A/N: Gulp, the epic…concludes.
Peter shook his head and glared at Edmund.
"What!?" the younger boy asked, holding up his hands. "It's perfectly legal!"
The older boy pursed his lips and frowned. The move was legal. It just brought him one step closer to losing and he had thought he was still better at this than Edmund. That was proving to be wrong.
Moving his knight, Peter snatched another black pawn from the chess board with a small huff of breath. "Yeah, I know it's legal," he muttered. "When did you get so good at chess? Have you and Quen been hanging out without me?"
Edmund and Peter had played chess in Narnia, but Peter had always managed to stay one step ahead of his younger brother. It had been a competition of sorts between the two, one that they both enjoyed even if Peter nearly always won.
As a birthday gift, Peter had had a golden chess set made for his brother and had included, in jest, a book he had spent months penning with all sorts of chess moves and counter moves. When Edmund opened it, Peter had said, "Maybe now you'll finally beat me, since those are some of my best moves."
The younger King had spent weeks practicing the moves against anyone who would play against him and had gotten quite good. But until now, Peter had remained the better of the two.
He watched, a grim set to his lips, as Edmund moved again. "Check…" his brother said with a smug grin. "You're slipping, Peter."
Looking over the board, Peter shook his head again.
"I concede," he said, leaning back from the board. "There is no way out of this one, Edmund." Looking over at Quentin who nodded his agreement, the older boy held out his hand to his brother. "Good game, Ed. I think that's a record for our second longest game yet. I don't know if we'll ever beat the one we played on the journey back from Ettinsmoor."
Lucy groaned. "That game went on forever," she said. "You had to keep noting where the pieces were every time we broke camp. I swear the game was days long. And all the while, Susan and I were trying to keep the Army running smoothly."
Peter scowled. "We weren't neglecting things that much," he said, Edmund nodding his agreement. "I mean, it wasn't like there were any battles or anything. It was just a lot of walking."
Susan laughed. "Walking, Peter? If I recall, you were still far too injured to walk." She turned to Quentin. "Don't believe everything these two tell you about our time in Narnia. They sometimes leave out important facts."
"Yeah," Lucy chimed in. "Like the times they skirted around their duties."
Not one to back down from a challenge, Peter's eyes glistened with mischief. "Oh really, Queen Lucy the Valiant?" he said, drawing out the "oh really." She frowned and the smile dropped off her face as he continued. "I seem to recall a time when you weren't so keen on doing your duty, dear sister."
"He wouldn't what?" Quentin said, turning to Lucy with interest. "What don't I know? Come on, I sense a tale here and you just can't leave me hanging."
Lucy was vigorously shaking her head from side to side behind Quentin as he focused his attention on Peter. Glancing at Edmund, who was smiling just as broadly, Peter turned to his best friend. "Boy do I have a story to tell you," he said cheekily, ignoring the fairly bouncing Lucy who was making choking gestures with her hands. "About the time Queen Lucy wasn't so Valiant."
Peter and Edmund were both laid up in the infirmary after a battle gone horribly wrong a week ago. The oldest King was recovering from a nasty gash that had laid open his right thigh and the younger had taken a blow to the head that left him unable to stand without a severe case of dizziness that would send him crashing back down.
And Susan, the one Pevensie who rarely fell ill, was sick with a stomach ailment that had her glued to a chamber pot and chained to her bed. Of all the times to get sick, she had to choose now.
That left Queen Lucy the Valiant. Or, in this case, the normally-Valiant-but-not-so-Valiant-right-now. Because at the moment, the youngest Queen wanted nothing more than to hide under her sister's or one of her brothers' sick beds.
She loved weddings. She loved dancing. She loved singing. She loved the food and the fun and the dressing up. But there was one thing she was sure she wouldn't love.
"But Peter! I can't!"
