This Other Eden 6/25/07 6

This Other Eden

I don't own Narnia or the Pevensies or anything else created by C.S. Lewis.

Note: It seems unlikely that Aslan would really have dumped the Four Monarchs unceremoniously out of Narnia without a word of explanation the way it says at the end of LWW. My private theory is that Lewis was still new at Narnia himself and on some level still thought of LWW as an E. Nesbit kids' adventure, like The Five Children and It. So he just finished it off tidily without realizing that the life and dimension he'd given his characters merited a lot more than this pat windup. (He rectified things in later books, so all is forgiven.) My take is to assume that Aslan told the Four at least once and more likely several times over the course of their reign that one day they would return to their childhoods in England. I also think that Aslan meant for the kids not just to "know" him in our world but to put their long years of growth and training to good use. So here's my view of the day after Narnia. I envision the Professor's house as somewhere in Shropshire, close to the Welsh border. Apologies to any British readers for details of landscape, fauna, and dialogue that I get wrong! Apologies to everyone if the formatting goes south again. And fervent thanks to Elecktrum for all advice, wisdom, and cheerleading.

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Solitude was an easier way to take in this strange world, fifteen years removed from anything Peter remembered. He had been prepared for this crossing, as had the others. Through the years of their reign, the four had been reminded by Aslan that they would someday return to England. But to be sent from one instant to the next into a world, and even a body, that Peter had long left behind seemed to have numbed and emptied his spirit. All four of them had reacted similarly. Each had retreated into a separate space in or near the house, seemingly unable for the moment to deal with the presence of another person.

It wasn't misery, exactly, Peter decided. Even bereft as he was, he held to himself the strong pull of Aslan's promise that they were still in the Lion's keeping, and that they had a job to do. Knowing that, Peter was able to feel like himself even now.

The black sky glistened with stars. Peter no longer remembered the shapes or even the names of these constellations. The night air was so quiet. Now that he was back in England, dim recollections of motorcar noise had surfaced in his mind, and he anticipated it with distaste. But here in the deep countryside, with wartime rationing sending nearly everyone back to bicycles and pony-drawn carts, the Professor's house was swallowed up in rural stillness. The air, though not so fragrant as Narnian air, was unblemished by petrol fumes.

Peter lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the grass--something he would never have done in his first childhood in this country, Londoner that he was--and let the place seep over him. He had often done that in Narnia, but he thought the feeling of the air enveloping him like a cloak was unique to Narnia, which was bound to him by Aslan's covenant.

Yet here it was in England.

Gradually, he became aware of the small rustlings that told of voles and other night animals on the move. They would not answer if he called out to them, but even these mute creatures comforted Peter, making him feel as though some echo of Narnia could be found here.

After a while, Peter rose to his feet and went inside.

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After the first day, the four of them came together. They didn't communicate except in isolated phrases at first. Even Lucy, resilient both as a child and as an adult, managed no more than a half-smile. It was strange to see her so young, and Edmund also. Edmund, whose voice had changed back, barely spoke at all. They were like butterflies turned back into caterpillars, all larval gracelessness after having tasted flight. Thank goodness they were in this together.

Peter's first dream came that night. He was back in Cair Paravel, with his brother and sisters and their companions of all species and races. The air was filled with an orchestra of conversation: Otters and Beavers, Lynxes and Foxes, deep resonant Centaurs and silver-voiced Dryads, every pitch of Birds….

When Peter awoke, the feeling of being in Narnia ebbed away slowly, leaving him with only the ceiling to stare at. In the afterglow of the dream, the sense of having been ripped away from his true land was as fresh as it had been at the moment of his return through the wardrobe. But the consolation of Narnia's presence was equally intense. In balance, Peter reflected, if he could return to Narnia in his dreams, he could endure exile.

That afternoon, as the four of them picked at their lunch, Peter said, "I dreamed I was back there last night."

Everyone else seemed to stop moving. Then Susan said, "So did I."

"Me as well!" said Lucy. Her eyes brightened. "We were in Cair Paravel…"

"…with everybody," finished Edmund.

