Disclaimer: I do not own C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia or the film adaptations by Disney. I am just a poor college student with no money.
Susan could not sleep. She tossed about on her pallet, attempting in vain to find a comfortable position, but then resignedly opened her eyes. Above her the roof of her and Lucy's tent glowed a faint blue, the trees above casting deep indigo shadows onto the smooth canvas. She breathed in and out slowly, mind turning over the events of the previous day.
Her bruises and scrapes became painfully apparent as she recalled the long battle for the throne of Narnia--her right arm ached from its near constant tension on her bowstring--her wonder at seeing Aslan after giving up hope of his return, the euphoria of victory, the jubilant feast afterwards.
Ah, the feast, that must have been what kept her awake--too much wine and too many sweetmeats. She, her siblings, and Caspian had dined at a high table erected hastily in the shadow of Aslan's How, but had not remained upon it long. They, with Aslan, had strolled among the victors, toasting individual triumphs, consoling those who had lost loved ones, and dancing ancient Narnian dances around a roaring fire that was constantly being fed with the shattered trebuchets and wagons of the defeated Telmarine army. To the Pevensies, these rituals conjured memories of their days as the Kings and Queens of Narnia, when the halls of Cair Paravel were lit from dusk to dawn, good food and wine flowed in abundance, and their cherished friends made raucous music on all kinds of strange and beautiful instruments.
Susan had collapsed a bit tipsily beneath a tree at the edge of the celebration to catch her breath (but even the trees murmured amongst themselves, their boughs shivering with an uncontainable joy at their freedom from centuries of sleep) and had been there a full ten minutes before she realized she was not alone. Even further away from the firelight a stone-still Caspian faced the dancing without seeming to be actually watching it. His gaze was cast inward, a brooding expression carved across his features. He was not aware of Susan's presence until she cleared her throat. Caspian blinked and shifted his eyes to her reclined figure.
"I did not realize you were here, Your Highness." He said unnecessarily.
Susan considered him before replying. Nearly all of her words to the Telmarine prince had been of war strategy, planning--useful conversation. What else could she say to him now that all the advice she and her siblings had to offer had been given?
"You are thinking of what Aslan has told you."
Caspian inclined his head. "How could you know?"
"When Aslan speaks, one could spend an entire lifetime pondering his words."
"When his eyes were upon me, I felt as I had never felt before--shamed into a smallness and wretchedness in comparison to him."
Susan watched Caspian battle inwardly with himself for a moment, then beckoned him to sit nearer. The prince padded slowly across the grass and then sat stiffly down; she still intimidated him somewhat, this legendary young woman who had leapt from the pages of his professor's history books into living flesh.
"I always envied Lucy for how easily she put her faith in what she cannot see, what is illogical by all reason." Susan watched across the fire as Lucy bent to speak to Reepicheep, her cheeks flushed with excitement from the revelry and genuine delight in conversing with the amusingly gallant mouse.
"Queen Lucy is much like my Professor Cornelius, then. Aslan was a story to me, nothing more, until I saw him with my eyes and felt the terror at his roar." Caspian said slowly as his eyes fell upon the great lion.
As Susan recalled the memory of her conversation with Caspian she understood why slumber had not touched her. What would dawn bring? She and her brothers and sister had fulfilled their duty to Narnia. She doubted that Aslan would have them reinstated as the monarchs of the land--had not they returned merely to ensure Caspian brought renewed prosperity? And even when they ruled Narnia well into adulthood, had not Aslan returned them to their own world not even a minute older then when they had first left it through the wardrobe? Clearly he meant for them to live full lives in England.
Yet Susan could not shake another feeling growing deep within her, one she had yet to identify. Her life in England was far from satisfactory, with war all around and pessimism gripping the country. Oft times she had wondered at the point in continuing her education, when at any moment a bomb could put to ruins elven years of schoolmarms' strict lessons. Susan remembered with relish her years as a queen--the horseback rides through wild countryside, fierce yet honorable battles, tournaments, feasts, dancing, the suits from handsome kings…
Susan shook her head at her own musings. No, Aslan would surely return them to their own world in good time. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep.
