Valley Verdant

O0O0O0O

Nobody in all of Narnia had ever been so surprised as was Queen Lucy on the morning she opened her eyes to find her sister looking down at her.

"Goodness!" she cried, bolting up in bed, "have I slept in? What time is it?"

"Shh!" Susan raised a warning finger to her lips. "'Tis just before dawn. Quickly, now— get up, and get dressed. Here, I have laid out some things for you." She gestured to garments at the foot of the bed. Lucy blinked.

"Are we under attack?" she whispered. Susan was surprised.

"Gracious, no. Whyever do you ask?"

"Well, because it is before dawn, and you are awake and dressed—" Lucy squinted at her sister— "dressed to ride, no less, and you have laid out my own riding clothes, and you say I must be quiet. What am I to think but that we are under siege and must flee for our lives?"

Susan looked for a moment like she might smile. "Is it really so unusual that I am up before you, then?" she asked, and Lucy said it certainly was. "Well, we are not under attack, Lucy; we are going to have your birthday."

"But my birthday isn't for weeks yet."

"I know, dear," Susan caught Lucy's arm and tugged her out from under the covers, "and when it is your actual birthday we will have a proper celebration with any number of people in attendance, and all of Narnia shall toast your good health, and I will spend all day making it perfect and all night wishing that I might only get near you. So this is to be your birthday for me. It is only we two, and we will be far away from here before most of the castle is awake— but only if you dress and come now."

So Lucy dressed, greatly intrigued, and even allowed Susan to have a hand in lacing her when Lucy couldn't reach, though normally Lucy should have preferred to let her bodice hang slack than to have another help her dress. Then the two Queens stole from Lucy's room and, at Susan's instruction, down to the kitchens. This area of the castle was already beginning to come to life; the maids were stoking the great fires, and the head Cook had risen early in order that she might be the one to present Susan with a set of heavy, lidded panniers.

"Thank you, Choate," Susan beamed, accepting both baskets. "You're ever so good to us, you know," and she waited while Lucy pressed a kiss to each of the Cook's rosy cheeks before they left the kitchen by way of a narrow door that led out into the kitchen gardens.

"But where will we go now?" Lucy wanted to know, lugging one of the panniers as Susan toted the other. "There's no way out of the kitchen gardens."

"There is no door," Susan corrected, coming to a halt at one wall. "Never say there is no way, Lucy; it is not at all like you to say such a thing, and in any event," she shouldered the pannier and fit her feet to a crack in the wall, pushing up off the ground, "there is always a way."

Lucy could only watch, speechless, as Susan scaled the wall with as much grace as any wall could be scaled— and until you had seen Susan do it, you might not have thought it could be very much at all. Lucy, after a moment's shock, followed her sister up to the top of the wall. There the Queens sat, straddling the divide, and looked far more like burglars than they did mistresses of their own home.

"It's not really a proper escape," said Susan, "until one has gone over at least one wall." Then she started down the other side, and Lucy saw one of the castle grooms waiting, holding the lines of the Queens' horses. It was, Lucy thought as she descended from the wall, a very Susan sort of escape they were making now— Susan was the sort of person whose escapes would be correct in every regard, and so of course there would be a sudden waking at an odd hour, stores of food prepared for the journey, a wall to scale and horses on which they would flee. The very perfection of it all made Lucy feel a little overwhelmed; certainly it made her feel unequal to the task of ever planning an escape of her own.

"I should never do it half as well," she muttered, jumping the last few feet to the ground. Susan, busy thanking the groom and cooing to her mare (who in turn nuzzled the Queen to demonstrate her delight at unexpectedly encountering her mistress beside the kitchen gardens at this early hour) did not hear.

"Coming, Lucy?" she called, as the groom fastened the panniers they had carried to the horses. Lucy was hardly about to back down now, and so took Aravir's head, swung into the saddle and hoped that Peter and Edmund has been warned of this plan, and would not wake to think they had been abducted by sinister forces— she wasn't sure Susan meant it to be so perfect and escape that they suffered a relentless pursuit as well.

