By Danicka Cooper
Word Count: 1520
Summary: Susan is grieving for her family, but Aslan arrives to comfort her.
“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley, where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”
-C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Anguished, choking cries had long ago given way to the slow, steady breaths of deep sleep. However, tear-stained cheeks, tousled hair, rumpled blouse and the shameful, lingering scent of alcohol still betrayed the sleeper’s tortured state. Her flat-mates had given up knocking on her bedroom door to offer condolences, comfort, or cups of tea—what does one say to someone who has lost their entire family in a tragic accident, anyway?
The dreadful telegram lay blotched and crumpled on the coverlet near her loosened fist; one could tell that she had been clenching it with all her might, perhaps pressing her knuckles to her mouth to quiet her sobs.
Susan Pevensie was alone in the world.
The air in the room was damp; she had neglected to shut and shutter the windows. Dismal, drizzling rain was pouring down outside, pooling on the windowsill and dripping to the floor. Lightning flashed, and thunder followed in due course—long, rhythmic rolls that crashed on tirelessly, endlessly, like the sea…
The spray of water on her face was what finally stirred her to wakefulness. The expected chilliness, however, was absent; instead, she found herself deliciously warmed, as if by a summer sun. Less delicious was the absence of the expected comfort of her bed; rather than a downy pillow, she found that her face was pressed against something hard and scratchy. She closed her palm around what felt remarkably like hot sand.
“I must be dreaming,” Susan mumbled, still muddled by grogginess and grief, as she sat up and scrubbed the sand from her face and the sleep from her eyes.
A slender strip of white shoreline extended endlessly to her left and to her right, and the sea before her eyes was also white. No—not white, but clear, with fragrant white lilies scattered thickly across its still surface. And it was still; glassy calm, in fact, yet she could still hear the roaring and crashing of endless waves. Bewildered, Susan turned about in search of the source of the sound.
She was astounded by the sight that met her eyes; on the other side of the white shore, waves of silver and azure climbed heavenwards rather than falling to earth; she craned her neck, but the waterfall ascended into the sky until it disappeared into the clouds, and she could not see the summit.
“Yes,” she whispered breathlessly. “Dreaming.”
“No; Daughter of Eve. Wide awake.”
The voice stirred something within her, a memory half-forgotten, and her heart skipped a beat.
“Who—who’s there?” She stuttered, peering out the corner of her eye, at once both hoping and afraid to catch a glimpse of the speaker.
Unable to resist the pull of the oh-so-familiar voice, she looked at last in the speaker’s direction , but saw no one—only a lamb, wobbly on newborn legs.
“Oh, you dear little thing!” She cooed, and knelt in the sand, extending a hand towards the creature.
The lamb looked at her with dark, ageless eyes, and did not move. Susan shifted uneasily and, after a time, withdrew her hand. She glanced beyond the lamb, to see where it had come from. No sooner did her eyes leave those of the lamb then she found herself crushed into the sand, propelled by something fierce and enormous. Terror seized her as searing pain lanced through her left shoulder; all was sand and confusion and a flash of tawny fur, and she hid her eyes behind her hands. A roar that was neither the sea nor the waterfall filled her ears until she thought she should scream, or go deaf, or both; it rattled her very soul.
“Help! Oh, help, please!” She shouted desperately, her voice returning to her.
The roaring ceased, and Susan felt a sudden release; the weight that had pinned her to the earth disappeared, and she scrambled to her feet, panting, clutching her torn and bleeding arm close to her chest. Trembling and terrified, she took in the sight before her—a great Lion, golden and beautiful and terrible to behold. She knew at any moment it could turn and pounce, and she would be no more. Then suddenly, impossibly, the Lion opened its mouth and spoke to her.
“Daughter of Eve, do you not know me?” The Lion growled.
Susan was thunderstruck, and her mouth dropped open of its own accord. The Lion’s tail twitched impatiently. Susan realized that the creature was expecting an answer, and she closed her mouth again, swallowing and searching for words.
“I… ah… I don’t…” She stammered uselessly, and the Lion fixed her with its amber eyes.
She felt that she could drown in the depths of those eyes—they were awash with rage and sorrow. There was something familiar about those eyes…
Memories cascaded down upon her as surely as the waterfall flowed upwards. She remembered looking up into these eyes for the first time and finding them majestic and full of wisdom. She remembered gazing into these eyes from afar and finding them sad and full of suffering. She remembered these eyes flashing with laughter as she romped with the Lion in the early light of dawn, and finding them full of love and joy.
“Aslan,” she said simply, dropping to her knees. She bowed her head, and her dark hair hid her face.
The Lion padded near to her then, and breathed first into her shoulder. The skin itched as her wound knitted together, and she rubbed it nervously. Next the Lion breathed into her face, and she found herself refreshed, though her face was wet with tears. The Lion lay beside her then, and curled protectively around her. She rested her head on his shoulder and breathed in the sweet scent of his fur.
“Aslan?” She ventured, when some time had passed.
“What is it, Daughter of Eve?”
“I don’t understand. This place; this isn’t Narnia. And you wounded me—well, now it’s healed, but…”
“Susan,” Aslan interrupted, and she felt silent. “Narnia is no more; that song has ended. I had hoped to see you there, with your brothers and sister, at the end.”
Susan felt her face flush with shame.
“They tried to remind me; I told them—I told myself—that it was make-believe. A game we played as children…” her excuses felt hollow and tasted sour. “Where are they? Peter and Edmond, and Lucy? My parents?”
“Friends of Narnia to the end,” came the easy reply, “They have entered my country, travelling ever onwards and upwards, into the story which goes on forever, each chapter better than the one before.”
“I am no longer a friend of Narnia,” Susan said softly, remembering a heated exchange with her younger brother Edmond.
“Queen Susan the Gentle, you are of Narnia,” Aslan responded, turning to fix her with his eyes.
“Perhaps I was once,” she answered bitterly, “But I forgot you. I made myself forget. How could I?! Now Narnia is gone, and so is my family. What else is there?” She broke into fresh tears, and Aslan breathed into her face once more, quieting her sobs and giving her strength.
“Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia,” Aslan said.
Susan scoffed and would have protested, but Aslan fixed her with his eye and her voice stilled in her throat.
“Once and always,” He said with finality, “and as to what else there is… there is so much more, Daughter of Eve. Narnia is ended, but your world has not. There I am called by another Name; have you learned to know me by that Name?”
“I… I think so,” she sniffed and swiped at her damp cheeks with a sandy sleeve.
The Great Lion stood then, and shook himself.
“Then it is time for you to return,” he said simply, looking at her with eyes full of love.
“Oh! Must I? Can’t I stay here with you?” Susan cried, dread and desperation creeping into her voice again.
“You must,” said the Lion, “And I will be with you, always.”
The roar of the waterfall grew louder in her ears. Susan reached out and tangled her fingers in Aslan’s mane, stroking it tenderly as she had done as a young girl. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and found her heart content.
A church bell was tolling six o’clock in some distant steeple.
Susan Pevensie opened her eyes to the gray light of dawn. The storm had ended. She found that she was clutching her coverlet in both hands. She could smell toast and bacon, and she could hear a whistling kettle. She sat up and rubbed her temples; her head still ached. Her heart still ached. Breakfast would most likely cure the former. As for the latter…
She found that her eyes were drawn to her bedside table; there, a leather-bound book lay dusty and forgotten.
Have you learned to know me by that Name?
“Once and always,” she whispered to herself. “Once and always.”