disclaimer: narnia is the intellectual property of c.s. lewis. also, this bit of fiction is strictly movieverse. i have only read the lion, the witch and the wardrobe and am only vaguely familiar with the novel prince caspian, so apologies for any inconsistencies!
summary: In a dusty room in a Telmarine castle, far from the inevitable future, a young prince and former queen collide.
As far as evenings went, it was a lovely one. The bruised sky seemed to hang low in its dome, low enough to touch or fall into, bearing down on the remote horizon with a steadily oppressive weight. The dying embers of the sun, daylight's final sacrifice, burned low and surrendered to the swelling tides of night while haloed clouds moved hearselike across violent medleys of indigo, coral and crimson. Like the brutal aftermath of a madman with a paint brush, or -
Leaning against the stone frame of the the portcullis, just outside the deserted courtyard, the dark-eyed prince of the castle instead thought of blood. Somehow the unsettlingly - savagely - beautiful dusk seemed appropriate.
But it was calm. He noted how still it was out here, a plunging contrast to the raucous castle feast he'd furtively excused himself from... perhaps a moment of silence from every spirit in every tree and breeze that gave witness to the grave libations of love and blood spilled on this land. The air felt like the hushed prelude to a storm but Caspian also knew the true tempest had passed at long last. In that at least he found solace, indeed had to remind himself whenever he felt fragile in his own sense of reality.
Content to surrender his eyes to the sweeping vista and his head to swollen thoughts, he let his weary gaze slip past the kaleidoscopic clouds that gathered like mourners against the warring heavens. The sounds of revelry ebbing indistinctly across the courtyard seemed to reach him from another world; it suddenly caught up to him how very, very tired he was. Simply standing there half-braced against the battlement walls felt like an epic bout with gravity. And though he vehemently wished it weren't so, he was having no small amount of difficulty getting and staying into the spirit of the festivities.
He knew it wasn't for a lack of understanding his country's need to celebrate; to mourn and rejoice and exalt in what they'd fought and innocents had died for. A covenant with tomorrow, an elegy to things lost. He would not deny this to his people. And yet, in some strange way, he felt unable to face them, to place himself among them when he still knew so little of their ultimate sacrifices or desperate dignity and nothing at all of what he could give them now.
Still, tomorrow and for the next half-century he would be their king - mother and father to the country of Narnia, every life, not his own but his to protect.
Caspian received the hollow pang of unease and melancholy like an intimate friend, watching the skyline as if it held needed answers. The jagged black silhouettes of the distant trees cut like teeth into the powdery horizon; the very sunset itself seemed to be held captive in the jaws of a terrible beast. The young prince closed his eyes and formed his hands into loose fists, defeated the brief but powerful urge to walk away.
The absurdly simple question filled him with a numbness he couldn't explain.
If anything was absolute, the throne would soon be his. But no one, certainly least of all Aslan, had mentioned so much as the following day's weather. What of the sovereigns of old, the kings and queens of the Golden Age without whom peace would remain an impossible delusion? It cannot be His will to... Surely he could not do this alone. What of the kingdom, the Narnians, these courageous, wounded souls to gain their salvation only to face abandonment yet again? What of the great Lion himself?
Perhaps it hadn't yet crossed their minds, though he knew this wasn't true. Perhaps it was propriety in a time of celebration. Perhaps they simply didn't know. Not for the first time by far - and he knew why, had known since the beginning - he suddenly thought of blue eyes and red lips and felt his heart clench for a different reason. Another helpless ache he was no stranger to, but one he cherished as if it would free him.
Exhaling slowly, he squared his shoulders and ran a hand through floppy chestnut hair still damp from his bath. He'd wandered out here some time ago to partake in the stoic peace of the faraway mountains, hoped the heady oxygen would help him recapture the fugitives of his mind that taunted and evaded him in spite of - or perhaps due in part to - the pungent wine Dr. Cornelius had wasted no time in generously plying him with throughout the evening. That must have been almost two hours ago. As the sky bled and darkened steadily, he wondered if the absence of their future king would be missed for much longer, or if he would ever shake this sick sensation of a fever dream.
With a final, somber glance at the skyline, Caspian at last pushed himself from the edge of the rampart and turned to re-enter the enclosed courtyard. Stalling was no longer an option and, for all his reservations about sovereignty, he did not want to let his people down.