Peter, still far too pale but at least not on the verge of bleeding to death, glared at his sister as best he could in his condition. "Yes, Lucy, you can," he said slowly. "You're the only one who can do it and to refuse would be a great dishonor to the Duke of Archenland."
Swallowing and putting on her best puppy-dog face, Lucy moved to her brother's side and clasped her hands together. "Please, Peter," she said. "I'm too little. I really can't do this. Please, please ask them to wait until Susan is better. I never beg, Peter, but I'll beg if you want me to."
The older boy frowned. "Why don't you want to do it?"
Sighing, Lucy looked down. "BoysareyuckyandIdon'twanttowatchthemkiss."
Peter's eyebrows shot up. "Um, what?"
Huffing, Lucy crossed her arms across her chest. "I said, boys are yucky and I don't want to watch them kiss. It's gross, Peter," she said. "I'll never understand why older boys and girls like to do that. And if I have to marry the Duke and his lady friend, I have to be right there. Ewww."
She was miffed when Peter burst out laughing.
Edmund, jarred awake by the noise, clutched his aching head. "Pete," he whispered, wincing hard. "Shut it! You're making my head feel like it's going to implode. I've already got an army trampling around on it."
Lucy was glaring at Peter. "It's not funny," she said shortly. "I'm only ten, Peter, that's far too young to marry someone. I think it would be disrespectful if I were the one to do it, anyway."
But her brother was shaking his head. "No, Lu," he said. "I've already sent word that we are all laid up, except for you, and the reply was, and I quote, 'We would be most honored to have Queen Lucy the Valiant officiate at our wedding'. So see, no trouble there." He reached out and patted her arm. "You'll just have to squint when they kiss."
Edmund couldn't help but snort, and it quickly turned into a pained gasp. "Oh, ouch!" he moaned. "Peter, no jokes. Please. For the love of Aslan, don't make me laugh."
Lucy wouldn't admit it, but there was more to her worries than simply the yuck factor. She had been there for countless marriages, but she had never played a vital role. She had attended court often, but decisions rarely fell to her. She had traveled to other lands, but it wasn't her duty to do the talking.
This time – it would all be on her shoulders.
What if she messed up her words? What if she called the Duke a Lord or something equally as wrong? Or if she accidentally started reciting vows like those back in England and not the ones here in Narnia? How many times had she heard the phrase, "in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part?" That's not what Narnians said.
"Peter," she begged. "Please, please!"
But he wasn't having it. "No, Lucy," he said. "If you want to get out of this, then you will have to explain to the Duke and his lady yourself. I'm sure they would love to hear your excuse." He softened his tone. "I know you can do this Lucy. You can ride out to the battlefield and heal grievous wounds. You can officiate a little old marriage."
"Little? Little?" She threw up her hands. "Peter, this is the Duke of Archenlandmarrying a member of the Galman royal family. This isn't a little old marriage! This is…this is one of the biggest we've had to do! What if I mess up?"
He grabbed her hand and pulled her down to his level. "I'm sorry," he said. "This has really got you upset?"
She nodded. "Peter, I don't want to make fools out of us all by messing up."
He sighed. "You won't. If you want to practice, you can come here and we'll go over your part in the ceremony."
Not quite appeased, but having no other arguments, Lucy nodded forlornly. "All right, Peter," she said quietly. "I'll do it."
"Finally!" Edmund pulled a pillow over his aching head. "Peace!"
Lucy glared at the pillow, then spun on her heel and stormed out of the room.
"Good job, Ed," Peter muttered.
Quentin shook his head. "So you did it, then," he said, turning to Lucy, who was trying to make herself as small as possible.
Edmund snorted. "Well, eventually, yes, she did do it," he said. "But that wasn't the end of her attempts to get out of it."
Lucy stuck her tongue out at her brother as he took up the tale.
"Marnus, I don't feel well."
Lucy clutched her stomach and moaned a little. "I think I've come down with what Susan has. I feel like I'm going to be sick." She swayed a little for good measure. "Is Peter well enough to take my place at the wedding tonight?"
