first: A Door in the Wall
Peter insisted on leading the way, of course. “I wish I had my sword.”
“Fat lot of good it would do you, climbing through a tunnel,” Edmund scoffed. The tunnel – for indeed the door opened into a tunnel, planked in wood and about hip-high on Peter, who was still the tallest of them. “Do you remember that time—”
“Hsst.” It was all three of them at once shushing him. Edmund colored but closed his mouth; he knew as well as they all did that one did not speak of Narnia where grown-ups might be listening. And in this place, with tunnels in the walls, who knew who might be listening?
“I’ll go second, then,” Edmund allowed, with poor grace but at least a little common sense. “Lu, you bring up the rear. And remember—”
“Of course, Edmund.” Lucy sighed loudly. “I shan’t close the door all the way behind me.”
“Lu, there’s no need to be like that.” Peter dropped down to his knees and clambered into the tunnel. “Edmund, do you have a torch?”
“I have two.” Edmund pursed his lips and then, making some sort of decision, passed one of his torches to Lucy. “Hold up, Peter, don’t go without us.” He hurried through the doorway.
Susan followed behind him, glad she had chosen to wear trousers. She could hear Lucy behind her and see the beam of the torch, although the tunnel was far less dark than one would suppose.
“It seems to go on a long time,” Peter called back. “It made a right turn, but it’s still going. Shouldn’t there be a wall here?”
Susan came to the right turn. The wood was very smooth under her hands and knees, and chilly, more like stone than wood. “I wonder what they built it for?”
“Maybe,” Lucy’s voice seemed to light up, “they were smuggling weapons. Or perhaps people. You could sleep in here all right, and if you turned the corner, even if someone found the doorway, they wouldn’t see you right away.”
It was on the tip of Susan’s tongue to say Honestly, Lucy or just Oh, Lu, the way she’d done so many times recently. But something about the tunnel made her remember another passage that had gone on a very long time, and she found something kinder to say instead.
“Perhaps they liked mysteries. I do wonder what’s above this space, though.”
It felt pleasant to be nice to Lucy. Things had been so ragged between them lately, especially since Lu and Edmund’s last visit to Narnia. Susan couldn’t remember the last time she’d giggled with her sister, the way they had when they were younger, especially when the boys were being gits.
“I think I… oh. I think I found something. Hurry up, Edmund.” Peter’s voice sounded strange, far-away and strained. Susan bit her lip. He’d sounded like that once when a Calormene archer caught him badly in the gut with a nasty, barbed arrow. Had he found some sort of rat-trap or other awful thing? Had he-
“Oh, girls, hurry up!” Edmund’s voice was all excitement. “You’ve got to see this!”
Susan’s worry flooded away, and in the space it had left, she found herself scolding. “Edmund, do hush. You don’t want them all to know we’re crawling around in here, do you?”
“I don’t think that’s a problem, Susan. Come on!”
Something in his voice spurred her on; his voice, and something in the air. She could feel a breeze, a breeze with a touch of spring seeming to waft in on it. “Oh, Lu,” she murmured. Her heart was pounding and she was moving along the passage as quickly as she could.
And then all of a sudden there was no more passage, and her vision was obscured by bright sunlight. Peter offered her both hands; it had to be Peter, because nobody else had those ridiculous sword-callouses he thought nobody would notice.
“Are we—” Her throat was tight.
“I don’t think so.” Her brother sounded apologetic, not at all as if they had just come through a secret passage into the sunlight. “Here. Look around, tell me what you think.”
That was something new since they had returned from Narnia.
Peter had not previously been all that interested in Susan’s opinion on matters outside the house or their siblings, but, as if he’d gotten used to the idea while they’d all been reigning Kings and Queens, now he tended to look for ideas outside himself.
Susan looked around. Behind them was dense forest, dark and heavy. She could see, very vaguely, the tunnel they had come through; Lucy was climbing out of it now. To their right, hills rose up into mountains in the distance, and to their left, there was more forest.
The forest behind them gave off a sensation of watching, at the same time similar to and entirely different from the talking trees of Narnia.
“This is no place I have ever stood nor rode in Narnia, nor in any other land in that realm.” She found herself putting on what she thought of as her Queen Susan voice and what the girls in school had taken to calling her Snotty and Full of Herself voice. “It is – it’s not Narnia. I don’t think it could be.”
“Then where is it? Where could we possibly be, if not Narnia?” Lucy was looking around desperately. She wore a sad smile on her face, one that was at once desperate and eager. “It could have changed, Susan, you know that time passes so fast sometimes in Narnia.”
Susan closed her eyes, feeling a breeze on her face that had never touched Aslan’s mane. “It could have, Lu,” she agreed slowly. Aslan had told them all that Narnia was closed to them. They had gotten to old. “Or… we could have a brand new adventure, the four of us.”
::We are hoping that you might::
Susan knew that she was not the only one that jumped. The voice – the voice had appeared in their heads, rather than taking the normal route through the ears. She had been so certain they were alone in their little clearing. Had she become so lax with city living that she had not noticed someone sneaking up on them?
Her first glance around showed no-one. She slowly lowered her hand from her shoulder, where her quiver ought to have been, and saw Peter’s hand drop from his hip, where his sword would have ridden.
Edmund, however, was staring at… she hadn’t thought to look down; how long had it been since she had been in Narnia? Down, where the mouse could already be stabbing you…
And a very tall cat – very likely a Cat – was sitting there, very peaceably. It reminded Susan of a Siamese cat, with its pointed face and very tall ears. Those ears were rust-colored, as was its muzzle and paws, giving the impression of a white cat who’d gotten itself a bit dirty.
::Harrumph. I have not been playing in any old armories, thank you very much:: The Cat’s lips did not move, but the cant of its ears assured Susan that it, indeed, was doing the talking. ::Welcome to Valdemar, children. It was thought that you could help us here and, in doing so, perhaps you could find the help that you needed as well.::
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