“What on earth could you have to do this evening that will be better than this party?” Reggie asks after their usual Wednesday morning tennis game. “It’s going to be one for the ages. Sanders has even hired a band.”
“It’s a birthday celebration, of sorts,” Edmund replies coolly, through the towel with which he’s patting the sweat from his blond curls. “More of an anniversary, really.”
Edmund merely smiles, for the answer can hardly be explained. He intends to celebrate, yes, but it will be a solitary sort of fun. His official birthday was three months ago, but that isn’t precisely the occasion he’s marking today. This is a much more important milestone—today, he has reached the same age he was the day his reign ended (give or take the two other trips to Narnia).
The day has been looming for all of them. It’s the one Narnian thing they never talk about, but he knows they’ve all been keeping count. They all have their ways of celebrating planned. Lucy, he knows, will spend the evening rereading the journal entries she has scribbled over the years, in messy long-hand and increasingly misremembered attributions. Peter has plans to dine with the Professor and Aunt Polly, where they’ll reminisce over much (but never too much) wine. Susan… Susan will attend something very like Sanders’s party, only more polite, as though this is any other Saturday. She’ll smile in her her usual dignified manner, beautiful and gay and secretly breaking.
But neither nostalgia nor denial sits right with Edmund. He has been planning this almost since the very day he’s celebrating. He remembers hugging his knees in the corner as the Professor told them his story. He spent the entire tale with his arms around his very freshly skinned knee, unable to remember what had happened to cause the cut. The only thing he’d really retained from that first, horrible evening, was the concept that there might be a way back, a way out. Buried somewhere, there was a way, but it was no good to take it while still a little boy.
Unfortunately, much as he wanted to run immediately to the site, little boys were not allowed into strange London neighborhoods. Even older boys were not allowed to dig in strangers’ gardens. However, grown-up men could pretend to be a workman come to see about the drains. Grown-up men could use the skills in espionage and sleight of hand they’d honed in other lives to gain access to whatever they wanted. Men of the age Edmund had attained could do this, oh, three weeks ago.
And so, Edmund has. The rings are in the little pocket on the inside of his tennis bag.
Tonight, instead of staring at his skinned knee, Edmund will spend the evening resuming his adventures.
(And most likely be home again before any time has passed, worse luck.)
Edmund feels himself being rushed upwards and out of a body of water. He scrambles to the shore of a small pool, just as expected. Almost as soon as he sees the green above and around him, the power he’s been warned about begins to work. He stares at the paper he has been clutching ever since putting on his pack and unwrapping the rings.
Your name is Edmund Pevensie and you are of England and Narnia. You do not belong here. You have not always been here. You have come to seek adventure in the other pools.
Edmund nods at the words he wrote half and hour ago. Unlike the Professor and Aunt Polly, he has prepared for this adventure. He pulls a white piece of paper and a nail from his pack. He presses the nail into the bark of a tree near the pool he just emerged from and writes “England” on it in black marker.
He looks around. Aunt Polly and the Professor never said in which direction, exactly, the pools they’d tried had lay, but Edmund assumes they must be nearby ones. He tries for one, switching rings, as he’s been instructed, but nothing happens.
After the third try, he notices an old-fashioned bowler hat on the other side of the same pool. It escaped his notice at first, for the grass has grown over it, made it almost a part of the forest. It’s a cabbie’s hat, like out of a movie about the 1880s. King Frank’s hat.
Edmund tries again to get down into the pond, clutching desperately at the ring and kicking furiously, but it seems that Aslan’s injunction holds true here, nowhere, as well. He cannot get back.
So much for ‘always a king or queen’, he thinks bitterly, and not for the first time. He takes out another sheet of paper and writes “Maybe Narnia” on it before tacking it into a tree near there. All the while, sleepiness comes over him and he has to keep rereading his declaration of self.
The Professor and Aunt Polly were wrong, Edmund decides, or else too young and scared and busy to notice. He has a strong feeling that there’s no need to mark the pools (though, of course, it is still a good idea to do so, as good as remembering not to lock yourself in a wardrobe); he knows which pools lead home. He can feel it. They call to him, this one and the England one alike. To test the intuition, he walks four ponds over, and stands at the edge.