Marnus eyed Queen Lucy with a professional air. "Hmm. I don't know, my Queen," he said slowly. "High King Peter's leg is still very sore and it would pain him greatly to be standing, even with a crutch, for that long."
Frowning, Lucy sank onto the nearest bed with another small moan. It wasn't a moan of pain or sickness, but of defeat. But Marnus didn't need to know that…
"What about Ed? Is his head better?" She gulped and slapped a hand to her mouth, eyes widening. "Oh, oh that isn't good."
With worry in his eyes, the faun healer stepped closer. "Perhaps you should lay back, Queen Lucy," he said. "If you have what your royal sister has, I shall have to find the bite and bleed out the poison."
"Poison! Bleed?" Lucy exclaimed, jerking upright suddenly and then realizing what she had done, trying to cover it. "I…I mean…oh…ugh."
The faun shook his head and came closer, pulling on Lucy's arm until she was sitting up and knew her façade had crumbled. "My Queen," he said gently, "that was a commendable attempt. But, your sister cannot stand, let alone make her way here. I believe you have a case of the jitters."
Lucy grimaced. "And…what would you prescribe, Healer Marnus?"
Smiling, he patted her shoulder. "A dose of courage and a dash of no-more-excuses might do it." She smiled weakly at his words and nodded with a sigh. He stepped back as she stood up and eyed the doorway with trepidation.
Before leaving, she turned back toward him. "Do you have something that would make it a little easier to stomach … the kissing bit? Because I really don't think I'll be able to stomach that."
Laughing, Marnus shook his head in response. "Sorry, my dearest Queen," he said. "That's something that perhaps age will cure. Just, try to glance the other way when they get to that part. And don't worry about the words. You know them, I've heard you reciting them all day."
Sighing, she nodded. "I suppose I have no choice. Another duty of Kings and Queens."
The faun watched her leave with a smile on his face.
"Okay, so faking an illness wasn't the most Valiant thing to do," Lucy said hotly. "But I was ten and I was really just, blech," she said, adding a gagging sound to her comment to really hit it home.
Quentin laughed. "You won't always think of it that way, Lucy," he said, patting Peter on the shoulder. "Isn't that right, mate?"
The oldest Pevensie nodded. "That's right," he said. "Someday, I'll be able to tell you I told you so."
Lucy's pink tongue darted out again.
"Well, so, did you do the wedding?" Quentin prompted, still not sure if the young Queen had managed to wiggle her way out of it or not. "Or did you try another stunt to get out of it first?"
Sighing, Lucy smiled lightly. "I did it. And I looked away when they kissed. I only messed up the words a little bit, and no one seemed to mind or maybe they didn't notice," she said. "Thankfully, I never had to do that again. Or I would have come up with a better way to try and skive off. Give me anything else to do, just don't make me watch men and women having at each other."
She added a dramatic shiver for effect.
The five broke into laughter.
Coombe Halt train stop…
"Are you certain this is the right stop, Peter?" Mrs. Pevensie glanced at the rickety old sign and the wooden platform beside the train tracks. Aside from those two things, there was nothing but dirt, trees, fields and tracks. "It's … rather deserted."
Edmund laughed. "We were thinking the same thing the first time we came, Mum," he said. "But no, this is definitely the right place. As a matter of fact…" He stopped speaking as the sound of wheels clanking over dirt and stone broke the silence. "That must be Mrs. Macready."
Lucy bounced on the balls of her feet beside the road and waved excitedly as a horse-drawn carriage came around the bend in the road, kicking up a dusty plume behind the wagon.
Seating atop a wooden bench, reins in hand and heavy glasses on her face, was a stately older woman with a serious, but not unkind face. Pulling back on the reins, she "whoa'd" the horse until he stopped and then looked down at the six people at the side of the road.
Focusing on the eldest, she smiled lightly. "Helen, is it?"
