It had been too long. Far, far too long.
Edmund, once king of Narnia, surveyed the gathering of all his old friends—and some that he had never seen before, yet felt as if he'd known them all his life. There was good old Reepicheep the Mouse, with his glossy black fur and bright eyes, and a fine-looking red feather stuck jauntily into the gold circlet on his mousy brow. After him came good old Caspian X, his hair as golden and his face as joyful as it had been the day Ed and Eustace and Lucy had gone to the Ends of the Earth. And, oh!—there were the lords Drinian and Berne, and good old Trumpkin, and Glenstorm the centaur, and even Mr. and Mrs. Beaver!
"Look!" Lucy cried, tugging at Edmund's shirtsleeve. "It's King Cor and Queen Aravis, and—why, look! It's King Lune, too!"
The two Archenlandian monarchs touched their brows in greeting and bowed low.
"Lucy, there!" Edmund said, pointing behind them. "It's Tumnus!"
Indeed, the faun that had stood by their side through every trial while still they ruled Narnia, beckoned to them from the gates of the great city.
"I think he wants us to follow him," said Peter, and together he, Edmund, Lucy, Aunt Polly and the Professor and even Eustace and Jill ran up and towards the faun. It was a great distance, but they did not seem to grow weary at all. Instead, they seemed to fly—right to Tumnus' side.
"Welcome, friends," he exclaimed, and Edmund saw that his old friend still had the red scarf tied about his neck.
"Tumnus!" Lucy cried, throwing her arms around Tumnus' neck. "Dear, dear Tumnus!"
"Hello, Lucy, Edmund, Peter," Tumnus replied with a grin. "Come along—all of you follow me! The celebrations have only begun!"
Tumnus led them through the gates and into the city, where Edmund and Peter were immediately greeted by dozens of old and dear friends. Indeed, with an odd sensation in his stomach, Edmund found himself embracing a hale, hearty, auburn-bearded young man—whom, despite the fact that Edmund had never seen him before, he still felt as if he knew him personally.
"Welcome, my boy, my darling boy," said the man with a kind smile, and then Edmund knew.
"Well met, Lord Dorovan," he replied, wringing the man's hand enthusiastically.
"It is wonderful to see you again, young one," Lord Dorovan continued. "It's been much too long."
Edmund nodded in wholehearted agreement, but as he did so, he felt a strange prick at the back of his mind, as if he was seeing a familiar figure shadowed by sunlight. His cheeks flushed with frustration as he struggled to remember their face and their name—he'd known their face and voice and smell back in England, oh how he longed to see them and touch them again. But who were they? It was as if the brightness of his surroundings somehow dimmed the memories of his past.
Lord Dorovan, who'd been watching Edmund's face, smiled such a smile that his face seemed to glow. "Do not trouble yourself, young Edmund. You won't run out of time here."
Edmund was about to ask Lord Dorovan what he meant, when Lucy's bright voice floated down to his ears: "Peter! Edmund! Come and look! Come quickly!"
Edmund's feet carried him up the stairs after Peter, and they found themselves on a stone wall overlooking a beautiful garden.
"Why!" said Peter. "It's England. And that's the house itself—Professor Kirke's old home in the country where all our adventures began!"
"I though that house had been destroyed," Edmund replied. How sick he'd felt when he'd first heard the news—pain at the knowledge that he'd never see…that very important person again, whoever they were.
"So it was," said Tumnus. "But you are now looking at the England within England, the real England just as this is the real Narnia. And in that inner England no good thing is destroyed."
Suddenly, Edmund caught a glimpse of someone waving madly at him across the valley: his very own mother and father.
"How can we get at them?" asked Lucy.
"That is easy," Tumnus replied. "That country and this country—all the real countries—are only spurs jutting out from the great mountain of Aslan. We have only to walk along the ridge, upward and inward, till it joins on. And listen! There is King Frank's horn: we must all go up."
It seemed that Edmund had hardly blinked before they were standing, in a vast, colorful crowd before a great, glowing mountain, and Aslan himself was standing before them.
"My son," said he, and Edmund realized with a start of pure joy that the great lion was speaking to him.
"What is troubling you?"
"Well, Aslan," Edmund replied haltingly, "I am happy—very happy—but I cannot seem to remember something that seems very important. Do you know what that might be?"
"Do I know?" Aslan laughed. "Do I know? Of course I know, my son. And it is a problem that can be easily put right.
"The person that you grieve for is what is called, in the Shadow Lands, as your wife, Arrania of Archenland, and your two children."
As soon as Aslan had finished speaking, Edmund realized that He was right—and the grief he felt over their loss returned in full, just as it had every day since he'd fallen back into the Professor's house. And yet, it was not the grief he was used to in old England, but a sort of charged hope. "Is she here, too, Aslan?" he managed.
Aslan only smiled, and suddenly Edmund felt, sliding into his hand, a warm, tender touch. He turned, and Arrania's spirited brown eyes smiled up at him.
"Hello, Ed," she said with a wide grin, and threw her arms around his neck. "I've waited so long to see you again."
He held her closely for what seemed like a lifetime before a sturdy hand was laid on his shoulder. He was loath to let her go, but the two young boys standing behind him begged for his attention.
"Hello, Papa," said the taller one, and Edmund realized with a shock of disbelief, that the boy with grey eyes and coal black hair was none other than his son—his Erimon.
"Hello, Erimon," Ed replied with a proud grin. But words failed him, so he turned to the other boy. He had dark brown hair, almost the color of his mother's, but his bright blue eyes gave Edmund the understanding that this, indeed, was the child that Arrania had been expecting when he'd gone back.
"Hello, Papa," he said with a wide grin. "I'm Beorn."
Edmund almost couldn't bring himself to look at the children; if his past visits to Narnia were any indication of what was to come, he couldn't bear to form a relationship with his sons, only to lose them again when he returned.
"You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be," said Aslan suddenly, and Ed turned to look at Him.
"We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan," said Lucy. "And you have sent us back into our own world so often."
Arrania slipped her hand into Edmund's, and he squeezed it tightly. The memories of all the times they'd done the same thing to punctuate jokes or poke fun of courtiers—or even just to assure the other that they were there—filled Ed's mind like sunshine fills a dark room.
"No fear of that," Aslan replied. "have you not guessed?"
Ed's heart leaped.
"There was a real railway accident," Aslan went on. "Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadow Lands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."
Arrania squeezed his hand and looked at him with sparkling eyes. "Welcome home, Ed."
And here my story must end, for the things that Edmund and Arrania and Peter and Lucy and all the others experienced afterwards are not yet for us to know. It is muted, but not silent; subtle, not hidden, just as the true identity of he who is called Aslan. In time, we may find Him—and when we do…well. That will be only the beginning of the Great Story, of which Aslan is the Author, the Pen, and the Characters.
But that story will never end.