A/N This has been sitting half-written on my hard drive for close on forever. It's among my first forays into trying to write something from Susan's point of view. The fact that it took me almost a year to finish should indicate how much trouble I have channeling our Gentle Queen, but I'm trying. Many, many thanks to Miniver for once again saving me from myself.
Disclaimer: Narnia and its characters are the property of CS Lewis, Walden Media, and Disney. I'm just borrowing them and I promise to give them back when I'm done.
He is exhausted.
I sat and watched my older brother sleep in the heat of an early autumn day, my embroidery resting on my lap. Peter's long frame stretched almost all the way across the soft carpet laid upon the grass where only an hour ago we had finished a picnic. Leaves formed a lacy ceiling overhead, dappling the clearing with sunlight as I sat and watched over his repose. Peter lay on his side with one arm cushioning his head and his unruly blond hair, free of a crown, fanned across his sleeve. He needed a haircut, though it was the last thing he would think of until his bangs were trailing in his eyes. His other hand rested by his side and on the skirt of my gown, his long fingers twitching occasionally. In sleep his face was relaxed, almost serene. It was an expression I had not seen him wear in too long a span and one I missed. For the first time in what seemed like years he looked his age to me: seventeen, not twice or thrice that tally.
His breaths deepened and became longer as he slipped further into his dreams. I could only hope this moment lasted and he slept himself out. He would be embarrassed and apologetic to our hosts the Chipmunks, but at this moment rest is more precious than socializing. He was not yet done growing. That alone was enough to wear a youth out, but Peter was also knight and king and diplomat and father and brother and friend not just to his family, but to his whole country. This was one of the first opportunities we had in too long to simply stop and be ourselves and not monarchs. That was why I brought my embroidery along - he once said that watching me and Lucy sew was very relaxing, so as soon as the luncheon was over I pulled out some fabric and gaily colored threads. I will never equal Lucy in embroidery and even Peter was better at sewing than I could ever hope to be. To my knowledge Edmund alone of the family remained untried by needle and thread, but I suspected he would surpass me as well. That wasn't the point, though. Getting Peter to rest was.
It had worked. Moving slowly, talking low about nothing of importance or interest to him, I lulled Peter into a slumber. Worry for Edmund, who was confined to their room in Cair Paravel as he suffered an out-of-season cold that was not improving, had robbed Peter of sleep at night and picking up Edmund's duties as well as his own had strained him during the day. I had been forced to conspire with Edmund to convince Peter to join me and Lucy today. So many troubles and duties for such narrow shoulders! He bore up well, every inch the High King of Narnia, but at moments such as this, his fatigue caught up with him and he was overwhelmed. It was a measure of Peter's confidence in me that he let me see how worn down he had become of late.
There was a certain pleasure in having him to myself for a while, even if he was fast asleep. We so rarely were afforded time to ourselves, though we four made it a point to eat at least one meal a day in the privacy of our living quarters and we deliberately set aside time simply to be together. There was so much to be done almost every day, people to meet and classes to attend and emergencies to address, that sometimes I looked back and was amazed that there was a time when I wasn't a queen and wasn't always busy. I must admit that for all the burdens that came with this flowered crown of gold, I far preferred being a queen over being a school girl. I enjoyed the trappings and ceremony that came with being Queen Susan the Gentle, and I was grateful to be in a position to act and make a difference in the lives of our subjects.
I was glad, too, for the changes wrought upon my family by our elevation to monarchs. Lucy had blossomed in the security of home and family. Her enthusiasm for everything she encountered was boundless, and I was in awe of her energy. Edmund especially had turned around and he embraced Narnia as he embraced life: wholeheartedly and with passion unexpected. Peter had simply come into himself as High King - he had always been noble and kind and Narnia offered him an outlet for these aspects of his personality. We were very close, very dependent upon each other, each serving as councilor and friend and parent to the other.
I will admit that at times I envied the closeness that had sprung between Peter and Edmund since we had vanquished the White Witch's forces at Beruna. They were together almost constantly and never seemed to tire of the other's company. They trained for battle together, shared many of the same tutors, shared a room, and shared the deepest relationship of any of us. I knew they held secrets that Lucy and I would never hear and they trusted one another so absolutely that all doubt was erased. They could communicate volumes with a glance or a gesture and they did not need to speak to know what the other was thinking. Lucy and I were never excluded from their bond, but Lucy and I had not faced death and battle and desperate times together as Peter and Edmund had. The trials faced together had forged them into an unbreakable team. I was glad for that, because I knew they would always watch out for one another and one would not return home without the other. That had been proven already. I would have liked to share such intimacy with Lucy. We were close, we exchanged secrets and laughter, but we did not depend upon each other as heavily as our brothers did. They were fragile creatures, our brothers, more so than they knew, and so Lucy and I had to be strong for them in our own quiet ways.
I watched Peter breathe, long and slow. The air was not crisp yet, but there was that hint, that shift of scent and sunlight that said that summer was waning and we must enjoy what we could of the warmth and green before it was swirled away by the new season. Soon the bright colors of summer would be replaced by the rich earthy tones of autumn, but for now the day was warm and the last of the annual flowers boldly displayed their colors. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful hour, and a moment of absolute trust between Peter and me. I wished that I could save it; keep it in a bottle diamond bright like Lucy's cordial. I could pull it out some long, dark winter day and remember the smells and the feel of the sun on my hair and the sight of my brother content enough to sleep as I sat and watched over him.
My ladies were stationed around us to keep anyone from making a racket and disturbing Peter's nap. I saw Sra Lilybell, a beautifully bright green Monitor Dragon, splendid in her pearls and moonstones, talking to Nid, our Chipmunk hostess. Most of the picnic-goers were returning from a long walk around the pond. Lucy had proposed it and of course all the younger Animals wanted to go along with her, giving us a good hour of peace and quiet.