Nodding, the woman stepped forward and reached up to shake hands with the older woman. "Yes, you must be Mrs. Macready," Helen said with a smile. "We are most appreciative of the invitation."
Waving her hand dismissively, Mrs. Macready replied, "The professor has been a bit melancholy of late. Company will do him some good." She looked past the woman to the children behind her, eyes halting on Peter for a moment before she moved on and spoke. "Though, I do hope we won't be replacing any windows this time…"
The four Pevensie children exchanged glances and Peter sheepishly shrugged. "I don't think so, Mrs. Macready. We'll try to be on our best behavior."
Nodding behind her, she said nothing.
Helen, Susan and Lucy clambered onto the back of the wagon, but Peter halted at the back and stared at it with a frown on his face. He suddenly yelped and clutched Edmund's shoulder when his brother and Quentin lifted him up and set him in the wagon. Susan let him use her shoulder as a lever to get himself up onto the seat.
The last two boys climbed aboard and Mrs. Macready urged the horses on toward the house. All six guests were silent as the carriage bounced along the road. Peter winced at each sharp jolt, his ribs protesting.
Mrs. Pevensie had insisted on wrapping them for the journey, and he was finding himself grateful for the added bit of support. Edmund's arm on his shoulder drew his attention, and he smiled painfully at his brother. "'M fine," he muttered, reaching over and patting the hand.
Edmund wasn't convinced. But there was nothing he could do to ease the jouncing ride so he just kept his grip on Peter's shoulder and hoped it was some comfort. Thankfully, the ride wasn't too terribly long and the house came into view soon enough.
There was a chorus of "language" from the four Pevensie siblings that shocked Quentin, who had spoken, and Mrs. Pevensie, who looked at her children with mild amusement on her face. All four of them gaped at their antics before smiling sheepishly.
"Sorry, won't happen again," Quentin said, and then he made a motion as if he were zipping his mouth shut, drawing chuckles from Edmund and Lucy and a broad grin from Susan and Peter.
The carriage drew to a halt at the base of a set of stone steps that led up to two massive mahogany doors. The mansion sprawled out to either side and towered above them, stained glass windows mixed with regular glass, and stone covered in the remnants of ivy plants that had withered with the approach of winter.
"My word," Mrs. Pevensie said. "This is a beautiful estate." Turning to her children, she smiled. "I'm so glad you were in such a lovely place during the Blitz." The smile faded a little as the woman's thoughts drifted to her husband briefly, but she pushed any sorrow away as an elderly man appeared in the doorway above.
Lucy saw him first and called out a greeting.
"Professor!" She exclaimed, a grin lighting up her face. "Oh thank you for inviting us!" She bounded up the steps, her bags forgotten, and the man smiled broadly as she gave him a strong hug.
"It's very good to see you too, Lucy," he said warmly, glancing out over the rest of his guests. Like Mrs. Macready, his eyes spent longer resting on Peter, but he said nothing about the crutch and the pinched expression. "Why don't you all come inside where it's warmer?"
He moved aside to allow Lucy through the door. Mrs. Macready, Helen and Susan followed, leaving Quentin and Edmund to hover around Peter at the foot of the steps. With a weary sigh, the oldest Pevensie slung an arm over Quentin's shoulder and the two made slow progress up the steps.
Edmund carried his, Peter's and Lucy's suitcases, struggling not to drop one of them as he followed the two boys up the steps. Peter paused in the doorway and smiled at Professor Kirke.
"We really appreciate your invitation," he said quietly. "It'll be nice to get away and relax. Sir, this is my best friend, Quentin Connors. I can't thank you enough for letting him come with us."
Quentin shook hands with the man, not releasing his hold on Peter just yet, since he could tell the other boy was feeling the brunt of his recent run-in with Rupert and was leaning more heavily than usual on his shoulder.
Patting the blonde's arm, the professor smiled – though the gesture didn't quite reach his eyes. "It's no trouble, Peter," he said. "You look like you could use a little rest and relaxation, my boy."
