No matter how Susan tried to reassure herself, she couldn't forget Edmund's words, so, after whirling her signature across the bottom of yet another document, she got up and went in search of help.
She could have asked Kreysa, who had recently returned, but Susan had found herself wary of the dryad despite assurances that she had not been implicated in the murder attempt. It wasn't just the incident, but the way she watched Susan now, far too carefully.
Instead, she found her footsteps tracing the well-known path to Madame Ness' lair, and almost smiled, though the sand was wet from the night's rain and rubbed against her bare feet.
The sea serpent did not answer for a long time following her explanation.
"I suppose," she said at last, "it would depend on the wording of the book. Do you happen to have it?"
"No," said Susan, feeling oddly defensive. "Lucy has it, up at the castle."
"Hmm," went the serpent. "Indeed."
"You would surely not have me mistrust Lucy?"
"I would have all of you mistrust everyone," Madame Ness replied. "It is the only way anyone can ever be safe."
"But do you think it will cause any harm?" Susan asked her.
"Dear, these tales are just that – tales to bring blind hope to children. I would be very surprised to get any effects at all."
"They seemed so sure," Susan said. "The writers, I mean."
"They lived so long ago no one knows who they even were," said the serpent. "Nor what their aims were for writing. You might have happened upon some of the Witch's early propaganda."
"Why would she have needed it?" Susan asked, momentarily distracted. "She was ruling so harshly -–"
"It was no easy task to conquer a country like Narnia," said Madame Ness, sounding impossibly old. Susan stared at her, trying her best to look past the shadows and the thin glimmery sheen of water covering the serpent's body. She thought she could see wrinkles and cracked skin.
She had never given serious thought to the age of anyone in Narnia before. Somehow it had seemed as if they were all going to live forever together, like in some fairy tale she had heard long ago, one which had seeped its way down to her very bones and whose ideas resurfaced in the least convenient moments.
"So you don't think it will matter what we do, then?" she asked finally.
"No," came the reply, before Madame Ness retreated back into her home.
Susan stood there for a while, staring at the place where the sea serpent had been, before finally turning away.
Her eyes stung, and she did not think it was just from the sea-salt in the air.
"I suppose," said Lucy in a low voice, "that it all depends on the wording. It's more than just the fine print, it's the implications our actions may have."
"That's what I'm worried about," Susan whispered back, eyes still fixed on the hastily erected stage where a rather morose play was being performed at the behest of the Royal Restoration Society, the chairman of which could be heard groaning about how actors used to be better in his day. She spared him a disgusted glance. "Oh, honestly."
"He was one of Her first victims," Lucy said. "It must be a great change."
"It was a great change for us too. We've never complained," she said, although it wasn't strictly true, but at least they'd never done so in public.
"Being unhappy is not a crime. Beside, for us it was mostly an improvement."
"The Witch's absence could be considered an improvement too," Susan said, and brought her hands together to applaud politely when one of the players took a deep bow, Lucy mirroring her a moment later.
"Thank you!" her sister called, jumping down from her throne to give a shallow curtsey in return. "That was wonderful!"
Her smile was as bright as ever, no trace of their discussion left on her face, perpetually happy the way no one else Susan had ever met managed to be.
"Where's Edmund anyway?" Lucy asked as the last of the members left the Great Hall.
"He went riding," Susan replied, pulling her shoes off. Her feet ached from the pressure.
Lucy glanced incredulously through the open door to the balcony, where the sky was well on the way to match the darkness of Susan's hair. "It's nearly dark," she pointed out.
"He's probably back by now."
"Probably," Lucy allowed, pulling her hair back from her face. There were dark shadows forming under her eyes, as strong and firm as roots reaching beneath the ground, and just as reluctant to be removed. They all had them these days. "And Peter?"
Susan blinked. "I'm not sure, actually. I suppose he might have gone too."
"How lucky we're not his social secretaries," Lucy commented with a laugh. "What a mess there would be."