Susan, for her part, put her foot to the cupped hands of the groom and accepted a boost into the saddle. Alambil, the image of milky-white tranquility, did not so much as pick her hoof until the Queen gave the word. Then they were off, not taking the Land Road but rather ridingdown across the lawns to the Eastern Sea and splashing through the surf along the shore, following the line of the peninsula to the main road.

As they rode, all the lingering confusion and half-formed questions that had begun to clutter Lucy's mind were swept away by the morning wind the sharp, salt tang of the tide. The morning sun had at last topped the horizon and to their right it now rose, a joyous thing too brilliant to behold, scattering beams of morning welcome across the waiting sea. Alambil and Aravir strode abreast, and when Lucy at last looked over to her sister, she saw that Susan's face was lit almost as bright as the sun.

"Oh!" the older Queen laughed, "oh, it's even better than I had hoped— but are you happy, Lucy?" she looked at Lucy in some concern. "I am sorry I didn't ask, or anything like that, but you see, if I had it wouldn't be a surprise, and I did so want it to be a surprise."

"It was a surprise," Lucy assorted her. They had persuaded the mares that a trot was a much better pace to set than a full-on gallop, and although the horses had expressed some doubt on this point they had at last acquiesced. "It still is a surprise, really— and a bit of a mystery, too. Where are we going, anyway?"

"That must be a surprise as well," Susan said firmly. "I mean for the entire day to be as much a surprise as I can make it, and so you will know almost nothing that is going to happen before it actually does."

Susan didn't believe in doing anything by halves.

"All right," Lucy said, tipping her head back to bathe her face in the rich, almost-autumn sunrise, "all right, then, have it your way! Never mind it being almost-nearly my birthday, or anything; we must do it your way, all the same." Then she looked to Susan and cried, "but I hope you mean us to go as far as the mainland, for I intend to beat you to it!"

Aravir sprang forward at a touch from Lucy's heels, and the golden-haired queen on her golden chestnut mare were off, two bright spots of late summer splendour in the tide. Susan was not long in answering the challenge, though, and indeed Alambil came within a hair's breadth of overtaking Aravir. It was the younger Queen who won, however, and after Susan offered her congratulations they dismounted to lead the horses up the steep incline, back onto the broad thoroughfare of the Land Road. Sheltered now by the tall, ancient trees who whispered and murmured in the morning breeze, the Queens returned to their saddles and continued on. It was really that sort of morning that just makes you profoundly glad to be alive to see it; the trees were all in good humour that day, and they saluted the Queens with as much exuberance as trees are wont to show.

"And what occasions this foray, your Majesties?" one lithe Beech enquired. He lounged against his own tree, having first given as formal a salute as trees feel they are bound to give.

"Susan has effected an escape for us," Lucy explained. "It is almost nearly my birthday, and she decided we should have part of it today, so we are running away."

"Aha!" the Beech appeared impressed by this. "Well, then you may count upon me for any assistance you require, Ladies, in holding all pursuers at bay." Then he leaped into his tree and set it rocking and twisting, its roots ripping and churning the ground in such a manner that both mares spooked badly and bolted, galloping down the road at such speed that they were well beyond earshot of the Beech by the time the Queens regained their horses' heads once more.

"Not a species of much foresight, the Beech," Susan decided, gasping a little. She put one hand to her stomach. "Gracious but I am badly shaken . . . we have not very much farther to go, though."

And so it proved. Presently Susan led them off the Land Road, onto a narrow path branching off into the wood. They followed this twisting, winding conveyance deeper into the greenwood, with the sun mounting higher in the Eastern sky and playing wonderful spatters of light and warmth through the trees and across the faces and hands of the two Queens. It seemed to Lucy as they rode that they were going downhill a bit, then a bit more, and she was just about to ask where exactly Susan thought she was taking them (and if Susan even really knew) when the trees that rose up before them twisted and detangled themselves from one another, drawing apart just as the stage curtains do when you are at the theatre. In their parting the trees revealed a beautiful valley all spread out below, looking greener and richer than anything Lucy had ever seen before. A sloping hill rolled down before them, dropping off quite sharply at the bottom, and from it foundation at the foot of this hill rose a lovely grey stone keep.