The odd thing, however, is that there is a third pond, close to his two home ones, that calls to him almost as strongly as the first two. And yet, he knows he has only ever visited two worlds, only ever called two of them home.
It is as good a reason to try this one over the others as he can think of. He straps on his pack, takes a deep breath, and jumps.
Even before he fully resurfaces onto solid ground, Edmund can feel it coming on him—that feeling of more that he sometimes felt in Narnia. He’s tried talking to the others about it, but none of them have ever understood. A restlessness, or a thrumming. He’s never been able to describe it, and eventually gave up trying, as his attempts so often left everyone around him looking concerned.
The feeling was entirely dormant in England, but here, it’s stronger than ever. This is a world he’s never seen before, but it feels like home, for at least a small, dark part of him that he’s ignored—the one bit of darkness that was never cured by Lucy’s potion (or rather, that entered him at the same time).
Within a few steps, though, he realizes, with a chill, where he is. The empty streets, the silent city, the big, cold sun. This is Charn, as it was when Aunt Polly and the Professor had gone, and as it has remained, for possibly a day, and possible another hundred thousand years.
Edmund has heard the story, and knows with full certainty—from the Witch’s own lips—that there is no living thing in this world except himself, but he can’t help but feel that something stirs all around him. The further he walks from his point of entry, the more he feels something awakening. But perhaps it is just his imagination.
He continues out of morbid curiosity, up to the palace that lies ever ahead of him, as high and central and imposing as Montmartre, or the palace in Tashbaan.
Edmund’s friends are quite old, and their memories probably even more inaccurate than Lucy’s notebooks, but he knows they remembered full well the room of kings and queens. It is this hall that he seeks; there’s hardly anything else to look for in this dead world.
When he finds it, everything remains exactly as was described. Polly said the Witch had described them as “images”. Waxworks, but not. Sumptuous clothes, majestic crowns, all seated in perfect rows.
Edmund is reminded of Caspian, of his boyish excitement and enthusiasm at learning of round worlds and meeting long-gone kings and queens of lore. Here is a frightening bedtime story come to life for him. The odd thing, however, is that, like Caspian, he feels immediately at home with them, with some of the friendlier ones.
“They observe the ‘once a king, always a king’ motto here,” he says to himself, with the same bitterness he felt at the pond. The sound of his voice in the dead world reverberates through the hall.
He looks at the ceiling of the hall, which lies caved in to the side of the rows of chairs. The sight of the rubble strikes him as wrong, as fixable, although he is no stone mason, nor a team of workers. But it bothers him, offends him, even. The throbbing intensifies, and without quite willing it, he lifts his hands in the silence and points at it. One deep exhalation and burst of silent will is all it takes for the stones to begin rising. Edmund watches, not even startled. This is what he has been meant to do, he thinks. This is what has been living inside him ever since the Battle of Beruna.
The bell is there, too, along with the little sign. Once the hall has been partially repaired, he walks over to it and rings it, just to hear the sound that the Professor described so chillingly.
No sound emanates. Perhaps the Professor was wrong, or perhaps the magic has gone or changed, but the room remains silent.
Edmund waits, but nothing happens. After a few breathless minutes, he sags, and walks to the back of the room, to where some of the nicer looking people sit. There is a woman there—practically a girl, younger than himself—who reminds him ever so much of Susan the Gentle, with the same long black hair and beautiful face. He touches her shoulder, remembering the Susan that was, so different from the Susan that is.
He startles back when she rustles, shoulder beginning to move, and dress along with it. A moment later, she stands and shakes herself out. A smile stretches across her face.
“You have come. You have saved us. You have defeated her.”
“I have?” Edmund asks.
“It is the deepest of magic, the greatest of secrets. The Deplorable Word can be undone and the images awoken by he who has vanquished the user. And here you are, the next and forever king.”
“Oh,” he says, but knows that she is correct. This is his future, his home.
Outside, a bird begins to sing.