"Also rather demeaning for our positions," Susan replied, and yawned, hurriedly snapping her jaws closed when Mr Beaver entered the room unannounced, but he was too busy bowing to notice.
Lucy almost jumped off the dais in her hurry to greet him. "Oh, hello!"
"Your Majesties," he said, "there is a situation." His favourite hat was in his hand, and he appeared to be gripping it tightly, as though the warmth of the wool and the threads of his wife's affections could give him strength.
"Yes, there generally is," said Susan, leaning back on the throne as though the unrelenting stiffness could somehow transfer itself to her.
"Archenland or Calormen?" Lucy asked, and then, "oh, Archenland, of course. I am sorry, you've only just returned."
"You can never trust an Archenlander to keep his promise," said the beaver in a disgusted tone. "Even the royals, for all that they're of good Narnian stock if you go back far enough. Abandoned their homeland, didn't they?"
"But it's only been a week since the argeement!" Susan protested.
"They expect us to feel safe in our beds, for a country of their size must rely on the element of surprise. I'm told there's already been a significant increase of troops on patrol at their side of the border, violating the terms of the treaty."
Lucy frowned. "It may be a simple misunderstanding. After all, Lune has always been friendly."
But Mr Beaver hesitated. "It may be the case that he has been misled by his border lords. Some of them are rather hostile to Narnia, especially the Duke of Stormness Head, and wish to extend their territories further north." He did not sound entirely convinced.
"But that's Lord Peridan's father! He sent me one of these daggers!" Lucy cried, gesturing at her belt, from which hung a fine array of sharp steel, and a velvet pouch for her healing cordial.
"Many have been suspicious," said the beaver carefully, "of King Edmund's – return."
"So it's our fault?" Her gaze turned instantly to Susan.
Mr Beaver hurried to assure them otherwise. "All alliances fall apart in the end. I am truly sorry to be the bearer of such news, Your Majesties, but my contacts were quite clear on the matter, and they have never failed me yet."
Susan opened her mouth, and hurriedly closed it again, breath whooshing out of her in a gasp of realisation. "And of course if we send troops they will claim it is an attack against them."
There was silence for a moment.
Mr Beaver pressed one paw against his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut, and in a moment he looked like a blanket of thick fur of the type commonly worn amongst the giants. Finally, he said, "We could hide them in the mountains. That way, if their presence is discovered, it can be dismissed as a training exercise to make them accustomed to various conditions."
"I'll go down and tell the commander. Only, who shall we send? Oreius is ill, and Lord Peridan is out of the question, of course, but –"
Susan interrupted her. "I doubt you'll find Lord Peridan anywhere near Cair Paravel. He'll be heading home as swiftly as his horse can take him, but one of the sentries at the border will most likely stop him. He'll not reveal his true allegiances just yet."
Lucy had grown pale, and her words were slow and heavy. "They won't stop him."
"He's clever enough to have some chance of slipping through, of course, but they've been ordered not to let anyone pass without written permission from one of us, signed and sealed with the royal seal."
Lucy would not look directly at her. "Yes. And so they'll let him though."
"Hardly. We'd agreed we wouldn't – " Lucy looked up at her, her eyes wet. Oh.
"He said his brother had been injured," she said, "dying, even. I would have hated to be kept away from any of you in such a situation."
"And so you let him go." said Susan, blinking back the image of similar requests. Had he written to her as well, and having failed, tried again with Lucy? All such requests had blended together into one long one, because of course everyone suddenly got the urge to holiday when it was most inconvenient.
"May I suggest Sir Rogin?" Mr Beaver interjected, after which they both turned to him in surprise. Susan had mostly forgotten he was there. "He's certain to remain loyal."
Rogin was an able enough commander, but he despised Archenland. "He's apt to be too rash. He'll relish it too much."
"I think one of us ought to go," said Lucy thoughtfully. "That way, we could disguise some troops as guards. Besides, it would make more of an impression."
"It won't make much difference. He sees us as children." Most foreigners did, especially their rulers, accustomed to regencies and councils whenever the rulers were underage.
"We are children," Lucy reminded, frowning slightly.