"Oh!" cried Lucy, and clapped her hands. Then, suddenly suspicious, she twisted in her saddle to look for the trees only to discover that they had dropped back several yards to the woodline. "Susan? Did you arrange . . ?"

"I asked them if they'd not mind helping," Susan admitted. "I am afraid that usually one can see the valley from quite far off, and I wanted it to be more of a surprise, so I asked if they'd not mind making our arrival a bit more . . . dramatic."

"What next, then?" asked Lucy. "Will you have moles dig tunnels to make us our own river from which to drink, and persuade the naiads to permit the water to flow uphill? Fountains? Will you make us a courtyard in the middle of nowhere? Truly, Susan, you are quite scheming!"

"If scheming is the worst you can say of me then I am well satisfied," Susan laughed. "But come, now— we are arrived! Won't you dismount and walk with me?" and, so saying, she swung down from Alambil's back.

"Shall we loose the horses then?" Lucy asked, and of course in this question you may see how well-trained the mares were, for Lucy was an experienced horsewoman and would not have dreamed of loosing any but the most loyal and obedient horse.

"Yes, let's," Susan agreed, "for I mean us to be here a while." So they freed the mares from the least comfortable things they wore, draping saddles and bridles on a low stone wall that ran along part of the top of the hill, and hung the panniers beside them.

"Now," cried Lucy, "oh, can't we roll down that lovely hill?" Then she dropped to the ground without waiting for an answer, and rolled.

The hill was more than just a lovely hill; it was in fact a perfect hill to roll down, and Lucy (who had rolled down many different hills in her lifetime) could not contain her laughter as she tumbled. The world bounced and jounced and twirled all around her, the sky at one moment rolling under her nose and the next rocking back up above her forehead as blades of grass speared her nostrils. As it was such a very high hill, it had a great deal of rolling in it; by the time Lucy came at last to a bouncy, bumpy lie-still at the foot of it, she had gotten more than her fill of rolling— indeed, her head was rolling yet, and she found it necessary to lie perfectly still for a moment in order that the world inside her head might at last come to a lie-still as well. For a moment Lucy, who could not even remember what aspirin was, wished very badly that she had one.

As Lucy rested and wished for aspirin and waited for her head to still, Susan reached her. Susan had not rolled down the hill but she had run down quite fast, and so she, too, collapsed in a heap beside her sister, breathing noisily and thinking that there was perhaps something to be said in praise of a more decorous pace— but when she put this idea to Lucy, Lucy scorned it openly.

"Oh! no, Susan, this isn't the sort of hill one can simply walk down; nor is it even a day on which one could walk down any hill. Don't you see, this is a day that won't be properly spent unless it is filled with rolling and running and being just as silly as we can. You see?" She pointed at the sun that had by this point surpassed the height of the trees on the most easterly side of the field. "That is a sun which demands we be giddy. I am sure of it."

"Far be it from me to contradict the Queen's grace on her almost-nearly birthday, then," Susan decided, and with a bit of an effort pushed herself up from the grass into a seated position. After a moment, Lucy joined her.

"Did you plan this?" she asked. "Rolling down the hill, that is? I bet you didn't."

"Well . . ." Susan said, and there was something apologetic in her voice that prompted Lucy to look down at herself and realise she was wearing the only green riding outfit she owned— a dress Susan had picked out for her.

"Grass stains so, Lucy," Susan protested as Lucy, after a moment's disbelieving silence, began to laugh. "And I do know you, dear, and— well, why do you imagine I chose this place to begin with? I know how you are about hills. It really didn't want so very much planning, and . . . oh, Lucy, must you laugh at me?"

