Part 3 of The Stone Gryphon, Apostolic Way
In Part 1 of The Stone Gryphon, in the summer of 1942, Peter Pevensie reluctantly studies theology, Latin, and logic at Oxford with Professor Digory Kirke. More enthusiastically, Peter also tramps about museums and the countryside with Dr. Richard Russell, a polygamous ethnologist. Peter becomes acquainted with Asim bin Kalil, an Arab mystic, and Dr. Russell's wife, Mary Anning Russell, a paleontologist with a passion for drooling lizards and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. At the conclusion of Part 1, Peter receives a telegram from his brother, Edmund. Edmund reports that he, their sister, Lucy, and their cousin, Eustace, have just been to Narnia and that Edmund and Lucy are never to return. In his most dictatorial, High King fashion, Peter orders everyone about and rushes to catch the next train on the Varsity Line out of Oxford to Cambridge to see his brother, sister, and cousin.
In Part 2 of The Stone Gryphon, Peter learns from Edmund that their sister, Susan, in America ostensibly for a summer of fun and frivolity, the War in the Atlantic notwithstanding, has inserted herself into the Special Operations Executive in the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. Under the cover of Mrs. Susan Caspian, she reports to Colonel George Walker-Smythe and "babysits" an SOE agent, Wing Commander Reginald Tebbitt. In the interest of furthering the British war effort, Mrs. Caspian and WC Tebbitt manipulate and bribe the writers and owners of American media, forge documents, steal documents from the Vice President of the United States, aid the acquisition of American Sherman tanks for the Eighth Army in North Africa, seduce an American Congresswoman, and thwart a Soviet mole operating out of the British Embassy.
In England, Edmund has been able to communicate the essence of Susan's activities to Peter and Lucy because Edmund and Susan have been violating the Official Secrets Act all summer. Susan described her espionage activities in letters to Edmund using Narnia as an allegorical code. In Washington, Colonel Walker-Smyth confronts Susan for her indiscretions. Peter's confidante and friend, Asim bin Kalil, revealed to also be Major al-Masri in British Army intelligence, delivers the same cautionary message to Edmund. Major al-Masri concludes that Edmund, like his brother and older sister, is no simple school child. Susan leaves America with her sights set on entering France as a spy.
Lucy contemplates how the Valiant Queen might be unleashed upon an unsuspecting England. A sick man awaits Peter's return to Oxford and fulfillment of the High King's promise to discuss the remarkable abilities of owls.
Part 3 of The Stone Gryphon story arc continues the story begun in Part 1 and Part 2, as well as characters and conflicts addressed in By Royal Decree, The Palace Guard and Harold and Morgan: Not A Romance.
The following is a derivative work based upon the works of C.S. Lewis which I gratefully acknowledge here. No ownership interest in the work that follows is claimed whatsoever. No compensation has been received or provided. Any original content in my derivative fiction is in the public domain and may be used freely and without notice to me or attribution.
As often repeated, I am an adult, writing adult characters for adult readers. The rating is consistently T. If it veers upward from T to M (a possibility) there will be additional warning.
I further am grateful to Miniver for the title of Part 3. She noted that frequently Narnia fan fiction portrays the Pevensies as cast out of the Eden of Narnia into the harsh Hell of Spare Oom. She posited that an alternative metaphor might be found in the chapter of the Christian Bible, the Acts of the Apostles, which describes how the followers of a Jewish carpenter-rabbi went out into the wider world beyond Judea as messengers, teachers, and healers.
Apostolic Way, Chapter 1
The Other End Of The Varsity Line
Apostle: Origin: Middle English, from Old English apostol and from Old French apostle, both from Late Latin apostolus, from Greek apostolos, messenger, from apostellein, to send off : apo-, apo- + stellein, to send; see stel- in Indo-European roots.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
English Standard Bible, Acts of the Apostles, 1:8
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
"Perhaps it will not take all day," Lucy said. "Budge over, Eustace."
Eustace dutifully scooted over in the train's seat to make room for Lucy and her bag of books, journal, pencils, lists, and incomplete school assignments Peter had been badgering her to finish. Edmund stepped over Eustace and Lucy's legs and the battered suitcase Peter had set between the facing seats that would be their makeshift table and footrest.
Dust and a spider drifted down as Peter settled their other bag in the overhead rack. Eustace sneezed and Lucy caught the spider.
"Excuse me, again," Lucy said, already clambering over knees and luggage to free the spider out the train window. She was leaning over Eustace, had her elbow in Edmund's jaw, and she stuck her head out the window and tossed the spider away.
"Maybe you want the window seat?" Eustace asked.