Susan had to admit that was true. "But we can't act as such. We're expected to rule, not play, and so that is what we have to do."
She hadn't played at anything for a long time, except perhaps at being Queen.
"It shouldn't be Peter. He's been having too much fun at the northern border; it's time for one of us to have a chance."
"It's not a game!" Susan protested, but acknowledged that having the High King present might seem too suspicious. "Edmund should go, prove he's still his old self."
"I'll go with him, just in case," said Lucy with a nod, and then, shooting a quick sideways look at Mr Beaver, added, "We should take care of certain affairs beforehand."
Having presumably caught the look, Mr Beaver smiled faintly, and bid them a warm goodbye, carefully slipping his hat back onto his head, struggling to slip it into place with his paws. Then he left the room, turning his back almost immediately.
"It'll have to be tonight then."
They had just reached Edmund's bedchamber when they saw him coming towards them from the other side of the hallway, flanked by a leopard from the Guard and Lord Istmul.
"I lost track of time a bit," he said, smiling sheepishly. "They caught up with me."
"Indeed, Your Majesties," said Lord Istmul with a bow, edging backwards. The leopard inclined her head to the side so that her long pale whiskers brushed a shoulder, and agreed.
Susan gave them a faint smile, but they still appeared expectant. At last Istmul seemed to give up, and retreating a few steps, turned around and walked briskly towards the staircase.
Oken too moved deftly away to give them some privacy, stepping to nearly block the entrance to a side corridor.
"We have to do it tonight," said Lucy to Edmund, eyes still locked on the guard. "Lune's starting to cause problems."
Edmund blinked. "Do we know enough? If we do it wrong-" He sounded hopelessly young in a way Susan hadn't heard anyone sound for a long time. They only kept company with adults, nowadays.
"That'll always be an issue," Lucy said, biting her lip. "I can't remember the last time I did something feeling fully informed."
"We have to do it though," Susan said. "We have to do all those things we'd never thought we would. Why should this be any different?"
"Because it affects our subjects more acutely than the others did," Edmund said.
"More than the Army? There have been wars and conflicts aplenty, and there will be plenty more still, perhaps very soon. And so many fall in battle."
"Wars affect everyone, regardless of species," Edmund pointed out. "And the Army fairly equally. This won't. No risk of something happening to, I don't know, the bears."
"Madame Ness says there's no risk of anything happening to anyone." Susan said, not elaborating.
Edmund understood it anyway. "She doesn't think it'll work at all, does she?"
"She's been wrong before," Lucy insisted stubbornly, but for once it lacked conviction. "She'll be wrong again."
"We should talk to Peter first."
Susan agreed, and did not wait for a reply before she too followed Lord Peridan's footsteps back to her own chambers, and throwing herself onto her bed.
She didn't have much time, but it would have to do.
Predictably, Peter agreed. Getting him to change his mind about anything had always been an exercise in futility.
"Aslan gave us these positions, Ed. He trusts us to make the right decisions."
"What if the right decision is not to do this?" Edmund said, perching on the arm of a chair which Susan knew from experience looked more comfortable than it actually was.
"It certainly won't be not to do anything. We're not philosophers; we can't waste our lives away wondering about the meaning of life, or something. We have to act before someone invades and our people are enslaved again."
"And if we're the ones causing them harm?"
"We can't know!" Peter insisted. "How do you propose to go about it? Do make sure to tell us when you start seeing the future, Ed. I'm sure it'll be a great relief."
"Don't argue!" Lucy cried. "It won't help at all."
Peter looked down. "Sorry. The stress is beginning to get to me."
"I think it's getting to us all," Edmund said. "So's the insomnia."
"We can get sleep after this is done," Lucy said, though she didn't sound particularly sure about it.
"If it works, which is doubtful."
"Such an optimist," Susan said dryly. "It's the only option we have."
"We'll do it after dinner then," Peter announced, sparing a quick glance at the clock at the mantelpiece. "We don't know how it'll take."