"I am not laughing at you," said Lucy, who was laughing still. "I am laughing at me, because I thought that there was even a part of this you hadn't organised down to its most basic elements— and of course there is not. I expect you have even worked out exactly when the sudden, surprise rainstorm is meant to happen— I only hope you thought to bring us cloaks, too."

"I did bring cloaks," said Susan, "they are in one of the panniers. But that's nothing to do with my knowledge of the weather; that's just good sense. And I hope it doesn't rain, but if it does, of course we have the keep," she nodded at the grey stone structure. "Nobody lives in it, but it seems solid enough to shelter us for a time if we need it to."

"It looks like it might be a treat to explore," Lucy observed. "First, though . . . you say one of those panniers has cloaks in it, but does the other have food? Because it is well past breakfast time, Susan, and I'm awfully hungry!"

Susan confessed to hunger too, and so both girls climbed the hill once more to fetch the panniers. At the sight of this activity the mares left off grazing long enough to amble over and see if there might be something even more toothsome to nibble upon than grass, and as it proved, there was; Susan, settling one pannier on its side and digging into it, drew forth a pair of carrots which she doled out, much to the evident appreciation of the horses.

After the carrots were produced, from the depths of the pannier came treats of cold roast chicken, crusty loaves of bread and clay jars they could use to gather water to drink. There were pears as well, the sweetest and best sort of summer pears that melt on your tongue in an explosion of slightly-mealy sweetness. The Queens made every effort to put a dent in the piles of food that sat before them, but it was pretty soon apparent that they would not be able to finish it on their own.

"You know," said Lucy, nibbling on her fourth pear and wishing she had room in her stomach to finish it, "we've ever so much more food on hand than we can possibly hope to eat. If I were a cruel sort of sister I should tease you for planning this poorly."

"And if I were a kinder sort of sister," Susan rejoined, "I should allow you to believe that I had done. However, I think you will find that if you listen . . ." and she looked over to the trees, which had also attracted the attention of both mares. Lucy, listening too, found that Susan was right— there, in amongst the birdsong and the midmorning chatter of the trees, could be heard the sound of hooves thudding on the forest floor.

Not even a minute after Lucy heard the nearing party, she saw those who comprised it: two shapes appeared through the depth of the greenwood, mounted men on horseback. The pair appeared to be engaged in an energetic debate on some topic or other, which they broke off as they cleared the woodline and came into clear view of the waiting Queens.

"Ahoy, the birthday party!" cried the man on the red horse. "Will you permit our approach?"

"Do stop playing the fool, Peter," Susan called back, "and come eat something before Lucy and I finish it all ourselves!"

The threat, empty though it was, was all the incentive that was required. The two Kings (for indeed it was they) dismounted at once and spared only the time required to strip their horses of all tack, which left Tarva and Ram free to make an effort to approach the mares (who firmly rebuffed them, and sidled closer to the picnicking group in hopes of acquiring more carrots).

"What kept you?" Susan wanted to know, passing food around once more. "I had thought you would be here some time ago."

"Well, we had to sneak out, of course," Peter said, sinking his teeth into a pear. "And thength mnnph kk—"

"Peter, chew first, please," Susan murmured, and Peter fell silent to oblige, leaving Edmund to take up the explanation.

"Well, we had to sneak out, and I don't mind telling you that Peter is just the worst sneak you will ever find. I almost had to sit on his head to keep him from telling people what we were doing; I mean, he nearly invited one of the guards to come along for the ride! So I got him out of the castle all right, but it was a near thing. And then when we finally got underway we were waylaid by a Beech in the wood. He was in a pretty wild state; dunno what got into him, but it took us an age to get around."

"Err," said Susan.

"Ahh," said Lucy, and both Queens took a sudden intense interest in the state of the nearly-vanished roast chicken.

"But we're here, anyway," Edmund concluded, and then set to putting away the last of the chicken, leaving Lucy to flop back into the grass, spread her arms on either side of her head, and enjoy the warmth of the still-rising sun.