Smiling wanly, Peter nodded. "Boy could I, sir!"
Gathering in the sitting room, Mrs. Macready excused herself and the children and two adults left in the room could hear her call out to the nearest kitchen staff to bring a pot of tea and some cups into the parlor.
Professor Kirke chuckled. "I hope you are all hungry, I dare say Mrs. Macready has taken it into her head to prepare a bit of a banquet for dinner tonight," he eyed the four Pevensie children with a glint in his eyes, knowing they were well-acquainted with banquets.
They smiled back at him.
"Now," he said, turning to their mother. "Who is this lovely woman? No one saw fit to introduce us…"
Peter's jaw dropped. "Oh, oops," he said. "Professor Kirke, this is our mother, Helen Pevensie. Mum, this is Professor Diggory Kirke." He shook his head as they shook hands, muttering, "I seem to have left my manners in Finchley."
Edmund snorted behind him.
"Manners, what manners?"
Peter smacked Edmund's arm, and it looked like Edmund would have retaliated, but something stopped him. Something that hadn't been there last time.
"Boys!" Helen Pevensie glared at them from across the room. "Behavior?"
Smiling sheepishly, they intoned together, "Sorry Mum!"
The professor laughed lightly. "Oh, how I missed laughter and banter in these dreary old halls," he said. "Come now, sit, sit. We have much catching up to do." His gaze inevitably fell on Peter again, and the boy bit his lip but nodded in agreement. It wasn't as if he hadn't expected to have to do a little explaining.
Soon, Peter was haltingly recapping his experiences and when he finished, no one commented and the group moved on to school, work and other more mundane topics. And while he'd been forced to speak of the war, Peter found that just being in the country estate where their time in Narnia had begun was enough to ease any pain the memories of Greece had caused.
While the professor and Helen spoke, the five children all fell strangely silent.
They each knew their thoughts all dwelt on the rich apple-wood wardrobe upstairs. Even Quentin, who was wondering if the tale really was true, and if he would find the proof he still needed somewhere in this grand house.
Lucy was wondering if the wardrobe still worked…
Susan was wondering if she wanted to go back to Narnia right now…
Edmund was wondering how Caspian was doing leading the kingdom…
And Peter…Peter was wondering if he would be whole again in Narnia…
Professor Kirke's study…
The visage was different than he remembered. Of course, the artist had never met him and didn't know what he really looked like. But the painting brought the elderly man some measure of comfort none-the-less. It had been many, many years since he had laid eyes on that magical land and this being in particular. But sometimes it felt like only yesterday.
Especially since the arrival of the Pevensie children.
A noise at the slightly ajar door drew his attention away from the painting behind his desk. Reddish brown hair gave the intruder's identity away. "Quentin, my boy, if you are going to linger there, you might as well come inside," the old man said with a small smile.
Sheepishly, the boy pushed the door open further.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said. "I know we weren't to bother you. But I just happened to notice you looking at that painting and I was curious." He paused. "Is that him?"
Feigning confusion, the man scrunched his eyebrows. "Who?"
Letting out a puff of breath, and looking toward the door to make sure no one was there, Quentin stepped closer. "That Aslan fellow," he said quietly. "Peter and Edmund told me all about Narnia and they mentioned you had been there as well." Looking past the man, he took in the painting of a golden lion standing atop a knoll in a green, flower-strewn field. "He doesn't look how I've tried to picture him."
Frowning, the professor gestured to a chair in front of his desk.
"That's because the painter had never met Aslan," he said quietly. "And unless you see him, you cannot capture his true self in a painting." Thinking, he added, "I doubt even one who had met him could do so, for Aslan has a look about him that just can't be reproduced."
Sighing, Quentin shook his head. He looked lost in thought and the professor had a feeling he knew what it was all about. Narnia. The boy knew of the world, but had never seen it. And it was probably very difficult for him to believe just because his best friends told him it was real.