"You should eat some more," Lucy said when Edmund placed his cutlery down and leaned back in his chair with an air of finality.
"I don't have much of an appetite today," Edmund answered, giving her a weak smile.
"Nerves?" she asked, prodding cautiously at her food. "What is this, anyway?"
"If we told you," Peter said laughing, "you wouldn't eat it."
Lucy gave her plate a long dubious look. "I'm done anyway," she declared.
"You should eat some more," Edmund mocked, waving his cup in the direction of the faun serving them. Susan thought he might be some sort of relative to Tumnus, a cousin perhaps.
She thought they had had a cousin once, a very long time ago. She wondered what had happened to him. Maybe it had been the Witch, or the bitter cold of those first few days.
"I've eaten more than you," Lucy said, sipping at her own diluted wine.
Edmund lifted his glass up, and took a tentative sip. "Is this the same wine as before?"
Peter nodded, raising his glass. "To success?" he offered.
"Yes," Susan said. "Today and always."
They echoed it, clinging their glasses together in the middle, but when Edmund pulled his glass back, it splashed, red staining his doublet as swiftly as blood from a battlefield wound. He glanced down disinterestedly.
"I suppose I'd better change."
"It's hardly a state banquet," Susan pointed out, pulling her chair closer to the table so that he could pass more easily. "Do hurry up."
"Yes," he agreed, but made no move to leave, instead drinking up the remnants of his wine in slow, easy gulps.
The light made his eyes look like bruises on his face, paler from being turned towards the light. It seemed like a strangely long moment, like walking into a wardrobe and never walking out again.
There was a sharp clang when the glass hit the table, and Edmund turned away.
"We'll come to your room," Peter called after him, but he didn't reply.
Susan knocked twice, carefully, stepping back to wait for an answer. When none seemed forthcoming, she knocked again, harder.
There was no answer but silence so, exchanging a brief look with Peter, she grasped the door handle, and twisted it, pushing forward as she did so. The door creaked forwards, opening up into darkness.
They stepped into the gloom, squinting. There was merely a little light coming through the windows and the fireplace, but it was enough to see that the room was empty.
Lucy stepped outside, and returned swiftly, carrying a large platter full of candles. The corridor behind her was unexpectedly dark.
"They won't miss them much, I suppose," she said, placing it carefully on Edmund's desk, having elbowed a stack of papers out of the way until they crashed to the floor in a haphazard heap.
"He should still be here." Peter said. "I did say we were meeting here."
"Perhaps he didn't hear," Lucy suggested, leaping up at the knock. "Maybe that's him."
"Ed wouldn't knock at his own door," Susan pointed out as a handful of courtiers entered, carrying buckets. "What's all this?"
"Supplies," said her sister, still holding the door as if she were a footman and not a queen.
"We don't need three pounds of chalk," she protested, judging at a glance. "Nor do I recall drunkenness being required."
"It says we're supposed to pour the wine as a libation," said Peter, rereading the instructions. "It's supposed to entice the spirits to come."
"So that we can banish them?" Susan asked incredulously. "I certainly wouldn't come."
"They don't know what's going to happen," Lucy insisted, peering down the corridor after them. "That's the whole point."
"I think maybe we should do this outside," said Peter, turning the page. "We're supposed to pour the wine into the ground."
"Pardon?" Lucy whirled around, one hand still resting on the doorknob.
"Look," he said, holding the book out towards her, fingers pointing to a large paragraph of minuscule letters. "It has to stay within the boundaries of the chalk."
"It would probably seep along the floorboards and through the cracks. We'd ruin whatever is below here, at any rate." Susan said, mentally attempting to map the castle. There was Mister Tumnus' room, but that was further east, so perhaps the armoury, or one of the larger storage rooms.
"It would be a shame to ruin this carpet," Lucy added, prodding it with her toe. "Calormene, is it?"
"Avran. So's the cushion," Susan said, tilting her chin up to point. "It's mostly Sheep wool."
"Should we have it, then?" she asked, momentarily diverted, though still moving forwards to their ample supplies.