"This is the best idea you've ever had, I think, Susan," she sighed. "Just us four, together. I don't know how you managed it all, but I am so glad that you did."

"Gracious, Lucy, it's not done yet!" Susan laughed. "There is a little pond just at the far edge of the field where I thought we might go swimming, and there is the keep to explore, and of course we can roll down the hill as many times as you like. It's not just a picnic, you know."

"Oh!" Lucy bobbed back up, "but a picnic is a lovely thing, Susan, and this has been just a super picnic! I am so happy. I would love to explore too, of course, but even if it were only a picnic, I should be so very pleased. I mean, isn't this all just too perfect for words? Don't you wish we could stay here forever?"

"I'm glad you're happy," Susan smiled fondly on the earnest face of her sister. "But I must be selfish now and ask you to indulge me in all my plans for today, for they have made me so happy to imagine that I hope you will allow me to see them come true."

Lucy of course assured Susan that she would be pleased to indulge her, and Peter and Edmund (still enjoying their food) backed her up on that point, and so the day went.

The keep was explored first; this was at Susan's suggestion, for she realised that the keep was bound to have fallen into some disrepair over the years, and she thought the swimming would best be saved for after they had gotten all dusty and hot from crawling through the narrow passages.

"Was it ever lived in, do you think?" Peter wondered, as they all gathered in the main room at the bottom of the keep. "It seems awfully small for a family."

"Perhaps it was inhabited by a single knight," Lucy suggested, poking around the edges of the room and examining the debris that littered the floor. "Maybe just one lone person living by himself. There is no farm, but it might be that he was guarding . . . well," she looked out over the valley, "I don't really know what he would be guarding. It is a lovely place, but there is not much here to guard. Perhaps he kept a look-out for somebody, or something. Perhaps there was a treasure in the keep at one point, and he was meant to guard that."

"Maybe it's still here," Edmund said, his eyes lighting at the thought. Lucy's own expression mirrored that of her brother, and the pair needed no further prompting before they were off, hunting for any place where the imagined treasure might possibly be kept. Peter and Susan followed at a distance, looking mostly in those places where Edmund and Lucy had already looked, but laughing all the same.

"If we did find a treasure," Lucy said as they searched, "what do you imagine it might be? Nothing so dull as gold and jewels, I hope . . . we have more of those than we could ever need, anyhow. I should love to discover something truly rare."

"Perhaps the first of something," Peter said. "Or maybe the last of something . . . something that will never be made again."

"The last what, though?" Lucy let Edmund boost her up to peer into a small recess set in the wall beside a narrow stone staircase that spiralled up to the topmost floor of the keep. "Shall we find the last treasure of Narnia, hidden before the Long Winter, somewhere in this castle?"

"What last treasure is that?" Susan wondered, and Lucy, satisfied that there was no treasure in the niche, hopped down from Edmund's shoulder and led the party up the stairs to the top storey.

"I will not know until I see it," she explained.

"But," said Susan, "how will you know when you see it, if you do not know what it is?"

"Oh," said Lucy, "if it's the last treasure of Narnia, surely we should know it straight away to see it!" and she turned a sunny smile on Peter, Edmund and Susan as they all achieved the last, unexplored room.

They gave the place a thorough going-over, but no treasure could be found, and even Lucy was at last forced to admit that perhaps the long-vanished knight might have taken this treasure with him when he left. On reaching the ground storey once more Edmund did turn up a rusted bit of metal by the door. It was hardly treasure, but it was still something intriguing; something which he picked up with care and examined, determining at last that it was the head of an axe.

"The handle has rotted away during the winter, I suppose," he said, "but it is assuredly an axe. Was it a woodcutter, then, who lived here?"

"It's an awfully grand home for a woodcutter I think," Peter said doubtfully. "But that is certainly an axe . . . perhaps it was used in battle."

"Ugh, put it down," Susan pleaded. "I should not like to think that it was used to kill someone."