He had entered the dimly lit corridors, mind fatigued and spirit troubled, when something strange came upon him that he felt no compulsion to fight. A sudden tranquility, nothing less than what he'd been pursuing all night, and an inexplicable pull towards... something. Pace unhurried, he suddenly turned opposite to the celebrations and let his booted feet carry him further in that direction with the steady strides of one with a destination in mind. Though unsure of what he sought, he knew he'd recognize it when he saw it.
The prince soon found himself in a completely different wing of the castle, dark except for the watery moonlight that cleaved a bright square in the hallway near the south end. It came from the only open room in a corridor lined with heavy mahogany doors that was in fact, Caspian realized as he approached, Doctor Cornelius' study. Strange. He always kept it closed, often bolted. Of course that had been during times of devastating tyranny, before the return and triumph of the true Kings and Queens of Narnia...
He was just about to pull the door shut when something - no, someone - caught his eye.
He wouldn't have noticed her had the half-moon not been illuminating the white shoulders and dark cascade of curls. Turned slightly away from him, she stood unmoving at the center of the room and closely examined something on the table before her: an open book with an arrow embedded deep in the pages. A rapt expression stilled her face. As he moved his gaze, he realized it was one of the many worn volumes about Old Narnia Doctor Cornelius had furtively educated him with.
He ventured a few steps into the room, watching her slowly wrap her hand around the arrow and examine it closely as if it had pierced flesh and not pages. He couldn't help but admire the slim angle of her wrist, the delicate strength of her fingers as she gripped the shaft and hesitated for half a moment before carefully tugging it loose and smoothing her free hand over the yellowed pages as if to heal and comfort. Drawing even closer, he was unaware he held his breath until he released it the same moment he gently brushed her bare shoulder with his calloused fingertips.
There was a sharp intake of breath, the caress of dark hair against his chin as she spun around - the scent of lavender briefly tickled his nose - and then her upturned fist by his tensed neck, grazing his jugular with the cold tip of the arrow. The sudden revelation of sharp iron at his throat sharply jarred his awareness but he remained motionless, nonthreatening, and quick recognition opened her eyes wide before she dropped the arrow on the table behind her with a clatter.
Stunned, Caspian fell back a step. "My apologies. I didn't mean to startle you. That was stupid of me." A heavy pause. "Are you alright?
"Caspian! I - yes -" Looking slightly embarrassed, Susan bit her lip and lifted a hand to caress her own neck, the same one that had just been poised at his in threat. "You scared me."
"Sincerest apologies." A rueful smile. "Though I could say the same of you."
She returned the smile, a natural, fleeting gesture utterly disarming in its ease, and he found himself momentarily captivated by those lips and crinkling antique-marble eyes. "Sincerest apologies." Her voice relaxed, the slightest bit teasing. Taking the moment to ease himself against the table, he leaned against the edge and peered at her curiously.
"I came in because I saw the door open." A veiled question.
"You know, I just..."
She must have expected the inquiry but still seemed unable to answer. Trailing off, she instead turned her attention back to the dusty tome on the table behind her and traced the faded images with a finger as if in explanation, an elaborate illustration of four young kings and queens, marred only by the ragged puncture left by the arrow. Her voice was quiet when she spoke again. "I still find this all very strange, you know? To read about yourself as if you were dead... but to the people here, I suppose we were."
"They love you," Caspian said with no hesitation. "You are their Queen."
Susan shook her head. "You're their king. You're our king."
His voice lacked bitterness as he said, "I am no king from the legends. Perhaps that is what they need."
"Aslan believes. We all believe. I... I know you will rewrite history."
There was something about the way she spoke that made him wonder what she was leaving unsaid. Something in his gut twisted - those eyes were suddenly hard to look into. "I am one man," he finally said, voicing what had been running through his head like a mantra all evening.
"And we four children."
"Narnia needed four. You are what they need now, Caspian." She said this last part in a voice that made him lift his gaze to her again, and this time he was helpless to look away.
"There will never be another Golden Age," he murmured, drowning quietly.
The words fell from the Susan's lips before she had the chance to consider them and she found herself slightly surprised to hear them. "Nothing ever happens the same way twice."