"They don't mind it," Peter said. "It prevents them overheating in summer." He snapped the book shut. "We're going to need a knife,"
"I have one," Lucy said, hand flying halfway to her side as if by instinct. She stopped it there, and shifted it back down to grasp the handle of a nearby bucket. There were bottles of wine inside it, laid protectively inside a sea of little shards of ice, coloured brightly to prevent recollections of the Witch's bitter winter. The bottles came in different sizes, tall and tiny, dark as nightmares or lighter even than the midday sun over Cair Paravel.
There was even, to the side, a bottle of dark glass covered with a bare coating of dust, which appeared to be sailors' rum.
"We asked for wine," Susan pointed out. Unexpectedly, Peter grinned, teeth showing as sharp as a hungry shark's.
"We'll have it to celebrate," he announced, and stooped to pick up the bucket of chalk. And, picking up the last bucket of cool water, sloshing against the sides, and spilling slightly to run down her gown and into her shoe, Susan followed them.
She stopped in the doorway, shivers running down her spine, and looked back into the room. The candles glowed happily. She laid the bucket on the ground, and walked back to blow them out, watching the flames flicker and dance, all resistant to her breath, dying one by one like enemies falling on a battlefield.
It was dark inside again when Susan picked up her bucket and followed her siblings, waiting impatiently at the bottom of the stairs.
"We should wait for Edmund," Lucy said as they stepped outside, blinking hard to make her eyes adjust.
"He's clearly occupied," Peter said, pulling down his sleeves. "We don't have time to delay this."
"What if something's happened?"
"The palace is guarded," Peter answered, not mentioning that that hadn't prevented anything before.
"He's probably just preparing for tomorrow. The soldiers will need to know." He reached out and laid a hand carefully on Lucy's shoulder, squeezing slightly.
"We should all be here to do this," Lucy said, so focused on avoiding a tree that she walked almost directly into Susan's path. "Sorry," she added, giving her a brief smile before turning back to their brother, "but it's important enough."
"We don't know what else might have happened," Susan said, looking back at the castle.
"The trees are so still," said Lucy suddenly, face turning.
She was right; they were as unnaturally unmoving as the spiritless trees outside Narnia, their only movement coming from the faint blow of wind. They did not dance, and with a shock Susan realised that she could not remember when they had last done so. Not since before Edmund had first died, perhaps, for they had stopped then, and she had been too preoccupied to see them do so afterwards. They stood guard like silent sentinels, cold as the stone Jadis had wrought.
"They're just asleep, Lu," said Peter, sounding decidedly unsure. "It is night, after all."
Somewhere in the woods a wolf howled, and next to Susan Lucy shivered in her thin dress, pulling her arms close to her body in an attempt to retain the heat. They had forgotten to bring coats, remembering the warm summer nights barely a month or so ago, but the nights were turning gradually colder; and it felt as though the cold was seeping in through the air and reaching down to their very bones.
"I suppose," Lucy acknowledged. "But that has never stopped them before."
They did not have anything to say to that, so a while passed in somewhat stilted silence as they stepped forwards carefully, feeling cautiously for small stones in their path.
Some time later they came to the clearing where she and Lucy had struggled with the books recently. It looked different at night, the trees casting looming shadows across the dull grass.
There was the sound of hooves from behind them, thudding across the wide path, and they whirled around, Susan's hand flying to her belt, where sharp blades of varying length hung. Peter's sword was already in his hand, the light of the moon reflecting off the silver in a shine that seemed almost blinding.
Susan found herself wishing for her bow and arrows, though her aim with knives was almost as accurate.
A dark centaur trotted into the clearing. Susan couldn't see her face, only the swirls on her patterned vest of her legion, but she saw Peter's posture relax, tension vanishing from the set of his shoulders as quickly as it had come, and breathed in heavily.
"Your Majesties," said the centaur, inclining her head briefly. The bells in her hair jingled, half-hidden by the curls.
"Good evening, Orla," said Peter calmly. "What brings you out here at this time of day?"
