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Disclaimer: The Chronicles of Narnia and its characters do
not belong to me. I'm just borrowing them for my and (I hope) my
readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make
money off of them in any way, shape or form.
Warnings: Utter despair in
Fandom: Chronicles of Narnia
Author: The RCK
Last updated: 1 August 2014
Not All My Grief
Thanks to Olna Jenn for encouragement and to Heliopause, Valerie and
Untherius for beta reading. Written for Corycides for Not Prime Time
After-- and she knows her life will always be divided into before
and after-- After, Susan can't bear to stay in England. The
paperwork takes time, but in the end, she sells everything and buys
a ticket to New York. She thinks she can drop her sorrows in the
ocean and start over, without a past. She has memories of America,
but they're not rooted in her family the way that her memories of
Susan hasn't lost her gift for getting to know people. By the time
the ship docks, she has three offers of places to stay. Before--
Before, she'd have taken Harriet's offer. They're of an age, and
they both know how to have fun. But that hurts too much.
Bill's offer of a place in his mother's house is tempting, but she
fears that it comes with too many strings attached. She likes Bill
well enough, just not that way. She's not sure she'll feel that way
about anybody for a long time.
So it's Agnes' offer she accepts. Agnes is forty-five and a war
widow. Her only child, a daughter, married two years ago, so Agnes
has been reinventing herself. She has work with the United Nations
and tells Susan that she can help her find work there, too. It may
be simple secretarial work, but at least they'll be working for
And who knows? A job like that might lead to something more. Susan's
always wanted to travel. Her French is excellent. She hasn't had a
chance to learn other languages. Maybe she can do that now, too.
The Wood Between the Worlds is exactly as Professor Kirke described
it: trees, so very, very many trees, growing close around pools, so
very, very many pools. Susan looks up, trying to decide what kind of
trees she's seeing. After a moment, she realizes that it doesn't
matter. These trees aren't going to take offense if she mistakes an
oak for a sycamore.
The air feels thick, not humid or heavy, but substantial as if it,
too, were a living thing. Sunlight filters through the distant
leaves, and she thinks that it's brighter than it should be, what
with the trees. There is grass, thick and green and inviting. Susan
kicks off her shoes and pulls off her stockings. Blades of grass
tickle her feet, and she smiles for the first time in weeks.
She blinks. She can't remember why smiling feels so strange. She
can't remember what brought her here. She looks down at herself.
She's wearing black. She frowns a little. Black seems the wrong
color here. Then she shrugs. The trees, the grass and the pools,
they're not going to judge her.
She sighs and sits, leaning against the nearest tree. She sets down
the box she's been carrying. She won't, she thinks, pick it up
again. It's a burden better surrendered. She closes her eyes, just
for a moment. This is like coming home. Thinking of home brings a
momentary flash of pain, but she can't think why it should. Isn't
She doesn't move again.
Susan knows what the rings are as soon as she opens the box. She may
no longer entirely believe, but she hasn't forgotten the Professor's
stories. Those rings were yellow and green, as these are, not common
colors for rings. She closes the box and puts it aside. There are
too many things that need doing for her to think about this
But as she sorts through clothing and books and the detritus of a
family's life, she can't help wondering. She thinks about what her
brothers must have been trying to do and wonders if their deaths--
and all the others-- came from disobedience. They were told that
there'd be no returning. She folds her mother's clothing, sorting it
according to what she thinks she'll be able to wear and what she
can't. This world was to be enough. Her bitterness sharpens. This
world was never enough for the others.
She considers her choices. Aunt Alberta has made a point of asking
Susan to move in with her and Uncle Harold. Susan isn't
enthusiastic. She knows no one in Cambridge, and her aunt and uncle
are decidedly peculiar. On the other hand, the idea of trying to
find a job and a place to live in London is daunting. She doesn't
doubt that she could do it, but it would be hard and risky without
family to fall back on.
In the end, it's the look in Aunt Alberta's eyes that makes Susan's
decision. She's almost forgotten, in her own grief, that Aunt
Alberta and Uncle Harold have lost quite as much as she. At least,
she thinks, they will understand each other's pain and know how to
step around all of those gaps where there used to be family.
She takes the rings with her to Cambridge. She's not sure what else
to do with them. Burying them again simply means someone else
digging them up, someone who wouldn't know not to touch them with
bare skin. And where would she bury them? Her family home is to be
sold, and the garden there is all vegetables still. Lucy and their
mother had been gardeners, finding ways to make that little patch of
earth yield things that could be eaten. Were Susan to dig deep
enough to hide the rings, the neighbors would notice; there'd be an
obvious scar. Someone-- probably a child-- would dig to find the
'treasure' she'd hidden.
Living with her aunt and uncle takes some adjustment. They encourage
her to work. She has the impression that they'd send her to
university if they didn't know that she was rubbish at such things.
Aunt Alberta comments occasionally that Susan should make something
Susan doesn't want to make something of herself, so she's glad when
Uncle Harold starts bringing young men home to meet Susan. She has
the impression that Aunt Alberta doesn't entirely approve, but Susan
has been lonely since moving to Cambridge. Her London friends said
they'd write, and some of them have, but it's not at all the same.
The young man she was seeing before-- Well, he has more or less
vanished. He didn't even come to the funeral. Susan supposes that
simply wasn't any fun. She thinks she's ready for someone more
Uncle Harold's young men are mostly engineers and architects.