So Edmund dropped the axe head by the door on their way out, and they left it behind, forgotten, as Susan led the way across the plain to the pool of water she had described.

It was, as she had expected it would be, a perfect way to end the hot and dusty work of exploring the keep. The Kings and Queens removed the heaviest bits of their clothing and went at once into the water (Lucy and Edmund leaped, Peter fell in face first, and Susan waded in at her own pace, relishing the way the chill of the water spread slowly upward as she went) and began to swim.

Edmund's idea of swimming involved a lot of diving underwater and grabbing peoples' legs to dunk them, which was not always appreciated. Susan loathed the sudden clutch of the water at her face, and Edmund usually dunked her no more than once or twice because it wasn't worth the bruises he got when Peter took a swing at him for upsetting Susan. Peter didn't mind being dunked himself but he liked to dunk in turn, and things could get awfully splashy if he and Edmund were really of a mind to do the thing properly, so Edmund usually restricted himself chiefly to dunking Lucy, who always rather enjoyed the fright of it, and certainly appreciated the cold bath.

"I don't suppose that many people come here; what do you think?" Peter reflected, kicking up his legs and drifting about on his back. Susan, bobbing a little beside his head, said no, she didn't imagine they did.

"Why do you ask?"

"I only wondered." Peter studied the sole tree that served as a wide-reaching shelter for the pool. "Seems a lonely sort of place, somehow. I think it could do with people around to liven it up."

"Perhaps we might come here more often then," Susan suggested, but even as she said it, she knew it could never be.

"What, you think we'll be able to do this again?" Peter shook his head, and got water in his ear as he did. "It took you forever to plan this one escape, Susan; I don't imagine it will happen twice. Next time they'll be ready for it. They'll want to send guards with us, and attendants, and . . . well, they're right, of course, we do need at least some of those things, but . . . it wouldn't be the same, would it?"

Susan looked around them, at the valley and the hill beyond, at the wheeling and galloping quartet of horses who were revelling in their newfound, free-ranging state and celebrating by racing one another across the plain. If ever they came back there would be more horses, so they would need to be tethered. There would be ladies and valets and guards. There might even be Ministers.

"No," she agreed, "it wouldn't be the same." She looked behind her to where Lucy was being dragged under the water by Edmund for the eighth time. "But . . . I am so glad that we at least have today."

"Yes," Peter said, and bobbed upright so he might shake his head in an effort to get the water from his ear. "So am I."

And they smiled at one another in a kind of sad, adult sort of understanding that lasted them for the remainder of the swim, which ended when the horses came over to take a drink and it occurred to Edmund to suggest that they race.

"Race!" Susan, seated on a large rock on the shore of the pool to wring out her hair, was startled. "I don't know . . ."

"Oh please!" Lucy said, bending over to wring out her chemise. "I think races would be lovely. We've all cooled off, and I can't think of anything I should like more right now than to have races, only I am yet too hot to run any myself."

Since it was the request of the guest of honour, naturally Susan assented to the races. They did not end up trudging all the way back over to the hill where the tack was kept, but rather simply used rocks and fistfuls of horse mane to boost themselves up, and then they were off and running.

Bareback riding is a tricky, slippery business but if you grip the horse just right with your legs you can usually manage to stay on, and this is what the Kings and Queens did, all of them whooping and slipping and bouncing and nearly-almost-but-not-quite sliding off as the horses thundered hell for leather across the plain. There was no clear and easy winner in any of the races, for all four of the horses were so well-matched to one another that they made a dead heat of it each time. None of the four could even be bothered to mind this, though, for it was all they could do simply to stay mounted— and indeed, in the end, not all of them could.

"Did you plan that?" Lucy challenged Susan, once Edmund's tumble from Ram called an end to their racing. Susan said nothing, but simply led them back up the hill to the panniers once more, where she fetched a length of linen bandage and used it to bind Edmund's wrenched elbow. Lucy, chastened, fell silent and studied her bare toes in the grass— all ten of them now stained a rich green from the younger Queen's having gone barefoot since lunch ended.