"Ceres is unseasonably bright tonight, Your Majesties," Orla said, tilting her head briefly. "It denotes a time of crisis."
"We're aware. It's being dealt with." Her tone was very firm, more dismissive than Lucy usually let herself become.
"And we will succeed in this," Susan added.
Orla bowed slightly, bending her forelegs slightly so that they bobbed up and down like flowers swaying in the wind.
"Their plans will be foiled," she said, and then she was gone, as quickly as she had come, retreating until it was just her torso and head Susan could see, and then just the leaves rustling in her path.
"Edmund's just too suspicious," Peter commented. "The centaurs are usually right."
"But do we want her to be?" Lucy asked, opening the book at the bookmarked page and running her eyes over the instructions one last time.
"We hardly want this to fail."
"She sounded pretty serious," Susan said, crouching down to help Lucy, who had taken a handful of powdered chalk and was spreading it out on the ground. It stuck to her hands just as easily as it did to the grass, and when she reached up to brush her fringe back from her face it came off to stain her hair, falling down onto her eyelashes. Lucy blinked furiously, but it stayed, as visible as Calormene kohl.
"It seems a bit lopsided," Lucy said when they had finished, stepping back to look their work over critically. "It's meant to be one large circle, divided into two even sections."
"I know," Susan said, looking down. The divide was almost perfectly in the middle, though the chalk on the outside one section looked fainter, brushed away by the wind. "That's what it is."
She reached back down for more chalk, but her hand brushed Peter's as he pulled out, and then stepped forwards into the circle to rub it into the grass.
"I think it's probably fine now," he announced after a minute, stepping carefully over the line. "Where does the wine go, again?"
"One of the sides," Lucy said, not bothering to consult the book. "Watch that it doesn't go over, it would probably erase the chalk."
"I know what I'm doing," Peter insisted, reaching for a bottle of faun wine and unscrewing the cap. He glanced down at the label. "Fine vintage we're wasting on them."
"We're planning to expel them from the country," Susan said, reaching down for another bottle. "The least we can do is send them off in style."
"They tried to kill us," Peter protested, taking a long sip. A drop of it ran out of the corner of his mouth and down his throat as he swallowed, disappearing under his collar. He wiped his chin with one hand, the other still wrapped around the neck of the bottle.
"That's not what it's for," Lucy laughed, reaching out for it, but she took a sip too before tilting it upside down in the middle of the circle. It gushed out like a river, flowing out along the grass. Under the feeble light they had, the marked ground looked black, burned or like too much dried blood on a battlefield.
It did not seem like something which would draw anyone to them, but maybe they followed wine like sharks did blood, smelling it out under the dark depths of the ocean.
Susan did not drink from hers, but crouched down to pour it by the outskirts of the half-circle, especially on the side further from her siblings where few drops had reached at all.
"Salt around the edges?" she asked when she had finished.
Lucy gave her a brief nod. "Of their side, and especially strong in the middle. Apparently it's so that they can't get out."
"That's perfectly fine," said Susan. "But what do we do with them once they're trapped? Since they're spirits, they probably won't have proper bodies."
"You can't kill a dryad by attacking its manifestation, only by felling its tree," said Peter. "But they probably require some form of nutrition. Maybe we can starve them out."
"But sooner or later the salt will seep into the ground," said Susan, reaching for the little bag of it they had been given from the kitchens. "And then it'll have been for nothing at all."
"It doesn't say anything about killing them," Lucy protested, gesturing helplessly to the book. "Maybe we're not supposed to want them dead."
"We need to talk to them first," Susan said, sighing. "Since we don't actually know that they did anything wrong," she continued, giving Peter a very pointed look. He didn't seem to notice.
"Ed's so rarely wrong," he said instead.
When it was finally finished, and they were stood safely inside the half-circle, Peter drew out a long ceremonial dagger from his belt, and ignored their protests.
"It should be me," Lucy cried. "I feel like I've hardly done anything; it's not right!"
Peter smiled down at her, a bit weakly. "Then I've done even less. We couldn't have done this without you."