The next day Caspian, the Pevensies, and the triumphant army entered the Telmarine city in full court dress, riding beautiful horses through a shower of flower petals. Behind Caspian Susan and Peter rode abreast through the cobbled streets, bestowing gracious smiles to the awestruck Telmarines. As they crossed the bridge into the castle Peter leaned over and murmured in Susan's ear.
"What did you and Caspian speak of last night?"
Susan blushed, but did realize that Peter asked out of genuine interest, not brotherly teasing.
"What else but a queen's advice to a new king?"
"I suspect King Caspian will be up to his neck in advice for a while. You should have spared him, Suz." Peter grinned--now he was teasing.
"Well, I suspect he is fully wearied of yours."
Susan guessed she had touched a nerve, from Peter's expression.
"It all turned right in the end, though, didn't it?" He said, a bit defensive, and pulled his horse forward a few steps and out of speaking range. Susan regretted her words and kneed her mount to match Peter's pace.
"Oh, Peter, I'm sorry."
"It's all right Suz, we all learned something different this time." Peter said quietly, but they completed the rest of the parade in silence.
There was another feast that night in the castle. Caspian provided female courtiers to attend Lucy and Susan, who found Telmarine royal robes to be slightly different than those of Narnia's golden age. The pretty, dark-haired, olive-skinned ladies assisted the girls with the pins and tassels of their gowns, and then wound up Lucy and Susan's hair into elegant coifs.
This feast in the Telmarine castle consisted of considerably less revelry and much more groveling, Susan thought, as yet another vassal came forward and proclaimed his life in service to the new monarch. Caspian seemed visibly uncomfortable as well; these men only a day before had been in charge of the legions of Telmarines that had killed so many of their friends. Caspian accepted their fealty with grace, but Susan sensed, almost as heat, the indignation emanating from the dark-featured young man seated between her and Peter.
At the conclusion of the banquet the Pevensies and Caspian retired to the newly crowned King's private chambers for wine and conversation free from the eyes and ears of the court. Professor Cornelius also joined them, a rich velvet cap on his head signifying him as Caspian's most honored high advisor.
"Those traitors think they can win me with honeyed tongues, that I will forget so easily their behavior under my uncle's rule!" Caspian stormed as he paced before the hearth, crown held in a white-knuckled hand.
Cornelius sat calmly with his fingers folded over his round belly, clearly used to his young charge's occasional outbursts.
"His Majesty will forgive them. And trust them."
"How can I trust them? When every man there has ever looked to further his own interests?"
"When you make your interests theirs."
"He's right, Caspian." Peter added.
"And you're bending your crown, the one so carefully wrought by your friends the dwarves." Susan said, indicating Caspian's vise-like grip on the golden circlet.
Caspian looked down at his hand and then up at Susan, who drew in a sharp breath. While his anger was quickly subsiding, the glance he had thrown her way was still hot with his rage, and--something else.
Susan felt her cheeks begin to flush and scolded herself. That thought was ridiculous.
The moment between them seemed to go unnoticed by the others in the room, for Cornelius continued on calmly, "Yes, put it away Your Majesty." He cleared his throat. "Tomorrow you will visit the armory and stables and treasury to ensure Your Majesty's inheritance due as King was not spirited away during your uncle's rule…"
Caspian collapsed onto a stool by the hearth and nodded distractedly at his advisor's instructions, resigned to put away his righteous indignation for the time being. After all, just remembering the joy of the past few days was enough to fill him with contentment. He had discovered that the creatures from the tales of his childhood were warm, breathing beings willing to fight and die for his cause. The very champions of old had come at his call to win him his throne. Aslan, the great lion who defeated Winter and Death itself had stirred the hairs on his head with his powerful breath. He had beheld incredible wonders, faced trials, and emerged a hero.
"Your Majesties, I think it is time we retire." Cornelius' voice broke the young king's thoughts. "We are all weary from today's events and poor Caspian has had much with which to come to grips." Cornelius rose, as did the rest of the party out of respect. He bowed to each of them and took his leave. Peter nodded towards Caspian as he and Edmund exited towards their sumptuous chambers just down the corridor from Caspian's; Lucy bobbed a curtsey and smiled warmly; Susan merely considered Caspian from beneath long lashes. She was the last to leave. Caspian watched her go, a peculiar expression written across his face.