There's even an industrial chemist, but Susan doesn't like the way
he spends the evening staring at her breasts. Fortunately, Aunt
Alberta also doesn't like that, and the industrial chemist never
John Richardson is a civil engineer. He's passionate about his work,
but he never talks down to Susan. He's willing to explain what he's
talking about, and he can do it in ways that neither bore nor
baffle. He comes to dinner three times before he asks Susan to take
a walk with him. She agrees, not out of preference for him but
simply because she wants to leave the house. She's astonished to
discover that he can talk about the latest films and that he has
definite preferences in music. She's only previously heard him
talking about politics and work.
After their first walk, there's another and then a trip to the
cinema. John takes her dancing. He's not the best partner Susan's
ever had, but he gives her his full attention. Susan is wary. She
remembers Rabadash and half a dozen others who said the right things
and acted pleasant only to reveal weakness or cruelty when they
thought they could get away with it. She wants John to be real, and
she needs to know before she commits herself.
She misses her siblings and her parents. She thinks that any one of
them would offer her good advice. Well, maybe not her father. She
can't imagine bringing this dilemma to him. But her mother or Edmund
would understand. Finally, she asks Aunt Alberta, not about John
specifically but rather about men in general and the difficulties in
knowing if they're genuinely who and what they seem.
Aunt Alberta considers that as she washes dishes. Susan is drying.
Finally, Aunt Alberta says that it's important to see how a man
treats those below him. She suggests visiting a man's office and
getting to know the secretaries and the cleaning staff. It's not a
sure thing, she says, but it's better than nothing. Aunt Alberta
adds that Susan will always have a home with her and Uncle Harold,
always, no matter what.
Susan exerts herself to gain the trust of the people who work in
John's office. She finds the secretaries easier to approach than the
cleaning staff because she can pretend to be looking for work. She
just has to avoid letting John see her.
John is not universally loved-- Susan would worry if he were-- but
he is respected even by those who don't like him. He has a
reputation with his firm's secretaries for respecting their time. He
never expects a girl to work late without notice, and he makes sure
that, if she does work late, the girl gets home safely.
Having made her queries, Susan relaxes a little. She continues to
see John frequently. She knows Uncle Harold approves.
A year and a half after her family's death, Susan marries John in a
registry office ceremony. It's not what her family would have
wanted, but she can't face the fuss of a large wedding, and she
doesn't want to ask her aunt and uncle to bear the expense of it.
She's not ecstatically happy, but she is content.
For a honeymoon, John takes her to Paris. It's not, he tells her,
what it was before the war, but it is a place she's always wanted to
They cross the Channel on a ferry. Midway across, Susan drops the
box holding the rings into the water. That, she thinks, should take
care of them nicely. She doesn't want them around when she has
The first thing Susan does on arriving in the Wood Between the
Worlds is to walk away from the pool that leads to Earth. She turns
her back on it and strides through the trees, turning right and
skirting around several pools before turning left. When she's
satisfied that she's lost, she takes off her yellow ring and puts it
in her bag with the other rings. She takes out a green ring and puts
She turns around, trying to see any indication as to which pool she
should try, but all the pools are the same. She shrugs and adjusts
her backpack. More or less at random, she selects a pool and walks
toward it. She closes her eyes for a second as she steps into it.
The first three worlds are the hardest. On the first world, Susan
almost gets arrested for wearing the wrong clothes and that's before
they realize that her bow is a weapon. On the second, she drops into
the middle of a civil war. She can't leave with that unresolved, but
figuring out which side is in the right is beyond her. She thinks
maybe neither is. On the third, she finds people who look like
nothing so much as walking flowers. They think she's a monster, and
she doesn't dare eat anything because there aren't any animals and
she can't tell which plants are people.
The Wood Between the Worlds has advantages; Susan feels neither
hunger nor thirst when she's there, and if she's injured when she
arrives, she heals rapidly. She doesn't dare stay long. The peace of
the Wood is seductive, but she has no mind to lose herself by
staying. It isn't until after her tenth world that she risks
sleeping in the Wood, and she only does that because she has a
broken arm. Fortunately, she wakes refreshed, healed and still bent
on visiting world eleven.
It isn't long before she realizes that the rings are taking her to
places where she can make a difference. Once that becomes apparent,
she starts staying on worlds until she finds something she can do.
She always bears in mind that while she can leave, others can't. She
has more rings than she can possibly use, but she thinks that she
needs more than desire to be able to share them. She waits for a
sign that never comes.
She spends nearly ten years on world fifteen. For a while, she
thinks she'll stay there forever, but during the last year, she
feels increasingly restless and increasingly alien. The people of
that world look human, but she knows they're not sons of Adam and
daughters of Eve. She finds herself taking out the rings and staring
at them, longing to touch them. She travels that world, looking for
something; she's not sure what, and she fails to find it. By the
time she packs and puts on a yellow ring, her departure is a relief.
The Wood seems to welcome her. Susan takes off her shoes and socks
and enjoys the grass between her toes. She feels no urgency now that
she's back in the Wood. She suspects that it's because time has no
meaning there. Whatever task awaits her on the next world, time
won't pass there while she's in the Wood.
She's lost count of the worlds she's visited when she finally
acknowledges the truth; she isn't aging. She thinks it's the Wood
because she's sure she got older when she spent ten years on world
fifteen. She simply doesn't look any older now than she did when she
first left Earth.
The Wood doesn't end. She tries to find the edge of it once, but no
matter how far she walks, there are always more trees and more
pools. She can't possibly visit all the worlds, and she worries
about the worlds she doesn't visit. What if they need intervention
and she passes them by? It's a long time since she prayed, but she
finds herself doing just that before she selects a new pool.
Still, she's surprised when a rainbow arcs from a pool on her left.
She never expected an answer. She approaches the indicated pool with
a spring in her step. There will be something worth doing there,
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