"Oh, perhaps, I…"
"No, Lucy," Peter told her firmly. "You will then be climbing over all of us at every moment to wander the aisle and strike up conversations with anyone who looks interesting."
Edmund signaled a thank you to Peter. Lucy in a confined space was never a good thing. It had taken a swift Wolf and a faster horse to keep up with her in Narnia. It had taken the rigging of The Dawn Treader and the width of the Eastern Sea to sate her energy and fill her soul.
"I suppose." Lucy waved merrily to the strangers on the platform, who looked over their shoulders wondering if the girl hanging out the train window was farewelling some dear relation behind them.
Peter settled in the seat next to him. "Sit down, Lucy. And we will get there when we get there."
She scrambled back to her seat, leaving Eustace to ask the very relevant question, "How are we all going to fit at the Professor's? Wasn't lack of space the reason you all didn't stay with him this summer?"
"We shall kip out in his garden," Peter said. "And hope it doesn't rain."
Lucy's face brightened and then flashed a Mind What You Say hand signal. "Hello, Colonel! Are you off to Oxford, too?"
Edmund scrambled up to his feet. There was only one Colonel who merited both the greeting and the hand signal. Eustace's embarrassed flush confirmed it.
"Good morning, Miss Pevensie, Eustace"
"And good morning to you, Colonel Clark," Edmund said. He had to push his way around Peter who was also rising.
"Oh, hello, Edmund. I thought that might be the back of your head. It's good to see you again."
The Colonel looked politely to Peter.
"Sir, this is my older brother, Peter," Edmund put in smoothly, secretly pleased that Peter would see that he was not the only one who had met interesting people this summer.
"Thomas Clark." The Lieutenant Colonel rank and American Army service were plain enough from the crisp uniform; the clipped accent, with its soft R's and broad A's, Edmund had learned was the speech of East Coast Yankee. "Edmund speaks of you often."
"It's a pleasure, Sir." Peter couldn't easily say, "Edmund has told me of you," as Edmund hadn't written a word of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Clark. There were reasons for that, of course.
Lucy looked through the blocking arms and chests. "Is Jack with you?"
Colonel Clark patted the satchel under his arm. "No, this is work, so he is home with Ruby. And you?"
"OfftoseefamilyinOxford. Sir." Eustace blurted it out all at once and thrust out his hand.
Clark had to juggle his bag for the gesture was ill-timed, but he managed a properly cordial handshake. Given how wretchedly Eustace had behaved in the man's home over the summer, this was hugely conciliatory. Edmund managed to keep a solemn face as Clark gravely nodded, perceptive enough to see an apology when it was offered and gracious enough to accept it without comment.
"Your parents return next week, don't they?"
"They do!" Lucy said, bouncing up on her toes.
"And with a safer crossing now than when they left," Peter added.
"Jack will want to say good bye. Might you be able to come by for dinner before you leave for school?"
It really should have been Lucy's prerogative or Peter's, to accept the invitation. But, Eustace was trying so hard, none wanted to correct him when he lurched out, all in a rush, "ThankyouSirwewould."
There was a whistle and the porter's call. The train heaved.
"Are you going all the way to Oxford, Sir?" Edmund asked, not expecting an answer, and not receiving one when Clark shook his head.
"No." He flashed his ticket. "I had best get to my seat. It was a pleasure seeing you and ring us up when you are back in Cambridge."
They muttered their good byes and took their seats. Edmund saw Peter watching Colonel Clark easily keep his footing on the jerking train as he moved forward to the first class car.
Lucy squeezed Eustace's arm. "That was very well done!"
Eustace turned scarlet and mumbled his thanks.
Peter turned to him with a questioning look.
"I met his son, Jack, at the library this summer," Edmund explained. "Being American, he helped me with my school research." Peter would intuit what assistance Jack had really rendered. Edmund would have had a much more difficult time with the nuances of American politics without Jack's boastful insights. Really, the idea of the President's party not controlling the Parliament was so odd; it was no wonder the Americans could not accomplish anything. Nor did the President seem especially effective at maintaining party discipline and the structure of their courts was peculiar for all that the American system was based upon the English rather than, Aslan forbid, the civil law system. Or, what had been the civil system until the Nazis had obliterated the rule of law in all of Europe.
"And what of the Lieutenant Colonel, apart from the obvious?" Peter asked.
"Colonel Clark is a West Point graduate and Harvard trained lawyer who was a Commissioner for an American trade agency."
Oh it was good to see Peter's disapproving frowns again. His MRF-ness never disappointed. "A lawyer? Is he here with General Eisenhower, or…" Peter trailed off, seeing as Edmund had that Colonel Clark's patrician bearing and Cambridge location did not seem to quite fit their understanding of senior American staff in the European Theater of Operations.