The moon rode full in the Narnian sky, sending strong beams through the Telmarine castle's large mullioned windows. A lone figure roamed its hallways, sleep still eluding her.
Susan informed a sleepy Lucy that she needed some fresh air before bed, and had been wandering the meandering passages for half an hour. It was not the marble palace that had been Cair Paravel, but the Telmarine fortress revealed a strange elegance alongside the austerity of its construction. The windows were tall and proud with occasional fine examples of stained glass; the flagstones on the floor were laid in intricate diamond patterns, and the heavy carved wooden furniture exposed the Telmarines as a majestic people with humble beginning to a triumphant rise to power, and a strange affinity for seabird's wings, despite the castle being located several leagues from the ocean.
Susan rounded one corner and halted, transfixed. She had come upon a gallery of sorts; along one long wall ran a series of tall windows that let in broad beams of moonlight; in front of them, twenty or so crowned marble effigies cast black shadows onto the stone floor. A fine veil of dust hung illuminated in the beams of light that still could not reach a high vaulted ceiling.
She walked quietly before the first statue and looked into what had to be the first Telmarine king's face. She could not read the name etched into the marble of his pedestal, but imagined this king to be the first Caspian; certainly not all of the kings had been Caspians, since out of the twenty sovereigns the Caspian she knew was only the tenth, but Susan felt for certain that this man, with his strong brow and determined chin, had been a Caspian.
Susan walked slowly from statue to statue in reverence. Peter had called the Telmarines in so many words barbarian invaders, and while a few of the faces were unquestionably cruel, these kings were clearly admired and venerated by their people. She recalled trips to the Tower of London with her schools--the artists that had painted her country's monarchs' portraits had done so with the same care and attention to detail as had these sculptors.
As Susan approached the last statue, she found herself to be, once again, not alone. Before his father's effigy stood Caspian X. Directly mirroring his father's profile, Susan was struck by how Caspian appeared almost a statue himself: there was the strong brow, the focused gaze, the protruding cheekbones. The dusty moonlight washing over his face made it seem carved out of marble as well. Then he blinked and turned his head in Susan's direction.
The two shared a long look, Caspian's expression barely changing. Susan was suddenly aware how loud her breath sounded in the vast hall.
"How have you come to find this place?" Caspian asked, breaking the silence at last.
Susan drew a long breath. "I could not sleep. I just found this place by accident." She suddenly felt as if she had invaded something very private. "I'm sorry." She turned to go, but Caspian reached out and caught her hand.
"Do not be sorry." He let out a small grin. "Besides, these old men have not seen a pretty woman for hundreds of years."
Susan felt her cheeks redden, and was glad Caspian could not see for the dim light.
"Why could you not sleep, Your Highness? Is the chamber not to your liking?"
"Please, call me Susan."
Caspian blinked, then inquired again, voice soft.
"Why is sleep eluding you, Susan?"
Susan took a step away, pulling her hand from Caspian's. The feel of his rough fingers was too distracting. She looked up into the pitch-black expanse of the ceiling and bit her lower lip. No, she could not tell him the real reason.
"I was thinking of old Narnia, when I was Queen."
"What was your Narnia like? I have only been told the stories and seen the pictures in books."
A dreamy expression came over her face. "Oh, wonderful. The mermaids would swim below the parapets of Cair Paravel and serenade the great state banquets. Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and I had a great fleet of ships and would sail as far as the Lone Islands in search of adventure. Oh, and there were suitors, when I got older."
"Suitors?" Caspian asked with mild interest, but Susan thought she heard something else (dare she think jealousy?) beneath his voice.
"Oh, yes," she returned her gaze to his with a smirk, "but none of them handsome enough to encourage especial interest."
"How unfortunate for them."
They exchanged a playful laugh before lapsing into silence, watching the moon climb higher through the arched windows.
"Susan, I wish to show you something." Caspian said at last.
"What is it?"
