first: A Door in the Wall
Second: On the Other Side of the Door
Third: The Call Comes Again
Fourth: New Travelling Companions
Fifth: Complications and then Complications
Sixth: Stranger Things
Seventh: A Change and Changes
Eighth: But Not A Return
The next morning found mounts, Soleck, Leffen, breakfast, and packed saddle bags waiting for the four of them. Breakfast, as laid out by Marna and Orna, was heavy, filling, and delicious. The horses were horses only, as far as Susan could tell, solid working beasts that seemed placid, easy rides. Well, Soleck had no way of knowing they’d spent a lifetime in the saddle, and these may have been the rides available. Susan hoped she wasn’t taking a beast someone needed to pull a plow.
“One more day I will travel with you, and then one more morning. After that, the sight of a Herald and Companion is likely to spook His Highness or cause the wrong rumors to go to the wrong ears. There will be other guides, however.” Soleck half-bowed apologetically. “We would not send you off into strange wilderness alone.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Edmund quipped quietly. He cleared his throat when Soleck looked at him strangely. “We appreciate the guides. It’s a strange place, like you said. We’d likely get awfully turned around without some help.”
That, Susan thought, might be laying it on a bit heavily, but Soleck accepted it.
“There will be maps, of course. And there is a compass for guiding you. But maps and compasses can sometimes be tricky when you do not know if the road you are on is Center Street or The Grand Aisle, no?” He grinned, amused, and it was such an infectious expression that Susan found herself smiling back at him.
“Oh, certainly,” Ed agreed cheerfully. “It does no good to say you’ve got seventeen leagues between Caer… between one place and the next if you’ve got no idea where you are in relation to either place, or even how to recognize either place when you get there.”
“Indeed. And so we will do what we can to guide you, and make certain you know where you are on those maps when your guides leave you. There are better solutions, I am sure…” He hesitated as Leffen tossed his head, but whatever the Companion was saying, he was not sharing it with the rest of them. “…other solutions, certainly, but this is the solution we have.”
None of them questioned that, for what could they say? They rode in silence instead, and for Susan’s part, at least, she studied the countryside, its farmlands and its rolling hills so like places she had been before, and so different.
“Look,” Lu would say, from time to time, “a kestrel,” or “Look, a squirrel,” and she was as excited about both, so Susan knew her sister’s thoughts were along similar paths as her own.
The boys were quieter, but once in a while, Ed would point out a road sign or some curiosity, or Peter would point out the slope of a roof or a way the rocks were put together in a wall. Nobody said remember when we saw this in Narnia?; the habit was too ingrained in all of them. But it was writ large, even in the way they wore their tunics and breeches and split skirts, even in the way they sat on their placid, easy mounts.
Susan noticed, too, the way Soleck was looking at them. She’d catch him looking at Edmund and Peter discussing the strategic importance of a specific wall, or Lucy humming thoughtfully about the the flow of a particular creek. She’d catch him looking at her studying the people walking down the road or riding in carts or carriages.
“You four are… interesting,” he said, slowly and ruefully, when he realized he’d been caught out watching. “I begin to understand what it is the Sunlord would see, to bring you here. You are right, you Edmund, that people will see what they do of your stature, and they will not see what they should of your nature.”
He sounded, Susan thought, a little bit sad. She kneed her horse a little closer to Leffen and looked up at him through a fringe of hair. It was a tactic Lucy had decried on more than one occasion — but on more occasions than that, it had gotten Susan quite far. “Is something amiss, Soleck?”
“Amiss?” His smile was even more triste than he had sounded previously. “This world, I believe, is amiss, that we would send children such as your brother and sister into such difficult situations. I see that the SunLord had his reasons, but the reasons of those above are not for ones like me to question.”
“He’s not a tame SunLord,” Lucy muttered.
“No,” Soleck answered, sounding more than a little bit confused, “tame he is most definitely not.”
“It’s a, a thing we said about our… our god, the one who sent us here,” Susan managed to explain, but that did little, if anything, to wipe the lost and unhappy look from Soleck’s face.
She supposed there were not that many people who could say, as she and Lu could, that they had ridden on the back of the Lion of Narnia, that they had cuddled the mane of their god.
She cleared her throat and, rather than attempting to explain what she imagined might be impossible to make clear, she changed the subject. “You mentioned maps, but what of the lay of the land. That is… we are in Valdemar. You said you were a Karsite. That is a part of Valdemar or another nation?”
“Oh, another nation, most definitely.” He looked startled at the question. Interesting. “To the south and the east of Valdemar, not all that far from here, as such things go.”
“And Is Valdemar on a coast? What other nations border it?”
“Truly these are things you do not know? But you must have come from somewhere…” Soleck shook his head as Leffen danced in place, not “speaking” such that they Pevensies could hear, but being quite clear on his opinions nevertheless. Soleck coughed. “Ahem. So. Rethwellen borders Valdemar peacefully, and…”
By the time he was done, Susan found herself wishing for maps and a pad in which to write this. How had she ever learned all this, back in Narnia? More importantly, by the time she was done, the angry and confused look had vanished from Soleck’s face.
“Thank you for the briefing.” She bowed formally from horse-back, only to see Soleck flushing again. “It does make our job easier.”
“And you, in turn, make mine easier. Thank you.” He sounded confused rather than grateful. Susan wondered what was bothering him.
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