Nid, I saw, looked wide-eyed and perhaps even mortified as she realized the king, her guest, was soundly asleep. Before she could get upset, I gestured for her to join me. With her tail in the air she bounded to my side and clasped her small paws nervously.
"Queen Susan," she said so softly I could barely hear her anxious voice, "I must apologize for leaving you so very long." She glanced at Peter. "I fear . . . I fear we have bored you and the High King."
"Lady Nid, pray, do not apologize!" I whispered in turn, shaking my head. I had to set this dear creature at her ease, so I took her paws in my hands. Had we been standing she would have barely reached my knees, but seated on the ground I just had to lean over slightly to look her in the eye. "I wanted to thank you. My brother has not been so content and relaxed as to sleep like this in a very long time. This was the perfect plan to help him feel better and I thank you for inviting us. It was so very thoughtful and clever of you and your family."
She perked up instantly, relieved and glad to have done so well. I gave her paws a little squeeze.
"If they'll be very quiet, I thought perhaps I might tell the children a story," I said.
I didn't mention that once asleep all the noise in the world wouldn't wake Peter. Nid just smiled and bowed before she hurried off to collect the younger members of the little party. I could hear her faintly admonishing the children – Chipmunks, a few Squirrels, Weasels, Moles and Voles and twin Shrews with pink bows atop their heads - that they must be absolutely silent and not disturb the High King and behave before the queens. Lucy led them to the carpet, making sure everyone had room, and I thanked Nid's sons as they presented me with pawfuls of wild flowers from the shore of the lake. They all settled down around me, the smallest ones to the front and keeping well clear of Peter. I smiled at their eager faces and bright eyes, welcoming them.
"I'm glad you came to sit with me while King Peter sleeps," I said softly. "Now, does anyone here know the story of the Brothers Rum and the Witty Oak?"
A few paws were raised, but I could tell the ones that knew the story were quite willing to hear it again.
"Once upon a time, and I've been told it wasn't so very long ago or very far from here, there was a family of five Hedgehog brothers named Bimi Rum, Kimi Rum, Timi Rum, Zimi Rum, and the youngest, Mimi Rum. They lived by the banks of the Great River in a warm little burrow that their grandfather had dug years before, right by a live oak where lived a very old and wise and witty Dryad named Valish . . ."
For half an hour they listened with rapt attention as I drew out the story of the silly Hedgehogs and their adventures with the Dryad. All the while Peter slept, safe and content. I kept my voice as low and soothing as I could so that he would go on with his nap, and the children relaxed, the break serving to renew their energy. When the story came to its humorous end, one of Lucy's ladies ushered the children away for a final treat of nut cakes and tea, leaving me alone with my sister and brother.
"He's very tired," whispered Lucy. She reached down and brushed the unruly blond hair from his forehead.
I picked up my embroidery again. "He needed a day like today."
"He's been working so hard lately. I wish I could do more to help."
I smiled. "Lucy, you help him just by smiling so often. Don't worry. Edmund will get better soon and things will return to normal."
She shook her head. "They don't ever seem to. Peter does more and more and things just settle down into a new routine without him doing less. We can do more to help run the kingdom. Doesn't he trust us?"
"Of course he does. He trusts us all completely. It's himself he doubts."
A soft snort escaped her, and then Lucy rose, smoothing her skirts. "Maybe we can take over some of his duties for him."
"A very good idea, sister," I agreed. I thought for a moment, and then said, "Perhaps we could take over smaller duties, like appointing royal witnesses before court. We'll do it gradually so that maybe he won't notice."
She shook her head, knowing better, but her smile was impish. "Oh, he'll notice. We'll start tomorrow."
I was impressed by her determination, but glad to see it. We would need all we could get against someone as stubborn as Peter. Lucy turned to go and join the children in their game of tag, and I hastily, quietly called after her,
"You know he'll probably take a stand against us."
Looking back over her shoulder, Narnia's Valiant Queen said with absolute confidence, "He'll lose."
And he would. With Edmund's help we would see to easing the burden bearing down on the High King's shoulders. I watched her go, her long braid of red hair shining in the sunlight, and I smiled.
I threaded my needle with silky floss the very color of amethyst and set to outlining the iris flower drawn on the linen fabric. I only managed a few stitches before I lowered the hoop again and watched Peter instead. His mouth was opened slightly now and his hand clutched my skirt. In sleep he was so sweet, so content. Awake he was no less sweet, but the troubles of running a large and busy country were wearing him down. Like Lucy before me, I reached over and brushed my fingers through his hair. He needed this day. He needed to laugh more.
But most of all, Peter needed to learn he need not face the whole world by himself.
Even now, as he slept, I would not leave him. Not for the world. This moment was too rare, too precious, to end. It would have to be ended for me when he woke with bleary eyes and a blush at having nodding off, and loosened his hold on my gown. Oh, but to be able to stay like this, this warm and close and secure! To be able to capture right now in words or music in order to revel in these feelings and this setting again. The day couldn't last any more than the summer could last, and I could only trust in Aslan that our happiness and security could last as well. So it fell to me to hold and keep this moment, to treasure my brother and his silent faith that I would watch over him.
I began sewing again, pausing every few stitches to look down at Peter as he slept. The patterned sunlight danced on his golden hair and his breaths drew deep and even. I could hear Lucy's laughter as she let the little Squirrels catch her, and the sound of Birds calling merrily to each other. Closing my eyes, I inhaled the sweet scent of summer and felt the warm and gentle breeze stir my hair. I drank it in the same way I drank the sweet waters of Narnia's springs: fully and deeply. I could live a thousand years and more and it would never be enough . . . this day, this time, this love . . . Narnia.