Appearing to come to a decision, Quentin met the professor's eyes.
"Sir," he said. "Is it real? Narnia? Because it sounds so insane! I want to believe Peter and Edmund. I've known Peter since we were little and I've never known him to be a fibber. But I just…I don't know!"
He slumped forward and ran angry hands through his hair and rubbed furiously at his eyes. Quentin growled in his throat and then looked up with bleary eyes. The professor pursed his lips and looked closely at the boy.
"Why would you believe in Narnia if I were to confirm it?"
Frowning, the boy cocked his head to the side. "I don't know. I suppose since you're an adult, I can't see you making something up like that." He shook his head again. "Who am I kidding, though? I mean, Peter is practically an adult too and he believes. I just don't know if I can."
Leaning back in his seat, the older man crossed his arms across his chest.
"My mother was very, very sick when I was a boy," he said suddenly. "The doctors said she wouldn't make it." Quentin was looking at him now, eyes shining with both interest and confusion. "I went to stay with my aunt and uncle in London."
Settling into his chair, he took a deep breath. "One day, myself and a girl I met, Polly, were exploring the attic at my uncle's house and stumbled onto his workroom. To make a long story short, my uncle tricked Polly into taking a ring – a very special ring. It transported her to the Wood Between the Worlds and I had to follow her."
Quentin broke in. "The Wood Between the Worlds? Is that in Narnia?"
Shaking his head, the professor replied, "No. It's hard to describe, but basically there are pools within this wood that lead into different worlds. One of those pools led to Narnia." He waved a hand. "But I'm getting ahead of myself.
"Polly and I used the rings to enter one of the pools. And we ended up in the world Jadis ruled," he paused when Quentin's head snapped up. "Yes, the same Jadis that Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy fought against in Narnia. I awoke her and she tricked me into taking her to England . After a big to-do I managed to grab her and bring her back to the Wood."
He sighed. "My uncle and a cab driver and his horse were sucked into the wood with us, and all of us ended up in Narnia, just as Aslan was singing the world into being. Jadis escaped from us and I was tasked with finding a golden apple that, when planted, would protect Narnia from Jadis."
The old man's eyes were glossed over as he remembered the amazing journey to find the apple atop Fledge, the very first winged horse, which Aslan had created from the cab horse that had been sucked into Narnia with them.
"I resisted Jadis' attempts to seduce me to her side, picked an apple, and brought it back," he continued. "The tree bloomed and grew its own fruit and Aslan told me to take an apple to my mother, that it would cure her."
He picked up a picture on his desk and handed it to Quentin.
It showed the man before him, slightly younger, sitting beside an elderly woman.
"Is that your mother?" Quentin asked quietly, looking back up at the man as he held the frame in his hands.
Nodding, the man smiled. "The apple cured her," he said. "If you needed proof, perhaps that will help you. If Narnia wasn't real, my mother would have died long before that picture could be taken."
Handing the picture back, Quentin looked back at the professor's face. "What happened to the rest of the apple, if she only needed to take a bite?"
Professor Kirke smiled, standing. "Why don't you ask your young friend Lucy that question," he said, patting Quentin's shoulder as the boy stood with him. "I'm sure she would be most happy to explain."
Confused, Quentin let the professor guide him to the door.
As he exited the study, he turned back. "Thanks for the story," he said. "Hearing about Narnia wasn't quite enough. But seeing your mother's picture, for some reason, it helps this terribly logical mind of mine to accept it."
The professor nodded and gently shut the door, leaving Quentin standing awkwardly in the hallway outside the room. Shaking his head yet again, he turned and went to look for Lucy.
He needed to hear the rest of the story.
