Worlds in Dream
The Known Place
The war had started out simply enough for Bill Pevensie. He hadn't been among the first of the eager young fellows who flocked to enlist, but he'd been among the second tide of them; no longer a rash young boy, he was a man with a family, and he'd needed to think the thing through before he went ahead with it. He hadn't been proud of it, exactly, but he'd felt it the right thing, and Maura had backed him staunchly, as Maura usually did.
"You do what you think best," she had said quietly, when he had first raised the subject, "and you know I'll be behind you all the way."
The next morning he had gone out directly after breakfast, and got in the queue at the recruitment office. When he returned home and his children crowded round him, wide-eyed, staring at their father in his strange new uniform, he had managed to pretend that he was doing nothing more or less than a bit of travelling. He would be back as soon as he could, he reassured them all, and then they would be able to talk about the things the little family had done while he was away.
"Will you tell us all about what you've done, too?" Lucy had asked, one little finger timidly tracing a shining brass button on her father's coat. Bill had kissed his daughter's nose, and changed the subject. Not a week later, he'd been on his way to France.
In France, things didn't stop being simple, but they were the worst sort of simple imaginable. There was mud, and there were guns, and there were men who lived and men who died. There was nothing else. It was the ugliest sort of simple he had ever seen.
The only time things got a bit better was at night. At night, he was far away from everything that had happened in the day, for at night, he dreamed of home. He didn't flatter himself that he was unique in that respect; he rather thought most of the men around him were doing much the same. But there was something about his dreams —something strange, something different— that made him feel he might not be in quite the same boat as the others.
They had certainly started ordinary enough; the usual things, the nightmares, the thought of losing everybody. He lost count of the times he imagined he had come home only to find them all dead, Maura stretched over their children, trying to the last to keep them all safe. He sometimes dreamed he was back with them, too; the four little ones crowding round him, not so little anymore, their faces alight as they bubbled over with news of their still-childish adventures, of the games they'd made in the garden, or the secrets they were bursting to share with him. These dreams were the first of the lot, and these were mere supposals; they were nothing more than snatches, glimpses of memory blurring into might-be, the way ordinary dreams are. There was truth in them but there was fiction too, and it was all as normal as could be.
It was about a week after he arrived in France that they began to change.
"Swing me, Daddy, swing me! Swing me up to the sky!" Lucy demanded, and with a laugh he lifted her effortlessly over his head, twirling her around until Maura, half reproachful, half laughing, had told them to go wash up for supper.
"More later, darling, all right, then?" he had smiled at his disappointed daughter, his hand carefully, clumsily smoothing the fair, tousled curls. "There, now, don't pout so! There are plenty more where that came from, I promise."
That one was the first of them; the first of the dreams that had actually happened. The first of the real memories.
"Am I doing it right?" Edmund hunched over, his brow furrowed in concentration as his father oversaw the wielding of a knife. A small, wooden boat was taking shape under the careful strokes of the gleaming blade.
"That's it, Son; not so much force. Don't push it, or you'll lose control; just guide it, and . . . there, you go," as a smooth, pale pine curl spiralled down from the dainty craft.
Lucy had professed herself delighted with the toy, and had sailed it in her bath every Saturday night until at last the unvarnished wood became so waterlogged it simply sank, and refused to float again.
It went on that way for some time, each of the dreams something solid; something real. Each dream was something that had already happened, and it felt, as he dreamed each one, that they were happening all over again.
"Susan, darling, it's lovely. Isn't it beautiful, Bill?"
"It's a fine piece of work; you made it yourself, pet?" he asked, handling the tobacco pouch with care. Susan, blushing, flustered and pleased with the praise, as she always was, said that she had.
"Happy birthday, Dad," she murmured, kissing his cheek, and Bill knew better than to spend too long exclaiming over the embroidered leather pouch; Susan embarrassed so easily.
They were only dreams, he knew, but at the same time they were so much more. They were memories. They were things that had happened to him. They were a window into the life that seemed a world away, the world and family that too often seemed to belong to another lifetime. They had been something to look forward to at the end of the day; they were the only good thing he had left to him. Men were dying all around, but at night, as he slept, he could see them still.
"Dad . . ." Peter, pale and solemn, trying to be grown up about it but looking so very much a little boy. "Do . . . do you know how long you'll be gone?"
Bill and Maura Pevensie didn't lie to their children. "I don't, Son."
Peter nodded, just once, and drew a quick, sharp breath. "All right," he said quietly, and that was it. Bill, knowing that a hug would likely break them both, instead rested one firm hand on his boy's shoulder.
"Look after your mother, Peter," he urged quietly. "She'll be strong for the four of you, but . . . she'll need somebody to be strong for her, too. Can you do that?"
And Peter, his chest suddenly expanding with the warmth of responsibility —Peter had always done best when he'd had things expected of him— had vowed that he would. Not once did Bill doubt it was a promise the boy would keep.
The dreams hadn't come in order at first; certainly not in any sort of chronological fashion. They were mixed-up glimpses of the life he had left behind, the recent often preceding the distant past. One night Edmund had shown up, skinning his knee and wrenching his ankle after he had fallen out of the rotten old apple tree at the foot of the garden. The next, Maura had been a bride of seventeen, her eyes wide and cheeks unnaturally pale as she and her husband faced each other at the front of the church.