"Did you see his pin?"
Peter would not be outdone in this game. "The golden one, four pointed star and rosette? I didn't recognize it."
"US Army Intelligence. I suspect he will get off the train at Bletchley."
"Bletchley?" Peter repeated. "Is there some reason I should know of it?"
"No. I only noted it because Jack said something about it and I saw a train schedule in their home."
Eustace was squirming with the mention of Jack Clark. Jack was a difficult sort even if one wasn't a dragon. He was arrogant and sarcastic but Edmund had grown up with the likes of Sir Leszi and enjoyed Jack's challenging manner. For Edmund, everyone who had come after Leszi seemed polite and self-effacing by comparison.
"That was bravely done," Edmund told his cousin. And really it was, to volunteer to go to the home of someone who had quarreled with Eustace as Jack had.
"We'll make sure it goes well, Eustace, don't you worry," Lucy said airily, and administering another reassuring pat to their cousin's arm. "And we will pound him, if Jack does not see reason."
A few hours later, their train staggered into the Bletchley Park station. Edmund looked out of the window and easily spotted Colonel Clark's towering figure on the platform. Peter, too, was watching intently and saw when a British Army staff sergeant smartly saluted the Colonel and took his bag.
Peter searched further, looking up and down the platform. "I don't see a staff car, do you?"
"Perhaps they are walking, if it is a short distance, to save petrol," Lucy said. She was not interested in Rat and Crow, but this did not mean she had no skill at it. She turned a page in the battered copy of Through the Looking Glass that had been in the pack Peter had borrowed from the Major. Or was it Asim, as Peter called him? Edmund supposed it depended upon how the man was dressed and introduced himself.
The train lurched forward and everyone had to readjust as Lucy put Alice aside and began rooting through her school bag, though Edmund doubted there was any schoolwork in it, her promises to Peter notwithstanding. She dragged the packing case qua writing table over Eustace's feet, banging Peter's shins in the process and set her writing paper, pencils and her list on top of it. Tongue between her teeth, she bent over and began her work.
"That does not look like your mathematics," Peter observed.
"Of course it isn't," Lucy said offhandedly.
"Or your Latin Primer or Robinson Crusoe."
"Oh, Peter, don't be thick. These are my letters."
Peter looked to him, as Lucy was too intent on her work to explain what she was doing. "As we have been seeing in the papers, Nazis are murdering Polish Jews," Edmund said.
Picking up the hint that Edmund was referring to the story that had unfolded in Susan's letters and the detective work to decipher them, Peter added, "The Daily Telegraph and other English papers are reporting over a million dead." He gestured to Lucy busy writing away. "And?"
"Lucy has been copying the newspaper reports about the murders and writing letters about them to anyone who will listen."
"And writing to a very great many who are not paying it any mind at all," she said severely, underlying the number 1,000,000 in her letter so thickly her pencil broke. Lucy leaned back in her seat, removed a pocketknife from her bag, and began whittling a sharper point.
"To whom have you been writing?" Peter asked, reading her letter upside down.
Lucy gestured to her list of correspondents on the packing case with her knife then continued whittling. Edmund had helped her with it initially, but the list had grown progressively longer over the weeks.
"Prime Minister Churchill, Foreign Secretary Eden, Mister Attlee, Home Secretary Morrison, and Lord Beaverbrook. Also, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Evening Standard. The Manchester Guardian. The papers have been very attentive to it, actually. It's the people who read them who just don't seem to really believe it." She was glowing with enthusiastic purpose and waved her lethal pencil about. "Also, Archbishop Temple. I like him so very much. If Father Donald or the school vicar were more like the Archbishop, I should think them less like toads and respect them a great deal more. Oh, and Chief Rabbi Hertz. I have been writing him as well. He and Archbishop Temple have formed a brilliant organization to stop Jewish bigotry."
Eustace nervously cleared his throat and looked around. "A million Jews murdered? It doesn't seem possible. Do you really think it is true?" he murmured.
"Yes," Edmund said bluntly, as Lucy added, "It's horrid," and Peter emphasized with a firm, "Absolutely."
Eustace flushed, but nodded stoutly. "Then, I believe it, too." He looked a little sick.
"Lucy has been sending her money to Archbishop Temple as well," Edmund said.
"Actually, to the Council for Christians and Jews he founded with Chief Rabbi Hertz." She pocketed her knife and checked the sharpness of her pencil with a fingertip. A dirk had a blunter tip than Lucy's pencils. "It's just a few shillings to a splendid organization. I shall give you the address Peter and you shall donate to them as well. I've asked them to form a chapter for students."