"You must come with me and see." He offered her his hand. Susan looked at it for a second, and then allowed him to grasp hers firmly, leading her through a narrow door and into a small passageway. Susan thought with some amusement what her mother might think of her roving through the night with a young man unchaperoned. The passage tapered, and then a steep set of stairs loomed out of the darkness. A few sparse torches lit their steps as Caspian led her around and around up a tower that seemed never to end. Her calves and thighs were beginning to burn as he slowed his pace. Susan looked up and saw that they had reached a narrow landing. Caspian fumbled with a set of keys and then opened a heavy wooden door.
Susan stepped out moonlight so strong she had to blink. Caspian led her to the edge of the balcony, and as she peered over its crenellated edge, she saw that they stood atop the highest tower. Caspian stepped from her side and unlocked a wooden chest near the door. She could not see what he extracted from its depths until he turned around, cradling a beautiful bronze telescope.
"Oh!" She gasped as he began to assemble the instrument on a sturdy wooden tripod.
Caspian grinned with pride. "Professor Cornelius brought me here to study the heavens. Tonight is not a good night to see the stars, with the moon so bright, but I could not think when we would have another time."
Susan felt that irritating blush in her cheeks again--to think that Caspian had planned this.
"Lucy would have loved for you to show her this. She--" Susan had to stop herself from saying that Lucy was a part of the astronomy club at her school. Caspian was not fully aware of how things worked in her world, and she did not feel like trying to explain it. Though, she imagined, Caspian would probably be thoroughly fascinated were she to do so.
"Lucy has a special love for astronomy."
"Would you like me to fetch her?" Caspian asked seriously.
"I think she is already sleeping."
"Another evening for Queen Lucy, then." Caspian said serenely, and adjusted the eyepiece on the telescope. "Professor Cornelius seems to have set it to accommodate his eyesight." He bent and peered through the lens until he deemed it ready, then stepped aside. "Your turn."
Susan stepped up to the telescope gingerly, bent, and squinted into the glass. She smiled to herself. The sky was one thing that definitely gave Narnia away--the stars were closer, brighter, and much denser here. Caspian had pointed the telescope towards the rising constellation that the old Narnians called Fledge, for its shape resembling the legendary flying horse Aslan had created on the First Day. The star that formed Fledge's eye was actually a bluish nebula, and peering through the telescope Susan could discern the twinkling blue cloud clearly.
"How lovely," Susan declared, rising.
"Professor Cornelius told me that it is Fledge's blue eye that leads sailors home towards Narnia when their adventures at sea are over."
Susan smiled. "He is correct."
Caspian leaned towards her and bent his head to the eyepiece. He stared through the telescope for a few moments, then rose and studied Susan's face with a strangely solemn expression.
"How long do you think Aslan will allow you to stay here--" he caught himself, "… in Narnia?"
Susan looked down at her feet. "That is for Aslan alone to know." As she traced a line in the stones with her toe Caspian's boots appeared in her line of vision. She looked up, and was startled to see an intense gaze directed at her from his dark eyes.
Caspian held her eyes for a long time; neither of them moved or scarce breathed. At last he blinked and stepped away. "Forgive me."
Susan slowly became aware of her senses, as if emerging from deep water or a powerful enchantment. She fought the urge to sit and instead grasped the edge of the parapet.
"Are you ill?" Caspian asked, concerned. He moved to step to her side but Susan shook her head. She still had her dignity.
"I think it is time I at last went to bed."
Caspian took a step back and nodded respectfully. "It is growing late."
Susan waited for him to put away the telescope, followed him back down the dark stair, through a corridor, past the hall of the statues, and a shortcut across a private courtyard until they reached the door to her and Lucy's chambers.
But before he would allow her to disappear and nurse her wounded pride in private, Caspian took her hand and raised it to his mouth. Susan shivered as he brushed warm lips against the sensitive skin of her hand. "Thank you for your company this evening, my lady," he lowered her hand, but still held it firmly in his grasp, "I hope to enjoy it again."
Susan nodded, then curtsied awkwardly. "Good night."
She waited until she could not hear his footsteps anymore before turning the handle and vanishing into her room. Lucy's light snores were welcome--they were familiar and comforting, unlike the confusing cocktail of sensations now rushing through Susan's mind.