- but he had shown too much understanding when she demanded (just once) if he thought that she could be prime minister. She had been the one to do the research- but England was different.
Yes, England was different. If she wasn't to be a lady- what would she be? There wasn't an alternative plan. So, she stayed with the original venture.
She glossed over Peter's rude dismissal of parties, and instead made it seem that 'darling Peter' was indeed that sensitive to the feelings of his younger siblings. Then, of course, she expressed a few true feelings made pretty with artful pauses and frowns, and waited for the affirmations. Of course she wasn't selfish, to start learning society- she was a very clever girl, for learning so early just how to make herself a lady to small country society. She would do very well indeed back in London. Clever wives, after all, were not so difficult to marry away anymore.
She felt things changing, then. She had friends outside of her siblings, and wondered if she was selfish to spend afternoons in a horse-drawn carriage, dressed in nice clothing she bought with her allowance. She hadn't touched that money in years, and it was hers to use. Why should Peter look so disapproving? She was a lady, and Lucy thought that Susan's stories were marvelous. Lucy still listened to Peter's oft-repeated stories of Narnian wars, and repeated hers of the time she and Edmund accompanied Cousin Eustace. What did it matter that she could now understand nylons and lipstick? Once a King or Queen in Narnia, Always a King or Queen in Narnia- Aslan Himself had said it, and wasn't that enough?
Susan couldn't keep treasured memories as the first things in her mind. If Peter would not understand that she was performing the most intricate types of diplomacy and advancing the Pevensie family's reputation, then it was no concern of hers. Sometimes, however, she regretted that she had the label of gentle. She could shoot better than Peter- but had been asked to stay far from the battle. As if she couldn't have drawn her bow with the other archers who stayed far from the chaos of war! Peter and Edmund had fought. She and Lucy had softer roles. That was alright, in Narnia. That was expected. Why shouldn't she do what she was expected to do in England?
She and Peter had a fight, just once. It was when the entire family was invited to a nice dinner, with a promise for friendly topics. She had coaxed Edmund into attending, and Lucy had been quietly anticipating the dinner for ages and ages. Peter would not come, and drew her aside while she still was scrutinizing her shoes and wondering if they could do with a final thin layer of polish.
That time, she hadn't been reduced to feeling like she would crumple and die. That time, Queen Susan the Gentle had displayed an old secret. She did have a backbone. She had been quietly apologetic to Lucy for not believing the story about the wardrobe. She would admit her faults. She would not, however, allow others to attribute faults that were untrue.
He had called her many things, and she hoped that he just didn't understand. This was what she was meant to do! It was fine for him to remember Narnia, when he had been High King, but she had softer engagements to win. She had spurned Rabadash. She had been the voice of reason through political struggles. She was a queen, but without Narnia, she was a lady. She knew perfectly well that society laid out things for her. So what if her charming anecdotes weren't about Narnia? She talked about politics and current affairs and Latin translations, but that did not make her what he claimed. She still was a friend of Narnia. She was.
She was the cautious one, consoled by Aslan. She had been timid, but she had found her resolve again- and wouldn't lose it for disapproval. Peter forbid her to go to the dinner- but even he knew that he had no authority. She had waited for a moment, giving him the chance to apologize- but he couldn't. She had kept so many comments quiet, and had not been surprised when Edmund changed his mind about the dinner. Susan sent in a note of apology the next day to explain her absence, but did not mention a ride through the country with Lucy. She and her sister still were close, at least, even if all else was changing.
She was in America when Lucy went back to Narnia. Too old, too old- but she had nowhere else to go but forward. She didn't care what Jill Pole thought of her, or what Jill would tell her siblings. What did it matter, if people thought she cared only for invitations? She couldn't rely on fairy-tales all her life, and still dreamed of the damp-meat breath of whiskers that coaxed her to believe again. She believed, but she could not live in stasis and longing for Narnia. She was too old, so she would produce other diversions.
She still wondered what history would think. If High King Peter the Magnificent had been fighting giants from the northern border, and Queen Lucy the Valiant and King Edmund the Just were busy defeating the Calormene army- she could have fought, but Queen Susan the Gentle stayed home to keep charge of Cair Paravel, as if a retainer could not have done that very task. She was the prettiest, she had heard from the court poets, but she would rather be as brave as Lucy. If she had that kind of fire- maybe she would have done something to truly help Narnia, instead of sending a succession of arrows into targets to adulation from watching admirers.
Maybe she would have stood up to Peter, instead of accepting a clumsy apology a day later after the damage had been done. She supposed that she should give up the pride that made her stop from explaining all such things to Peter- but it wasn't fair, and it should be.
After that summer across the Atlantic, she was more popular than before- a lady of the age to be courted who had been to America. She was pretty, to hear people tell it, and could converse with any young man from university who thought himself far too clever. She made friends in London, and shared small stories from her childhood in the country- but began to wonder just how much of it was true. Surely, if she and her siblings had been that close and had shared an adventure of that scale, they wouldn't be drifting apart so easily. Surely she would remember more than brushes of satin and poets whispering and watching battle in the far distance, unstrung bow tight in her hand.