Lucy put into words what they were all feeling. "Wouldn't it be nice if we could dream that way every night."

Another shared dream did come that night. They were riding south to Archenland, accompanied by Oreius and most of the Parliament of Birds, and numerous other citizens of Narnia. Sunlight washed across the procession, gilding the manes of the horses and intensifying the colors of the banners and the garments and the birds' plumage. Then, in the distance, they heard the roar of a Lion….

The third night, Peter found himself in what he thought was an unfamiliar part of Narnia. Then he realized that this place was not in Narnia at all. He was standing outside in a night lighted only by stars and a lustrous full moon. The stars were different but oddly recognizable… they were, in fact, the stars that shone over the Professor's house.

Peter seemed to stand at the top of a low rise of land with his brother and sisters, but they were not alone. Other people were nearby, some dressed in the manner of Earth's distant past, others in more modern clothing. Some were obviously poor, others rich, some young, some old. One of the oldest looked at the four Narnian exiles and said, "You are needed here."

The sound of that dream voice opened Peter's eyes. Instantly awake, he sat up in bed. So clearly had the voice imprinted on his mind that he half expected the speaker to be standing in the room with him.

For the first time since his return, Peter had an urgent sense that he ought to be doing something. It was almost like being pulled by a magnet. He got up and dressed quickly. When he turned to the other bed, he saw Edmund wide awake, looking up at him. "Come on, Ed," he whispered.

Edmund didn't even ask what was going on. Likely he had had the same dream and felt the same call. While Edmund hastened into his clothes, Peter walked silently down the hall to see whether the girls were waking up. Lucy, already dressed, met him at the doorway of the girls' room. Peter reflected affectionately that she was always first off the mark at times like these. He leaned into the room. "Su? You coming with us?"

"I suppose," said Susan. He could hear the smile in her voice. He started down toward the ground floor with Lucy, knowing that the others would soon be with him.

When they were all outside, in the cool air of a late summer night, they walked to the rise behind the house. There they stood, under the moon's silver, with the stars in attendance.

Into Peter's mind came the awareness of the entire island of Britain, from its heart to its rim. The level green lands of the South, the rocky peaks of the North and West, the cities and the farms, all crowded through his consciousness. Old stories he had absorbed from his childhood murmured softly across his memory: Somerset, once called the Summer Country, where a rogue king captured Queen Guinevere untold centuries ago…high, rocky Cader Idris, rumored to render anyone who stayed through the night into either a poet or a madman…the Fens, where Alfred the Great hid from the Danes and eventually rode out to rescue Wessex from their grip…Sutton Hoo, where an entire longship was buried ages ago to form the tomb of a Saxon lord…forests all a-whisper with frogs, foxes, otters, badgers, hares…rivers that carried their ancient Celtic names long after most of the hills had forgotten theirs….

Peter realized that he was bound to this land of marvels and layered time nearly as firmly as he was to Narnia. They all were.

A rustling sounded nearby. Lucy touched Peter's arm, and he looked where she pointed. A pair of foxes, dim burgundy in the moonlight, crept forward. Behind them were a squirrel and a hare, seemingly unafraid of the foxes. An even quieter whisper of movement sounded from the air, and Peter recognized the flight of some kind of owl. Almost by reflex, he took off his cardigan and wrapped its around his forearm. He extended his arm, and the owl landed on it, curling its talons near his wrist as a goshawk would perch on a falconer's glove. Golden, unwinking eyes stared at him. Peter almost expected the owl to speak. But it merely uttered a whistling call. Like all owls, even in Narnia, it couldn't move its eyes, so it shifted its head to look at each of the four. Then it pushed off into the air and was gone.

The other animals turned and darted off, each kind in a different direction, as though some temporary safe passage had been enacted between predator and prey.

Peter stood with his fellow sovereigns. They had no rank or importance in Britain, but Aslan had promised that they remained Narnian monarchs. In what way would they be asked to serve this land? Peter was no wiser about their mission here, but now he was sure that they had one.

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This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise…

This precious stone set in a silver sea…

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this

England.

Shakespeare, King Richard II