A/N: I'm really excited about this one, so please review and let me know what you think of it! Any and all advice/constructive criticism is greatly appreciated!
Dedicated to the Great Carpenter...
and to everyone who has yet to learn the Lion's name in our world.
"...when Digory was quite middle-aged (and he was a famous learned man, a Professor, and a great traveler by that time) and the Ketterly's old house belonged to him, there was a great storm all over the south of England which blew the tree down. He couldn't bear to have it simply chopped up for firewood, so he had part of the timber made into a wardrobe, which he put in his big house in the country. And though he himself did not discover the magic properties of that wardrobe, someone else did..." (--The Magician's Nephew)
Of Woodwork and Surprises
Shafts of golden sunlight streamed through the window and spilled over his workplace, showing up the flecks of sawdust drifting through the air. Two roughened hands of experience took the tools needed in a firm grip and glided smoothly over the wood as two keen eyes looked on intently. Lips pursed and eyebrows knit together in concentration. Shoulders bent over the work-bench, warning intruders that the craftsman was not to be disturbed. Shavings of gold lightly fell to the floor around his shoes as the wood was shaped under his touch. His mind was immersed in the world of his favorite pastime; in the fragrance of newly-cut timber, the taste of sawdust on his tongue, the feel of woodwork beneath his calloused fingertips, and the delight of using his hands to create something beautiful.
The sound of a timid knock on the door jarred his concentration, bringing his work to an abrupt halt. He growled and muttered something incoherent under his breath, but he cleared his throat and called out,
The door of his workshop creaked open and a pleasant, rosy-cheeked face peeped out from behind it.
"'Scuse my intrusion, Professor sir; I knew you weren't wantin' to be disturbed but..."
"Ah, my dear Margaret," said the Professor in a warmer tone. "What can I do for you?"
"Nothing sir, lor' bless you," said the maid, bobbing a curtsy and grinning. "It's just that dinner's ready an' all, and Mrs. Macready's expecting you to come inside now."
"Oh, bother dinner," he mumbled, running his fingers through his graying light brown hair. "Doesn't she know I'm busy?"
"I tried to tell her, sir," said Margaret apologetically, "but you know how she is."
"Yes, yes," he sighed. "Always the punctual one, she is." He stooped down a moment to pick up a carving knife that had somehow found its way to the floor and stood up again, setting it in its proper place. He wiped his hands on his thick apron and asked, "If it's not too much trouble, could you bring my dinner here to me? I need to stay here and finish up while there's still enough sunlight."
"No trouble at all, sir. I'll run and fetch your dinner straight away."
"Thank you, Margaret. Oh yes; please give Mrs. Macready my sincerest apologies for not coming to the table this evening. I hate to make her stressed (the poor dear), but I'm afraid I simply can't stop right now. And at least Ivy and Betty will have one less place to clear."
"Of course, Professor." She bobbed another curtsy and carefully shut the door behind her, leaving her master to his hobby once again.
Ten minutes passed, and again there came a knock on the door and the creaking sound of the hinges.
"Just set it on table, Margaret, there's a dear," he said absently, keeping his eyes on his work and making a vague hand-motion in no particular direction. A familiar chuckle met his ears.
"Well, Mr. Kirke, I would if my name was Margaret and if I had any dinner to bring you."
He looked up, startled, and his face lit up in unexpected joy at what he saw.
"Polly! What are you doing here?"
A smirk played on her lips, and her gray eyes had a playful twinkle in them.
"What's the matter, Digory? Aren't you glad to see me?"
"Glad to see you?" he laughed. "That is quite an understatement!" He came away from his project and the two of them met in the warm embrace of old friends who have not seen each other in years.
"But, what are you doing here?" he asked, after they pulled away again. "You never let us know you were coming in the first place!"
"You mean, you didn't know I was coming," said Polly, wearing a proud grin on her face. "Everyone else knew about it, but I wanted to surprise you in particular, considering what the occasion is."
"Surprise me? Occasion?" He gave her a blank stare.
"Why you goose," she teased, placing her hands on her hips. "Don't tell me you've forgotten your own birthday! Your 40th one at that."
"Birthday?" he repeated, pretending to be confused. "What birthday?"
They both broke into smiles and laughed heartily at themselves.
"Well, one thing's for sure," remarked Polly. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Neither have you," retorted Digory. He stepped aside as Polly had a look around his workshop. She smiled at the carved figures of the tiny, wooden animals that perched on the table and lovingly brushed her fingers over them as she passed.
"I see you've still kept a few of those animals your father helped us make when we were smaller." She caught sight of the timber on his workbench and bent over it for a better look.
"What are you working on, Digory? Are you building something this time?" She inhaled deeply, drinking in the delightful scent of it. She then looked at it hard, as if trying to figure something out. That smell seemed strangely familiar to her, like the echoes of a song once heard before, long ago and far away; or like the shadow or copy of an image you vaguely remember seeing elsewhere. Her face suddenly changed, and she eyed it in what seemed to be awe. "Digory," she breathed, "is that...the tree? You told me it blew down, but..."
"Yes, that's the one." His eyes grew solemn as he joined her at the workbench. "I didn't want to have it simply chopped up for firewood, so I took it here and decided to make it into something. I'm building a wardrobe."
"What a splendid idea!" said Polly. "What will it look like when you're done?"
"I'm not sure. I'm just hoping I'll finish it in time without messing things up; it's been a while since I last attempted making a piece of furniture, and I've only got three months before my next trip to China. It'll probably end up being plain, perhaps with a looking-glass in the door or something."
"Oh no, Digory. That won't do at all." She wrinkled her nose in disapproval. "Wood like this deserves something special, not boring. It's not very often you get to make something out of a tree that may have had magic in it."
"True," admitted Digory, scratching his beard. "But I couldn't think of anything else. I can make animals and things, but I'm not the best at drawing up pictures or designs to carve. And keep in mind that I'm mainly a traveler and explorer; not a master carpenter. Wood-working is simply a pastime I enjoy."
Just then, Margaret came through the open doorway, carrying a huge tray full of hot, steaming dinner for both of them. She greeted them cheerfully as she set it on the table and soon returned again with a beautiful chocolate cake, all ablaze with candles.
"It's a mercy I didn't set the thing on fire," she joked with a crooked smile on her face, eyes twinkling. Digory flashed her a quick grin, almost as he might have done as a small boy, then leaned forward and blew out all forty candles.
Up Next: Of Birthday Presents and Secret Memories