She had remembered again, that day on the train. It couldn't have been a dream, because she remembered tawny gold and warmth and the awe that all came with Aslan. She could see King Edmund, always so ready to help and to show his new loyalty, with a book he had found for her. She could hear Queen Lucy giggle, and protest that the singer was far too kind as she dropped coins into his hands for the inspired re-telling of the great tea-time tragedy. High King Peter, introducing her to ambassadors, explaining in no uncertain terms that she was just as influential in decisions regarding public policy. She could remember, almost, and she began to think that maybe they could connect again.
What was that phrase- what they had said in Narnia. She remembered, and could almost feel what it was like to have a hand in a mane warmed by sunlight, and horse-hooves beating louder and louder and-
Screaming. Screaming all around her, and that horrible shrill sound coming through her lips in the aftermath, with her lipstick smeared on Lucy's smart white coat. She had leaned against her sister, teasing that Lucy was getting taller, and her lipstick had smeared- but her lipstick was a dusty pink, not that garish red shade, and Lucy- Lucy was bleeding and still and cold and not at all a Queen of Narnia.
Edmund and Peter were a tangle of limbs, and Lucy had slumped against her. The train was tilted crazily, and rescuers found everyone that still lived. They let her stay with her family, and one young man let her hold onto him while she sobbed, and didn't mind a few trails of rose lipstick on his jacket. At the end of the day, she had his business card in her hand, and a phone number written on the back in perfectly normal black ballpoint- and she had parents to call about a funeral.
It shouldn't be this way. Peter and Edmund and Lucy gone, all at once, when she finally could have asked them about Narnia again. Their funeral was the hardest thing she had ever done- harder than accepting that she was too old for Narnia. Too old for Narnia- no. She wasn't. If Peter and Edmund and Lucy couldn't tell the stories, she would. She kept her chin high at the funeral, remembering how she had fought with Peter- and cried all through the reception afterwards, seeing those holes in the ground, one two three.
The gravestones were there later, after being engraved- but there wasn't enough. They should say that Peter was High King, and Magnificent- so brave and chivalrous that he told his sister to stay away from war, and that he did his best to accept both modern thought and his older ideas of nobility. King Edmund the Just- why did no one know just when her brother had become a man that everyone should admire? All credit had been given to his siblings, with Peter gaining most as the elder brother- and it didn't matter, because Susan knew that Edmund had learned to follow Peter's improbable standards and live by them. Lucy… her little sister. The Valiant, the first to believe, the strongest of all of them- how could there be a sunrise or snowflake without Lucy there to exclaim at its beauty?
She should have been the one to go. Not bright Lucy, or sincere Edmund, or brave Peter- where did they go? She hoped they all went to Narnia, against all probability, even if they all were too old- guilt and love battled, but love always came out first. She called the number on that business card, a year later, and for the first meeting over lunch to talk left aside her all-black outfits for a sweater in the rose color that Lucy had helped her choose. Lucy would have wanted to hear all about that lunch, and how the young man who had been on that train had been working up the nerve to approach her but couldn't think of a way to extricate her from her family. Lucy would have loved to hear how that lunch meeting stretched to dinner, and that there was a dinner planned for the next day. Lucy would have been delighted to see that her sister was doing something, Susan knew.
She visited the graves that afternoon, dressed in an outfit appropriate for a dinner. She didn't care that the winter would get snow on her shoes and wear off the polish, even if she was fastidious enough to check her hair twice and adjust her makeup. Lucy would understand- and maybe Peter knew, now, what she had meant to say so many times before. She still loved the snow, and could almost see that lamppost ahead of her as the flakes of snow brushed her cheeks after she emerged from the furs.
Narnia… It wasn't just a dream, not anymore. Susan closed her eyes against the falling snow. She was the only one left to tell it, after all, even if she still was sorting out just what to do. She wanted to be back there, and to see it blossom into springtime again, and feel the cool warmth of a bow in her hands. She wanted to go back home, back to where Peter had tried to balance duty with everything else. She wanted to understand her family again.
She kept her eyes closed, trusting the instinct. It was like going for a target- you knew how, if you didn't wonder just why you did. It was coming home, and she could feel the warmth at her side and feel the breath hot against her cheek.
That was all, just her name- but she understood so much. The breeze that hadn't touched a still winter day had brought scents of Queen Lucy's favorite perfume, and the sounds of Edmund and Peter in friendly sparring, and over all that the feeling of perfect contentment and a promise. If Peter was in Narnia again… he was older than she, and maybe she wouldn't always be too old for Narnia.
She brought a hand to her cheek- and just as she had known, there were no snowflakes near her collar where the warm breath had been. Aslan. She remembered, now, and she could remember that promise. Maybe that was the reason she still was in London, besides being the one to put forget-me-nots and baby's-breath and the carnations Lucy had liked better than roses in bouquets by the graves. She could be a teacher, with the right schooling. That, though, could be planned later. She did have a dinner to attend, after all- she wondered just what Peter would have said to the man dating his sister.
At the thought of Edmund and Peter deciding what threats to make while Lucy protested that they should say nothing at all, Susan laughed for the first time since Henry had been so wonderful the day before. Then, she left the cemetery, leaving a trail of footprints in the snow. She paused only once, to look at a lamppost and to wonder if the shimmering was falling snow or something else entirely- and decided that she would look later. It wouldn't be fair to Henry to be late for dinner, after all. As a queen (once a queen of Narnia, she always would be a queen of Narnia), it was her duty to show a gentle woman's punctuality.