Peter picked up Lucy's pile of materials and began sorting through it. From the pile, he removed a book stuffed with marks and notes. "Lucy, is Christianity and the Social Order on your required reading list for the summer?"
"No, of course not, Peter. Don't be ridiculous. Blockhead would never permit such a thing."
"Lucy's name for her Head of School at Marlhurst-Brockstone," Edmund told Peter.
She bent over the packing case and returned to her letter.
"And the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute?" Peter asked, continuing to sift through her stack. There was a pause as he skimmed the table of contents, and then murmured a thoughtful, "I see."
Lucy glanced up from her work which, judging from the misspelt heading, was to the Home Secretary. "I found that one on Harold and Alberta's bookshelf. It was too technical, but I followed most of Dr. Russell's discussion of cutting."
"Dr. Russell? Which one?" Eustace injected, craning his neck for a look at the journal. "What's the cutting discussion about?"
"Richard wrote it," Peter supplied into their awkward silence that followed. For all that Edmund had joked to Peter about seeing to Eustace's education on the necessary and agreeable company of women, this was something else entirely and not one to be made light of. Certainly a train car on the Varsity Line was the wrong time and place for such a conversation.
"Richard writes about certain traditional, tribal practices in Africa," Peter continued calmly, "and the controversy they pose in the Anti-Colonial movement."
"So it's not about dinosaurs?" Eustace asked.
"Oh." With a shrug, their cousin returned to the book in his lap.
"You have odd and disparate choices in reading material, Lucy," Peter told his sister, reaching down and slipping the journal back into her bag.
"It's not odd at all. It's all quite related." She hesitated. "I think. I'm still working it out."
Peter looked to him again. Edmund shrugged. He had not yet focused fully on Lucy's awakening political awareness, but she evidently was formulating some connection between the Archbishop of Canterbury's discussion of the right of the Anglican Church to speak on matters of economic consequence and female circumcision in the Kenya Colony.
"How do you spell murderous?"
"M-u-r-d-e-r-o-u-s," Peter told her, looking again at her upside down correspondence. "Lucy, what word is that supposed to be?"
"Unconscionable does not have an h in it."
"And cease has two e's and one a." Peter eased the letter out from under her bold pencil and studied it more carefully. "Perhaps, Sister, if you turn to spelling you might be a more credible advocate?"
The train gave a lurch and Lucy's letters slid to the floor of the car. There was groping and sliding and finally practicality overcame her enthusiasm, and Lucy packed everything away again.
"If you are not going to read Archbishop Temple's book, I'll just have it back, Peter." They tussled briefly over Christianity and the Social Order with Lucy finally winning out.
It was a very interesting book. While Edmund certainly agreed with Archbishop Temple in theory, he thought the calls for social and economic reform were a trifle premature when they were still in a fight for their very existence.
With the luggage getting shoved about to accommodate Lucy's bulging book bag, Edmund had to shift in his seat as Eustace stretched his legs.
"Sorry," his cousin muttered. Eustace pulled his legs in again and closed his book with a sigh. A Manual For the Study of Insects.
There was a big blackish green beetle on the cover and he felt the barely healed scab picked at again. If Peter or Lucy saw the cover, they would certainly see its obvious resemblance to the beetles the Crows had raced. Edmund did not want to endure their sympathetic and knowing looks. She had always insisted that the slow beetles tasted better to the Crows. She probably would have thought the Archbishop of Canterbury completely correct on the argument and utterly naïve in the execution of the solution. They would have argued about it, for the sheer joy of it, and then…
If Eustace turned to a page about ants, Edmund was going to chuck the book out the window. He was thirteen. He could not bear to think of going behind the Wall and appearing before them all, before her, like this. He shouldered away and turned to look out the window, signaling to Peter and Lucy that he wanted to be left alone. The green of Buckinghamshire crawled by the rolling train and it looked nothing like Narrowhaven or even Narnia.
"Peter, do you think we might have time to visit the Oxford Museum?" Eustace asked.
Edmund closed his eyes and tried to shut out the conversation that required a politeness his mood now did not suit at all. He knew he was ready to be irritable and it was not anyone's fault. He was vexed. It was the seeming constant reminders and the voices he was still hearing from beyond the Wall. It would pass, eventually, and fade as it had before. It would fade sooner if he was not reminded of it.
"Of course," Peter said. "I am sorry you will not be able to see it with Richard, but Aunt Polly knows it well. Some of the specimens are hers. And, if you allow Mary to instruct you on ichthyosaurs or dinosaur hips, we may have to account you among the lost along with Percy Fawcett and the crew of the Mary Celeste."