Caspian stared at her. "Is that so?"
"Queen Lucy the Valiant may have taught me a thing or two." The young queen's smile was again brief but radiant.
"Queen Lucy has always been much more than meets the eye."
"Nobody was - is - more deserving of a place in Cair Paravel than Lucy."
"Is that what you really think?"
The briefest pause, a flicker in her expression. "Sometimes."
His voice was tender as he told her, "You are a gift to these people."
Her response was to finally look away. Had he offended her? The future king dragged his fingers through his hair, placed his elbows on the table in a decidedly un-kingly fashion and paused, gazing at her until she met his eyes again. The sudden, slightly knowing smile on his face made the young queen feel shy, which irritated her, but she looked resolutely into his dark eyes. "If it's not too presumptuous of me, may I ask why you are absent from the feast?"
Lips quirking, she held his inquisitive stare. "I'm about as absent as you are, Prince."
"Well, I..." Scratching his nose, he shifted his weight against the table. "I needed air."
"So you came to this dusty old library?"
"After I got air, yes." He grinned at her. "Nobody noticed. The crowd was beginning to make me sweat."
That smile; he wanted to see it again and again. "I guess you could say the same for me," she said. "That, and I was curious from the start. This place really is quite wonderful."
"Isn't it, though?" Caspian gazed fondly around the high-ceilinged room. "I used to play here often. It hasn't changed a bit... see here," he said suddenly, making his way to the northern corner of the room. There, tucked between two shelves, was a very large round table draped over with a plain cloth, actually quite easy to overlook in the curtain-like shadows. It rested at a slight angle, not quite level with the floor.
"This used to be in the dining hall," he told her. "I ate my meals on this as a child. After one of the legs broke" - he lifted a corner of the linen to show her - "father wanted to have it chopped into firewood. I wouldn't have that. So he allowed Doctor Cornelius to keep it here, just for me. Look, I carved my name here..."
Susan giggled at the childish scrawl, 'KING CASPIAN X THE GRATE', while Caspian merely smiled ironically at it. Then, lifting a corner of the drape, he suddenly vanished in a haze of dust that made the moonlit air seem to sparkle - the young queen raised the edge of the coarse cloth after a moment of hesitation and peered inside with arched eyebrows. She found the prince sitting cross-legged beneath the table, an impish smile playing on his lips. It was so large he could sit at ease with a comfortable distance between his head and the tabletop despite his height, and it certainly wasn't difficult to see the young boy he once was. "If the lady will join me," he said, extending a hand.
She laughed and accepted it, surprising herself by greatly enjoying the sensation of his warm, rough fingers around her much smaller ones. The thick linen fell back into place behind her, obscuring the moonlight. It took several seconds to adjust to the sudden dimness, and she realized he had not released her hand.
Caspian shifted, his knee making contact with her own. His thumb gently stroked across her pale knuckles. "You know," he began, in quite a different tone. "As a boy, I would be pretend to be in the cabin of a ship on the stormy sea. If I imagined hard enough, I could hear the wind in the sails and rain beating down on the deck. But I would be here, safe and sound." He lifted his dark eyes and met her gentle gaze, his expression inscrutable. "I always wished for someone to weather the storm with."
"Had you no playmates?" Susan's voice was wistful, lilting.
"No. I suppose I had a very lonely bringing-up. I had no siblings and the servants' children were never allowed in my company. Doctor Cornelius was my dearest friend, a second father to me, but there is no substitute for other children. You are..." He paused. "You are very lucky, you know, to have been blessed with such wonderful kin."
"Yes," she said without hesitation. "I would not trade them for the world."
"For that I envy them."
The young queen blushed, which Caspian was gratified to see, but her composure did not falter; her piercing marble eyes were steadfast and he supposed it was just another thing he loved about her. She was a true queen of Narnia.
"You know," he began, and he hadn't planned on this but he quickly plowed on because it felt right, "This gown belonged to my mother."
Susan looked down at the powder-blue silk dress she wore and smoothed the pale, rippling silk. There was a look of wonder on her lovely face. "I had no idea. One of the maids brought it to me earlier this evening."
"I know," he said gently. "I told her to."
