"Are we all ready then?" asked the Professor, taking a seat at the head of the table.
"Yes, yes, come and sit down," said Jill, putting a steaming plate in the middle the table. It was their last night at Polly's house, and she had cooked a celebratory supper for them. Eustace and Edmund eagerly took their seats, and Lucy set a pitcher down before sitting next to Eustace. Peter sat next to the Professor, smiling. "It looks wonderful."
"Enough looking then," Polly said, finally sitting herself. Eustace started to reach for a plate of bread, but Lucy interrupted, saying, "Shouldn't we say something first?"
"You do it, Lucy," said Jill.
Lucy blushed, pink creeping up her cheeks. "No, I think Edmund should speak. After all, he used to be the one, when we lived at Cair Paravel."
"Good idea, Lu," said Peter. The seven friends held hands. Edmund cleared his throat and began, "We are grateful for this time we have spent together, and we honor and remember those we have known and those who are not here. We have been brought together by the grace of Aslan. May he continue to guide and protect us." There was a moment of silence, but then it was broken by the sound of sniffling. They all turned towards the sound.
It was Polly. "Aunt Polly!" Jill exclaimed. "Whatever is the matter?"
"Well said, Edmund," she said, wiping her eyes. "And I'm going to miss you all so much when you leave tomorrow." She sniffed again.
Peter reached across the table and patted her hand, but the Professor said, "Oh Polly, don't be so silly. The kids aren't leaving forever." He tried to make his tone harsh, but they could all hear a hint of sadness.
"Of course not!" they all exclaimed. "We'll be together next holiday, won't we?" said Eustace.
"Absolutely," said Edmund. "Now, we must get to this food, before I go mad with hunger." They all laughed, including Polly, and it was one of the merriest meals that any of them could remember. Edmund and Jill exchanged stories (most of which were about Eustace), while the Professor and Eustace talked about politics and what was wrong with the ministry. Polly was telling Peter about her upcoming trip abroad, and asked him about his parents and Susan. It was one of those meals that happens when an entire family sits together, where the noise rises though the room, and laughter is heard above all. Only Lucy sat quietly, taking in the conversations around her.
After everything was cleared, Polly got the tea ready and everyone moved into the parlor. Lucy had disappeared, so Edmund went to see where she had gotten to. He found her in her room, looking out the window. "Everything all right?" he asked when he opened the door.
Lucy looked around quickly. "Yes, Edmund, everything's fine," she said. She quickly went to the desk and began gathering up some of her things. "I just had a bit of packing left to do. I wouldn't want to make us late for the train tomorrow."
"You've been quiet all evening," he said. Lucy just shrugged. "In fact, you haven't been yourself since the whole business with the door and the ring ended last week."
Lucy suddenly froze. She slowly looked over at her brother, and saw that he knew. Suddenly she was telling him everything, all that she had seen and heard and felt after she had touched the door. "I was there, Ed, honest I was. It was so real. I could feel it, and then I heard Aslan. I heard him, Edmund." Lucy bowed her head, and looked at her hands, which she had clenched together. "What do you think happened to me?"
"I don't know," he answered truthfully. "The Telmarine said you had come under its spell. Maybe a part of you did go through the door."
Lucy looked up, frightened at the idea. He thought Lucy looked like a very little girl, and it unsettled him. "I don't know what to do. I disobeyed. Will Aslan forgive me?"
"Lucy," said Edmund softly, "I don't even think that was Narnia. And besides, Eustace says you barely touched the door with your fingers. You never left."
"You don't understand," Lucy whispered. "Even if I was pulled away, I still made that choice. I would have done it! I wanted to go!"
He was afraid she was going to cry, something he could never handle well, even when they were grown-up and kings and queens in Narnia. Now Edmund looked at Lucy a bit sternly. "Enough of this. We all want to return to Narnia, Peter and me and even Susan, if she would ever stop running about enough to admit it. It was a terrible temptation, and any one of us could have tried for the door. You are sorry for it now, aren't you?" Lucy nodded. "Then that is all that matters."
But Lucy still didn't look convinced. "I was so afraid that he was there, and what he would do. And then I thought of you, and Peter, and how you would be so ashamed."
