Hilda Annersley had been thoroughly lost in The Last Battle, and jumped at a sudden thump. Looking up, she was horrified to realise that the cause of it had been Nell hurling her own copy across the room and into the wall.
“Nell! Whatever are you doing?” she exclaimed, rising and picking up the maltreated book. Fortunately it had hit the wall spine first, so the pages hadn’t been damaged. She looked over in surprise at her partner, whose face was white with anger.
“It - he - ” Nell paused, took a deep breath, and continued in a more level tone. “No, I won’t say anything until you’ve finished reading, wouldn’t be fair. I shouldn’t have thrown the book really, but I just - ” she pulled herself up short again, took another calming breath. “I’ll make some tea while you finish it, but hurry up, you slowcoach!”
Hilda rolled her eyes, but - in the interest of peace and finishing the book sooner - forebore to point out that Nell had had her copy for a whole day longer than Hilda had. Instead, she resumed her seat as Nell marched from the room, found her place, and began to read again, anxious to find out what had enraged her friend so. Though if it’s just some scientific inaccuracy, I will shake you, Nell Wilson!
Half an hour later, having stomped around the deserted school until she had calmed down, Nell returned to the drawing room with a tea tray and a rather ashamed look. Hilda had clearly finished reading, her book closed and a thoughtful expression on her face. She smiled at Nell as she came in, and Nell hurried to apologise as she laid out the cups and saucers.
“I’m sorry I stormed out like that. It just made me so angry…”
“Was it Susan’s fate?” Hilda asked. When Nell nodded she continued, “I wasn’t terribly pleased with it myself - though I didn’t resort to throwing books around!”
Nell grimaced at her. “Yes, yes, I know, it was childish, and ridiculous, and close to sacrilege.” This last was said teasingly, and Hilda chuckled. Then Nell’s voice became serious again, and she sat down next to Hilda, leaving the tea for the moment. “But why did he have to write it like that?”
“I suppose Lewis felt it important to show that faith must be maintained, that it can be lost…” Hilda said, trying to be reasonable. Then her own annoyance took over. “But I certainly don’t think ‘lipstick, nylons, and invitations’ should be a reason to condemn anyone! It’s entirely unfair to Susan, and rather a horrible message for young girls.”
“You’re right, but it’s more than that. Did you notice that after saying why she’s no longer a friend of Narnia, no-one ever mentions her again? Her supposedly loving siblings don’t ever ask if she’ll be allowed into Aslan’s country, or even if she’s alive or dead!”
Hilda had the sudden sensation of looking at a much younger Nell, one she had seen only in photographs. The girl left behind when all her family died… she wondered if Nell had consciously made the link, and decided instantly not to mention it. Instead, she placed a comforting hand over her friend’s.
“I’m sure they did ask, but they’d have wanted to wait for a private moment. It wouldn’t be an easy question, after all. Or perhaps it hurt too much; remember Peter asked the others not to talk about her any more.”
Nell turned her hand, interlacing their fingers, and squeezed Hilda’s gently in thanks. “I suppose so. I still don’t think much of Lewis’s idea of giving her a proper ending, though!”
“Write to him and tell him so,” Hilda suggested, eyes twinkling.
“Don’t tempt me! You know what mad things I can do, my dear,” Nell retorted. “I expect he’d be rather surprised to get a letter from a middle-aged Science mistress about his books for children… I dare say it is rather ridiculous of me to get so worked up about it, at that.”
“Nonsense! Really good books for children can be enjoyed by people of any age. And what did the dedication for The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe say?” Hilda frowned for a second, thinking, then quoted, “‘Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again’.”
“Trust you to remember that,” Nell teased. “I think I might go back and re-read that book again, rather than finish the story on this one. It’s left a bad taste in my mouth… Speaking of which, this tea will be stone cold if we don’t drink it soon.”
She hurried to pour the tea, and changed the conversation after that, going back to the start of The Last Battle and roundly abusing Shift; but an idea had been planted in Hilda’s head.
Running up to the bedroom for a warmer cardigan after breakfast, Nell found the book she had hurled across Hilda’s drawing room the day before placed carefully on the dressing table. Shaking her head in amusement at Hilda’s compulsive tidiness, she lifted it, and a sheet of paper fluttered out from beneath it. Intrigued, she picked it up, and found it was covered in her partner’s handwriting.
Moving as lightly as the dryads she had once danced with, Lucy slipped through the trees, away from everyone. Great as her joy had been when she was reunited with all her old friends, she did not want any of them around for this.
When she was sure she was alone, she said, “Aslan, please come.” Her voice was little more than a murmur, but she didn’t need to speak any louder, not here. She knew he would hear, and he would come.
And he did, appearing between the trees in his lion-form, so that Lucy could run to him and bury her face in his mane as she had so many times before. Like that, with her face hidden, she finally found the strength to ask.
“What about Susan, Aslan? Is she still alive? What’s going to happen to her? Will she be allowed into the real Narnia, into your land?”
“Your sister still lives. As to what will happen to her… child, no one is told any story but their own.”
Lucy leant back, looking into the beloved face. It took all her valour to ask again after the gentle reproof, yet ask she did. “But she will be allowed into the real Narnia, won’t she? Please, Aslan. Tell me that.”
“Susan must make her own path, but there will always be a door here waiting for her to open to it. I can tell you no more, dear heart, but have courage. Have courage, and have faith.” Then there was a Lion’s kiss on her forehead, and Lucy’s heart grew light with hope.
Nell blinked away tears, moved beyond words by the little story and, above all, by the love that had written it. When had Hilda even found the time to write it? She must have stayed up late, or risen early, sneaking out of bed after Nell fell asleep and returning before she woke… Turning the sheet over, Nell found a final note at the bottom.
Dearest Nell - I didn’t want to write this into your book, but I thought you might like a better ending. With all my love, Hilda
Placing the paper carefully at the end of the book, she went to find Hilda, soon running her to ground in the sitting room. She was standing in front of the bookcase, searching for something, her back to the door; Nell crossed the room with long strides and wrapped her arms around her.
“Hilda, I found your story…I…” She couldn’t get the rest out.
Hilda turned in Nell’s arms and hugged her back, placing a gentle kiss on top of the head Nell laid on her shoulder.
“It isn’t much, and I’m sure Lewis would have written it far better, but since he didn’t I felt I had to.”
Nell kissed her. “It’s perfect. Thank you.”