"Maybe we should share the task," Susan said, "after all, it concerns all of us."
"They've had enough of your blood. And I won't give them that much, anyway."
"I thought the wine was supposed to entice them here," Lucy whispered. "Where are they?"
"Maybe we just can't see them," Susan answered in a similarly quiet voice. "Why are we whispering?"
"It seems like the right thing to do," said her sister as Peter dipped two fingers under his shirt cuff and dragged it up his forearm. "It just – feels like we shouldn't be discovered, not like this."
"It's the combination of blood and wine that they want," he said, and without warning, pushed the tip of the blade against his skin, until his blood seemed to spurt out of the sides of the wound, almost black in the feeble light. Peter crouched low on the ground, holding out his arm so that the droplets fell into the middle of the uninhabited circle, other hand squeezing it to make them fall quicker.
"And now we wait," he said when he had stood up, and wiped off the remaining blood with his sleeve, though he still held it slightly awkwardly.
"Yes," Susan murmured, and looked around, but there was no sign of movement.
"Edmund!" Lucy called out joyfully, and would have run to him had Peter not caught her by the wrist.
"Careful," he said. "I think we have to stay within the boundaries until it's over." And he raised his voice to say to Edmund, "I think you might be too late for this, but we did wait a while."
"We didn't know how long it might take," Lucy added, shrugging slightly. "And we both need some rest before tomorrow. Groggy commanders tend to be rather useless."
Edmund did not reply, but continued moving towards them with uneasy steps. The light made him looked washed-out, almost as pale as he had been in death, all the colour seemingly bleached out of his already light skin.
He continued forward in unusually even steps until he came to the edge of the chalk lines, then stepped easily over them into the empty part.
For a minute, Susan just blinked at him in astonishment.
"No," said Peter. "You have to come this side," but he sounded unsure.
Edmund only smiled slowly, silent and surprisingly ancient.
No, Susan thought, and dug her nails into her hands. The pain was instant and sharp, penetrating her foggy mind. No, she thought again, and was astonished to hear it out loud until she realised it hadn't been her voice at all.
"Edmund," Lucy said frantically. "You can't stay there, they'll come soon, and then -"
Peter laid a hand carefully on her shoulder, grasping it as if for support. "Lu," he said quietly.
Lucy dropped her satchel of left over salt, arms flying as she whirled around and fell into Peter's arms. Upturned, it flew forwards, carried along by the wind, and flecks of it hit Edmund, who abruptly screamed.
Susan could do nothing but watch, as the salt seemed to dissolve on Edmund's skin as it shifted and twisted in on itself.
Aslan, she thought in a panic, because whatever that thing was, it still held the appearance of her younger brother, and without meaning to, she found that she had stepped forwards, arms held out to embrace it.
"Susan, that's not –" Peter shouted, pushing Lucy away so abruptly she staggered, but it was too late. Edmund had already attached himself to her, and Susan could feel the heat flow up her arms, singeing the tips of her hair.
He – it – seemed to shake against her, and then suddenly she was holding onto pure air, as if trying to capture the wind. It seemed to take a lot of effort to pull her arms back to her sides.
She tried to blink away the tears, scrubbing at her eyes furiously.
After a while, she became aware of Lucy's arms around her neck, and Peter's cradling both their waists, but it as a long time until she felt she could breathe properly again.
When Susan did finally raise her head, she saw of flash of golden light, and pulled away from them both to see Aslan properly. But where she expected to see his brilliant mane, ruffled by the breeze, she saw only the silent trees, and above them the lightening sky; the dull grey and blue streaked with pale yellow.
Lucy didn't even turn around, but then her sister had always known him best, and Susan had always felt just as awed and strange in his presence as she had in the grand churches with their mother a lifetime ago.
"We should go back," Susan said quietly. Even that much felt like an extreme effort. They had stayed out for almost the whole night, and her eyes felt heavy and grotty, like massive stones in her face.
"Yes," Peter agreed, but they stayed there for a very long time, and the world was light again as they stumbled back to the castle with heavy hearts.