She fell quiet again and Caspian's first thought was to apologize, though not sure how or for what. But when he opened his mouth to say something, she finally murmured in a voice so soft he wasn't sure at first if it was meant for his ears, "It's beautiful, Caspian." His name sounded perfect on her lips; his breath caught unexpectedly. Her small hand, still enclosed in his, moved as if to withdraw but she instead entwined her fingers with his, warming his chest.
"That's why I wanted you to wear it," he said, suddenly aware of his heartbeat as he often was in her presence. "It... it fits you perfectly, you know. My mother was petite like you."
"Tell me more about your mother."
"Well..." And he hesitated. When was the last time anyone had asked him this, if ever? "She died when I was very young. I must have been around ten years old."
He squeezed her hand gently. The index finger of his free hand traced slow, absent-minded circles on his crossed leg, as if rummaging through a drawerful of treasured memories.
"She was ill for most of my childhood but she never looked sickly. I think she tried to keep herself beautiful for my sake, and she was. Even when she left us, she was beautiful.
"She read to me often. Stories. Thrilling ones. Beautiful ones, tragic ones, all her favorite ones. It was something she and Father often quarrelled over. He thought it was rubbish, that it distracted me from other studies and training. He said it made me soft."
Caspian stopped speaking and gazed at Susan with eyes that looked black in the muted light. "Those stories were all I had. But I remember little of them. I was very little when she died. I can hardly recall her face."
"You will know her when you see her again," Susan found herself saying from a place she had never known. "She is your mother and she loves you."
The prince gave her a curious look but said no more. He shifted slightly, again closing the minute space between their knees.
"Oughtn't we get back to the celebrations?" she said suddenly. "They might worry."
And he smiled at her genuine concern. "Doctor Cornelius knows me well enough and just about the entire Narnian population is crammed into that room. We wouldn't be missed." He wasn't at all sure if that was true but was now past caring. Besides," he added, struck with a sudden inspiration, "who's to say we cannot celebrate here? Wait here.
Amused by the exaggeratedly perplexed look on her face, he slipped from beneath the table and crossed the room to Doctor Cornelius' desk. It took less than a second to find what he sought; he grabbed the wrought-silver ewer from the tabletop as well as an empty pewter chalice that accompanied it. He knew the old tutor often enjoyed a drink or two while working and always had a full flask of fine wine on hand. He carried these back to the old table and re-situated himself beside the young queen, perhaps closer than before. "This is Doctor Cornelius', but he won't mind," he explained, taking great care in filling the burnished goblet with the deep garnet liquid. "But I've only one of these. If it pleases you, we'll share."
"That sounds fine." Susan accepted the chalice from him and raised it in toast. "To Narnia. Long live King Caspian the Tenth." She drank deeply and passed the vessel to the prince.
"To the beautiful Queen Susan the Gentle, who mustn't forget: once a queen in Narnia, always a queen." His voice was solemn. He tipped back the goblet and dragged his sleeve across his mouth in a rather un-royal manner, missing the sudden look of melancholy upon her face.
They passed the chalice back and forth wordlessly for several more minutes, enjoying the warmth of the wine that seemed to spread from their bellies to their limbs. A spell had fallen upon them, time had slowed, a kind of lush, shared quiescence in the young prince's private realm from another life. Caspian could almost hear the waves and the wind again; he couldn't help but wonder if the rest of world truly existed. This was far realer to him, and nearer.
The sound of his name broke the hypnotic silence. Susan had spoken, her voice little more than a sigh. "Caspian," she said again, "I... I'm not intruding, am I?"
"What do you mean?" He set the empty goblet down and stretched his arms above his head, or as much as he could without raising the table. The rush of blood made him dizzy. Or was that the wine?
"Well..." She re-crossed her legs, quietly struggled. "I suppose... you know. Your memories. Your childhood. This room. I did enter without permission."
As Caspian leaned closer, his hand unexpectedly found her face, thumb gently grazing her cheekbone. Then he moved it, tucking a silky wisp behind her ear as if it were the most natural thing for him to do. "This is my home, Queen Susan, and for as long as you remain here, yours."
Her beautiful eyes were searching. "For as long as I'm here," she murmured, almost to herself. "Then the generosity of your offer depends on just that, doesn't it?"
"Susan - "
"I'm leaving, Caspian."