"Ashamed?" Edmund said in surprise. "After everything we've been through, how could I ever be ashamed of you, Lucy?" She smiled a little then, and Edmund breathed a sigh of relief. He went to her and hugged her close. "You all forgave me once. I think I can return the favor."
She squeezed him tightly, and he kissed her cheek. "Now do come downstairs and have some fun. It's our last night all together, after all."
When they returned to the parlor, everyone was sitting together, discussing what had become of the old man and his grandson. "As I was saying," the Professor continued as Edmund took a chair, "Polly and I saw hundreds of pools in the wood. They could be anywhere. That spell seemed very unstable."
"But it didn't look like a terrible place," Jill said. "I mean, it wasn't dead, the way you described Charn."
"If that was Narnia," said Eustace, "then I'm a Marsh-wiggle!"
"Of course it wasn't Narnia," Jill replied. "It didn't feel like Narnia at all. But I hope that wherever they are, they are safe. The clerk turned out to be not so bad of a chap after all."
Polly made a face. "At least that old man is out of our hair. What a terrible houseguest! I don't know how in the world you were able to be so kind to him, Lucy!"
"I wish I had been here," said Peter. "But it certainly sounds as though you all did a jolly good job of handling yourselves."
"Jill and Eustace were tough as nails," agreed Edmund.
Eustace huffed. "After handling giants and an evil witch on our own, I think we ought to be able to handle one bad apple! Those Telmarines didn't seem so horrible to me." Peter and Edmund simply looked at each other and burst out laughing. "Of course you're right, Eustace," said Edmund. "I don't know what we were thinking."
"Regardless," said the Professor, "I cannot wait to get all of those things from the warehouse home and compare them to the rest of my collection. It's fascinating, all that he found! I just wish I had had the chance to speak with him before he disappeared."
"Don't worry, Professor," said Lucy. "He may show up again one day."
"Well I for one certainly hope not," said Polly. "You all must promise me that next time we are all together, we'll have a proper holiday and not all this running about and fighting and such."
They all agreed. Then Jill said, "Then you won't be trying to open up any doors of your own, Professor?"
"Certainly not!" the Professor exclaimed. "The idea is tempting of course—("Too tempting," Peter interjected)—but it is much too much trouble. More trouble than it's worth." He sighed. "But I suppose we're no closer to discovering the mystery of how we traveled between worlds. If the Telmarine managed to do it, maybe there are others who have! There could be many more people out in the world who know our secret."
"If there are," said Edmund, "we'll find them in good time."
The talk went on late into the night, until the Professor was nodding in his chair and Polly announced it was time they all had best be getting to bed. She kissed them all goodnight, and they managed to get the Professor awake enough for him to take his own leave. The boys decided to stay up a bit longer, but Jill and Lucy went up to the little room they shared. The two girls laid in their beds, whispering to each other about their adventure, and about Narnia, and where the Telmarine may have ended up. Finally, their whispers faded away, and Jill listened to Lucy's deep breathing until she finally fell asleep.
That night, Jill dreamed about a tall man, not much older than Peter. He was dressed in everyday clothes, but he wore a shield bearing the Narnian crest and had a long sword strapped to his side. The man seemed very happy, as though he had found a great treasure. He was walking through the woods, accompanied by an old man. But the old man seemed to have more energy and strength than his looks would have revealed. She dreamt of them all night, but when she woke the next morning, she could not remember her dream. But when anyone ever asked her, she would say that she knew whatever the dream had been, it was a wonderful one.
A/N: Coming to the end of a fic is always so bittersweet. I wrote this piece because I wanted to explore why these eight went to Narnia, see what happens when characters who don't normally interact get a chance to do so (like Edmund and Jill, or Eustace and Polly), and to see if I could write an adventure just as fun that was not set in Narnia. I hope that I succeeded with this story.
I must say thank you to everyone who took an interest in this fic. Your messages, suggestions, criticism, and ideas helped more than I can say. I feel very honored to be a part of such a great fandom, and a community of such great writers and lovers of fan fiction.
As for me, I have a few things in the works, that will (hopefully) be started this week. In the meantime, I started writing a series of essays on Narnia and Narnian fan fiction. You can check the first two out through the links in my profile.