"You will be in sorry shape for the hunt this autumn," Susan told Edmund, wrapping her brother's arm. "I should not be surprised if this is the year we catch the Stag; he will take one look at the state of you, my Lord, and fall down laughing."

"Bah, I could hunt with both arms bandaged!" Edmund declared. "And of course we shall catch the Stag; this is the year when something must happen, I tell you, I can feel it. But today is Lucy's day, and it's not time for the hunt; who's for a roll down the hill?"

Lucy was of course more than ready for another roll down, and Peter was agreeable too. Susan followed them at a distance, wondering why something for which she had not planned —a queer, sudden press on her chest— had sprung up at hearing Edmund's words. Something Must Happen . . . it was so grim a thing to say. Why was it so grim? There was no reason that it should be, and yet . . .

She fought to shake that feeling as she dropped to her side and joined them in their rolling, all four of them tumbling down the hill as though they were suddenly children once more, even after so many years of having been grown and rulers of a rich and wondrous kingdom. She fought to recapture the gaiety of just minutes ago as she rolled, the world twisting round her in an incomprehensible, backward whirl. She struggled to go back to where she had been just a moment before, and found it didn't work; she couldn't go back.

Again and again they rolled, climbed, and rolled again. They climbed and rolled until at last they were so ill and dizzy they could roll no more, but simply laid inert on the ground and waited for the world to stop rolling 'round them. They all stretched out in the grass together at the foot of the high green hill, and stared up at the sky. Their breath came quick and hard from the ferocity of the fall, and three of them were smiling.

It was Susan who broke the silence. Her eyes were closed and the sun kissed her face as it descended from its exultant pinnacle in a perfect, late-summer sky. She was glad that all she had planned had come off so perfectly; it was exactly as she had hoped to make it, for Lucy's sake, which meant that the day should have been the greatest success she had known, and yet there was a sort of hushed ache in her voice as she spoke, echoing her sister's words of earlier that day, voicing the hope shared by all four under the late summer sun:

"Don't you wish we could stay here forever?"

O0O0O0O

O0O0O0O

A.N.: And that is All There Is. This is a response to a challenge posted on Narnia Fan Fiction Revolution, but in truth that is (in my mind, at least) only its secondary purpose. Not only does Narnia itself not belong to me, but today, in addition to stealing CS Lewis's characters, I am once again poaching his idea of writing to present the work as a gift.

This piece is a birthday gift for my sister on the occasion of her (like Lucy's!) almost-nearly twenty-third birthday. She has a more tangible gift due to be given to her one week from today, but this piece was just itching to be posted and presented. Claire was even invited to contribute a request for something she wanted to see included; she said "something that would never be in Narnia," which is why I was forced to introduce the mention of aspirin. Because she doesn't like to make things easy, my sister! So, there you have it: although I am submitting this piece as an answer to the fic challenge, it is first and foremost a birthday gift for my CiCi. Therefore:

For you, Claire, on the occasion of your almost-nearly birthday (and on the occasion of our successfully installing the air conditioner, and celebrating that not-insignificant achievement with brochette) I give you this— a story with aspirin (and a colour in the title, though you did not ask for that). For so many years you created stories with me when we should have been sleeping; you came riding with me when I begged you to, you woke me at the crack of countless Christmas dawns (although I never struck you for it, I was sometimes sorely tempted!) and we have bounced around from unplanned place to unexpected place hand-in-hand. For the past twenty two (almost twenty three) years you have been my co-conspirator in every adventure worth having; you have managed somehow to be both Lucy to my Susan and Susan to my Lucy.

I love you beyond measure and can't wait to spring the surprise of your "actual" gift upon you! You have been so very patient with me these past months, letting me plan and obsess and enthuse over something about which you, by necessity, could know nothing. Thank you so much for indulging me in my mad love for planning things; I only hope that your gift gives you many years of enjoyment to make up for me so selfishly hoarding the knowledge of it since spring!