Quentin peeked around the corner and spied Lucy staring forlornly at a large, wooden wardrobe. That must be the one they first went to Narnia through, he thought to himself. Peter had said Lucy had tried to go back after they returned the first time, but the wardrobe had been just that – a wardrobe, complete with wooden back.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at the intricately carved door of the wardrobe, Lucy looked younger than her years. Maybe it was just being scrunched up into a ball, or maybe it was the sheer size of the wardrobe, the only other thing in the room, but Quentin felt like he was looking on a small child, and not a ten-year-old.
The girl jerked in response to the sudden voice in the silence of the spare room.
"Quentin!" she exclaimed, clutching her chest, "you scared the life out of me!" Gesturing lightly, she motioned for him to come in. He pushed open the door, stepped through, and then shut it behind him, eying the wardrobe before moving to sit beside Lucy.
"Where are the others?" he asked, looking away from her again to the beautiful piece of furniture in front of him. The dark wood reminded him of the rich paneling of his grandfather's house. He felt drawn to it, for some reason, but ventured no further than where Lucy sat.
With a sigh, Lucy picked at lint on her skirt. "In the library," she said. "Peter challenged Edmund to a rematch for that chess game he lost at home. Susan has her nose stuck in a book and I think Mum is fascinated to see that Peter and Ed know how to play chess."
Nodding with a small smile, Quentin bit his lip and then voiced his question.
"The professor told me about his time in Narnia," he said, drawing Lucy's gaze. "But he told me to ask you about what happened to the rest of the apple that cured his mother. So…here I am!"
Standing, Lucy stepped to the wardrobe and ran a light hand down the carving on the door. She heard Quentin stand behind her and waited for him to draw abreast of her before stating with a smile, "This. This is what happened to the apple."
He looked at her in confusion. "I don't get it…"
Pulling open the door, she stared into the sea of coats. "After his mother was cured, the professor buried the apple core in his garden and it sprouted into a beautiful and sturdy tree," she said. "It wasn't until years later that the tree was knocked down in a storm. The professor, unable to bear parting with it, had the wood turned into this wardrobe."
She took a step forward, into the wardrobe, and pushed aside the coats, edging back until she hit a wooden wall. Sighing, she stepped back out. "The wardrobe called to me, the first time I came in here during our game of hide and seek," she continued. "It still calls to me, but I can't get back through, obviously."
Lucy turned around to find Quentin staring at the wardrobe. Or, almost through it. She frowned. "Quentin? Are you all right?"
He didn't respond, but stepped forward and gently nudged Lucy aside. "I…thought…" he muttered distractedly, pushing aside the coats in front of him and stepping forward. Lucy watched him in confusion, but she was completely shocked when he gasped and then his hand shot out and grabbed her, dragging her forward. "Look!"
Lucy stumbled, muttering about crazy boys as she hit the ground.
She looked at her hands in confusion.
They were resting, half-buried, in a pile of rich golden and brown leaves.
Gasping, she scrambled to her feet beside a wide-eyed Quentin and looked out into a beautiful forest.
Peter smiled broadly as Edmund grumbled under his breath.
"Now this is more how I remember chess," he said lightly as he took another of Edmund's pieces from the board with a small flourish of his hand.
Beside them, Mrs. Pevensie was smiling and shaking her head in amazement. She had been surprised when Peter had challenged her younger son to a game of chess, since as far as she knew, neither boy had ever played the game.
Now, it was evident they had played.
When Edmund hooted lightly in triumph and took one of Peter's knights, to the older boy's great dismay, she couldn't hold in her curiosity any longer. "Peter, Edmund," she said, putting a hand on her oldest son's shoulder. "Where did you learn to play chess? I've never seen you do it before, but you are both very good."
The boys look like they'd been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Both froze, Peter with his hand poised over the chess board, Edmund as he fiddled with his captured pieces – lining them up neatly on his side of the board.
"Um," Peter said, stalling. "I…well, we did play. A lot. Just, not at home. I mean, at school. Right, Ed?" When his brother didn't answer immediately, Peter kicked him under the table and Edmund jumped.