Wisps of hair had escaped the knot at the nape of her neck, curling about her face, softening it. He nearly reached out and brushed them off her brow from sheer habit, but with an effort he held back. The strain was telling on them both; his hands were cold, his mouth dry, and Maura's delicate features were writ with uncertainty. Her tiny chin firmed when she saw he was watching her —so stubborn, that was one of the things he loved best about her— but her eyes, green and clear and normally so bright, so unabashedly Maura, remained wide and shadowed with apprehension throughout the ceremony.
"William Richard Pevensie," the vicar intoned, in a voice so thin and reedy they'd had to strain to hear him at all, "will you have Maura Elizabeth Hughes as your wife, to live together, as God has ordained, in the holy state of matrimony? Will you love her, cherish her, honour and protect her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her, as long as you both shall live?"
God alone knew how he'd made his mouth form the words. His throat had been painfully parched, and he knew he must look twice as scared as she. But he looked into her eyes, and he drew courage from the fear they shared. They were so young; he knew they were young. He knew they might even be too young to do such a grown-up thing. But he also knew he loved her more than anything. He knew if he didn't have her for his own, he would regret it for the rest of his life.
They would make this work.
His pillow and cheek had been damp the next morning.
It was shortly after that night that the dreams began to change again. They retained the same vivid feel, as if he were there, looking on, but he was no longer a part of them. He was an observer only.
"She can't mean it; Peter, she can't." Susan, almost as pale as Maura had been on their wedding day, crept into the boys' room late one afternoon. Edmund wasn't there; only Peter, sitting on his bed and looking almost as strained as she. "Please, tell me she won't do this."
"She'll do as she thinks best, Su," Peter shifted, looking uncomfortable. "I know it seems like some great, terrible thing, but–"
"But nothing! There aren't any buts about this!" Susan looked as close to wild as she ever had. "Peter, she's sending us away! First Daddy left, and now Mum's sending us off, too. To the country! To stay in some place with some horrid people we've never met, people we don't even know . . . What sort of family can we possibly be if we're scattered all over the place?"
Bill had never seen his son look so scared or alone, but in the face of his sister's distress, Peter would not give way.
"The very best sort we can," he said quietly, and without further preamble he pulled Susan to him, and let her cry.
He had wondered a bit about it the next morning, dreaming about things that hadn't happened, and what it meant and all that, but a war doesn't let you wonder things for long. Before an hour had passed he had forgotten it, and it stayed forgotten until two nights later, when the next one came.
"Margaret says there isn't going to be any tea today," Edmund stomped through a door Bill didn't recognise, into a room he had never seen before. It was long and low, with four large windows and sensible furnishings. It looked a very good, safe sort of room for children. "Betty couldn't get any sugar at the shops, nor any tea; she got there too late, and it was all gone."
"It's this wretched rationing," Peter decided, but his sister was not so charitable.
"It's not the rationing, it's Betty; they shouldn't send her to run the errands," Susan said primly, looking up from the book she held on her lap. "Betty's so distractible, she's late for everything. Naturally everything was gone by the time she got there, she dawdles so."
"Oh, come off it," Edmund's scowl deepened. "You're only saying that because you heard Mrs Macready saying so."
"Well," Susan sounded, if possible, even more prim than before, "she does. She's terribly slow. Whenever Betty waits at table, we sit there for ages. The Professor fell asleep last night just waiting for her to bring out the pudding!"
"He didn't," Edmund said, purely for the sake of being contrary. Lucy, who was plopped down in a chair so large that her little feet barely reached halfway to the floor, squirmed into a posture as upright as she could manage in order to protest.
"He did! I heard him snore!"
"Yes, well, you've been seeing lots of things that aren't there, haven't you?" Edmund jeered. "So who's to say you haven't been hearing things, too?" And with that he stomped from the room again, so he missed seeing Lucy's little face crumple pitifully as two big, fat tears squeezed out from the corners of her eyes.
"I'll go have a word with him," Peter said grimly. He got to his feet and went after his brother, leaving the two girls alone in the room. Lucy was still crying.
"Oh, now, Lucy, really," Susan sighed, setting aside her book and going to cuddle the smaller girl to her, "you mustn't take it to heart like this. You know he's only doing it to upset you."
"I know," Lucy sobbed, "and it works." And she pressed her little face to Susan's blouse, and wept for a good long time.
Bill awoke from that particular experience with a jolt. It was the most unique dream he'd ever had, as vivid as a film but set in a place he had never seen, and he wasn't sure what to think of it. He might even have spent some time mulling it over, but the morning after he dreamed it they went over the top, and lost over half their company on the field before noon. They then spent the rest of the day in bone-breaking, muddy retreat, and he had collapsed onto his bedroll that night a shaken, wretched remnant of a man, feeling less than a shadow of the one he had once been. Dreaming had been the farthest thing from his mind.
Thinking about dreams, however, is not only way to have them; not ordinary dreams, nor even the strange, confusing sort of dreams he was beginning to have now. So it should come as no wonder to anyone to hear that on that night, not quite two weeks after the dreams first began, Bill Pevensie dreamed about his four children again, and they were the strangest, most confusing and enchanting dreams he'd had yet.
A.N.: Not sure exactly how many parts this will have to it; it's just something that sort of occurred to me, and as it was a good way to put off starting in on the longer fic I'm plotting, I thought I'd see what I could make of it! This won't be anything too terribly long, but I'd say there'll be at least three parts left to come, possibly four. Time will tell!
Up next: The New Place.