He stared at her wordlessly. "I don't understand," he said, not wanting to.
"I don't think I quite do myself. But I'm not staying. I know I'm not."
"That's absurd. Narnia is your home. They... we... need you." I, he couldn't say
"They don't," she replied. "This new age is yours."
"What if I said it could be yours, too?"
"I don't understand," she echoed.
He moved his head just so and she fell silent. Her eyes followed his. When his gaze flicked to her lips for just an instant, he knew that she noticed. Suddenly he felt exquisitely vulnerable, realized there was very little he could ever, or even wanted to, hide from her.
"Caspian," she said so quietly he thought he might have imagined it, and he then knew she knew exactly what he meant.
He kissed her then, haltingly, and she received him with a tender urgency that nearly broke his heart. Her mouth was soft and yielding against his own, her body unguarded. As he wrapped an arm around her waist to pull her closer to him, her tiny hand fluttered to his jaw.
Then they moved apart slowly, as if underwater. He stared at her, her upturned face no more than finger's width away from his own, her breath warm and hushed and tasting of wine, her cheeks as red as her lips. He felt a curious sensation twisting in his gut, something close to grief - here she was, more beautiful than anything he'd ever hold in his arms again, but she wasn't his. She wouldn't be, he realized, because he somehow knew she was right, perhaps had always known and didn't want to give in. His only regret now was that he hadn't done so sooner.
Before he could speak, she had kissed him again. His senses filled with her. Lavender. Wine. He quickly became very aware of the willowy frame beneath the silk bodice and in spite of himself, he stirred.
"Susan," he murmured against her lips but she barely heard. Her hands traversed his torso as if to memorize, then entangled themselves in his dark hair. As he grabbed the back of her knee to maneuver around his waist, his mouth found the rapid pulse in her neck which he bit gently; she gasped, then arched helplessly against him as he slowly bathed the heated mark on her skin with his tongue.
Her voice was ragged, soft, urgent as he'd never heard it but wanted more of. "What would you have me do, Caspian?" Knees planted on either side of him, her long dress had hitched to mid-thigh. His hand had moved up her knee - she swore she could feel every callus on her feverish skin.
Caspian looked at her, then gently took her wrists in his hands and dropped his weight. She fell against his chest, her unbound hair falling in a heavy curtain around their faces. All she saw was him.
"I would have you be my wife," the prince told her, with a certainty in his voice that both thrilled her and shattered her heart. He brought her hand to his mouth; he placed a tender kiss on the inside of her wrist. "You would be my queen. You would share my throne."
He turned her hand over, kissed her knuckles. "My bed."
His broad hands caressed her face before pulling her down to meet his lips again. "The rest of my life."
Susan's throat constricted - she opened her mouth to tell him it was impossible, but what she managed was a shaky sigh. It shocked her to realize how much she wanted it herself, with every fiber of her being, every ache in her soul.
"You can't leave me," he whispered, his lips brushing against her exposed collarbone as he spoke.
"I could never," she told him.
They fell asleep like that, legs entwined together, the velvet of her skin against his lips and the hum of his heart beneath her hand. Morning would fall, and frantic calls would draw them from the room.
"Next time," he'd lie, he'd hope, knowing there wouldn't be.
She would kiss him again - he'd smell the lavender in her hair before the tree took her dry-eyed from his arms to a place and time far from Narnia, his land. Her land.
For the rest of his life, he would remember the girl with the dark hair and red lips who looked so beautiful in his mother's dress.
Back home, in her bedroom, school satchel turned on its side and uniform blazer tossed haphazardly in the corner, Susan cried with the intensity of one who had loved too little and lost too much.
author's note: LOL URGH. man, writing this was like pulling teeth! this has literally been sitting in my hard drive in a perpetually unfinished state since may 28, the day the film came out. it's not even that long and i don't think i have much to show for it!
if the narrative seems a bit rushed and/or choppy, it reflects the writing process and i apologize. :s i'm super rusty, as this is the first anything i've written in a long while. i don't often write, even casually, but i decided i liked suspian enough to give it a try.
i've returned to this a couple times with small tweaks, so hopefully it's readable~
hope you enjoyed! and whether you did or not, reviews are always appreciated. thanks for reading.