"Oh yes," he said, "we played at school all the time. Quentin's been bugging us to join the chess club, we just didn't get around to it. I thought you knew, Mum."
She shook her head in the negative.
It looked like she planned to continue in her line of questioning, but she noticed a strong frown on Peter's face and followed his gaze to the painting of a young man, dressed in medieval armor, perched above the fireplace on the far side of the library.
Mrs. Pevensie was completely surprised when Peter stood, grabbing his crutch, and moved off toward the painting, leaving a stunned Edmund and the mid-game chess board behind.
"Pete?" Edmund called out in confusion, his tone drawing Susan's nose out of her book.
The older boy didn't appear to be listening, so Edmund glanced up at the painting that had drawn his attention and had to cover his mouth to prevent himself from exclaiming something.
Susan wasn't so lucky and couldn't stop herself. "It can't be," she gasped, standing as swiftly as Edmund, who was moving past their confused mother to move to Peter's right side. Susan drew up on his left.
"Caspian…" Peter said. "Or, rather, someone who looks a lot like him."
"Who is Caspian?"
Mrs. Pevensie was standing directly behind her children, looking at the handsome young man in the painting with interest. "Is that someone you know? I've never heard the name before, but perhaps a new friend?"
Peter slowly turned to their mother. "He's a friend," he said simply. "This looks like it could be his ancestor or something. But, maybe I'm just imagining things. We miss him and might just be thinking of him."
Edmund drew Peter's attention with a tug on his sleeve. "Um, Pete," he said. When the other boy didn't respond immediately, he tugged harder. "Peter!" He cried, practically spinning his brother around. "Look!"
At first, Peter saw nothing. But then, it appeared as if the painting were changing. The background started to pull forward, almost, and he saw that it was a beautiful forest, not the stone castle walls he'd seen the first time he looked.
The figure slowly faded from view as well and with a startled gasp, Peter hit the ground hard. Edmund and Susan both let out surprised yelps and the former a sharp "oomph" as they too hit the ground.
From under the pile of Pevensies, there was a yell.
Rolling over, Peter revealed a disheveled Quentin. Lucy was extricating herself from under Edmund's legs.
All five children looked between each other for a moment before the Pevensies let out whoops of joy and smiled broadly. Even Susan, who hadn't been so sure she wished to come back so soon, was grinning so widely her face looked like it had to hurt.
Peter eyed his crutch, then his brother and sisters and his best friend, the smile fading from his face.
The older boy looked up at his brother at that and nodded slowly.
There was a moment of complete silence and the tension was so thick Edmund would have had trouble slicing through it, even with his swords. With baited breath, he, Lucy, Susan and Quentin watched as Peter moved slowly.
When a smile broke out on his face, and he jumped to his feet – both of them – they jumped up with him and threw their arms around each other. Quentin watched a bit awkwardly, but with a huge smile on his face as well.
Peter actually had tears of joy streaming down his face, and Edmund, Lucy and Susan were wiping away their own. Quentin even slapped furiously at his face, but would never admit he had been crying later.
Jumping nearly a foot in the air, Peter slowly turned around.
Helen Pevensie was standing, a stray leaf perched in her dark hair, staring at her children and in particular, the standing Peter. The four Kings and Queens of Narnia gaped in surprise at seeing their mother.
"Where…what? Where are we?" the woman asked.
Peter sighed and with a small smile, stepped up to his mother and drew her toward him into a strong hug, trying to soothe the light trembling he felt.
"Mum," he said quietly. "We have a lot to talk about. But…welcome to Narnia."
A/N: Yes, that is the end. I can't really believe it's come to an end, it feels like I've been writing this forever and a day. Thank you to all of you who took the time to read and review the nearly 200,000 words of this story! That's quite a feat! There is a plan for a sequel, so pop me onto your author alert list and you should get an e-mail when I start posting that! It is as yet untitled and will be completely AU, set before Dawn Treader. But that's all I'm saying!