With appalling enthusiasm, Eustace gushed, "Doctor Anning Russell did a very interesting paper on the morphology of Dinosauria! She really has built upon the hip differences of the Ornithischia and Saurischia categories of Seeley and her review of the papers on Archaeopteryx as a transitional fossil was ever so insightful."
Neither Lucy nor Peter responded at all, at first. Peter finally said very carefully, and undoubtedly to stop Lucy's laughter, "I believe you and Mary will get on very well, Eustace."
They were blessedly quiet for a little while.
He heard Lucy ask, "Now Peter, when did you pick those up?"
"At the recruiting office, across from the station."
Edmund snapped out of his sullen reverie.
Peter was leafing through War Office recruitment pamphlets. Edmund saw the RAF, Flight Training, Bombers, the Airborne paratroopers, the Infantry, the Tank Corps, and others.
"Have you reconsidered?" Lucy asked. "Mum and Father, regardless?"
For all their devoted patriotism and stodgy Conservative Party politics, their parents had bitterly opposed Peter's flirtation with enlistment. A decision now loomed barely six months away.
"I never stopped considering, Lu," Peter replied.
"Even after the summer with the Professor and all your work for University?"
Peter's wincing grimace was so quick, Eustace missed it. Lucy and Edmund did not.
Lucy's brows knit in inquisitive worry.
"Deferring Uni might not be amiss," Peter said slowly. There was no hand signal asking them to desist, but the warning message was plainly there.
Edmund was shocked. Peter had not written much about his studies that summer with Professor Kirke, to be sure, but this sounded very concerning. Unprecedented, even. The road of Peter's bright academic future had been straight, clear, and never uncertain. The bar to enlistment had always been whether Peter, or any of them, would be able to adjust to the lowly status or countenance poor command decisions. They had assumed they posed a risk, to themselves, and to any Allied chain of command and control.
Speaking the thought aloud, Peter said slowly, "After meeting some individuals this summer and hearing of the quality of the command in America, I have wondered if, after all, I might find something that suits."
"They cannot all be idiots like Auchinleck," Edmund added. He had not considered the issue in this light before, but surely an Army that included men like the Major and Susan's Sallowpad could possibly accommodate Peter as well. The issue had always been how to assure Peter landed in the right place.
Lucy leaned forward and took the Infantry leaflet from Peter's hands. "You would not be able to serve under a fool," she said, glancing through the exciting descriptions of travel, training, battle, and glory for God, King, and Country. They always omitted the screaming, stench, blood, and death. "However, you did take orders, from the General, from Sir Leszi, even from me and Edmund at times."
"But they were not foolish orders," Peter said. He was smiling, but Edmund heard no humor. This was deadly serious. The issue was not battlefield risk – they had faced that before and if Aslan called them home, so be it. But, they also bore a solemn duty to not hasten that day with stupidity. They all felt the desire to serve – but not if it ended as a court martial for insubordination.
Lucy handed the brochure back. "As Edmund says, they cannot all be idiots. It is a question of finding the right company and commander for you."
Peter turned the pamphlets over in his hands. The ones about the excitement of crewing Halifax bombers and the manning of the tanks of the Royal Regiment went to the bottom. "Does it seem strange that I would not wish to kill…"
As Peter struggled for the word, Lucy added gently, "remotely?"
He nodded. "Yes, that's the word I was looking for. If you take a life, you should feel it. I would not want it to be a distant thing."
"It might be wise to consider non-combat operations," Edmund reminded him. "Signal Corps, mechanicals and engineering, even intelligence. You would do well in any of those as well."
Peter opened his mouth to protest, then his sense caught up with him. "In a non-combat capacity, I would be more removed from battlefield command decisions."
Another alternative for Peter might be a position that demanded autonomy and encouraged independent thinking. Edmund did not know if it was possible to enlist and be assigned into the Special Service Brigade as a Commando. Still, that was worth investigating as well.
"You do have good resources available to you," Edmund said. He wondered if Susan had already raised Peter's possible service with her contacts in America. He would stay out of that one. Peter would value Susan's opinions, but would take very ill to her sometimes presumptuous meddling.
Peter nodded. "I had thought I might pursue one of those resources when we are in Oxford."
It was another two hours before they rolled into Oxford, and they were all so bored as to be almost waspish. In her eagerness to see Aunt Polly and the Professor, Lucy nearly climbed out the window. She flew out of the train and into their arms. Edmund found he was only a few steps behind and let himself be drawn into the warm embraces of these elder Friends of Narnia. Only now, with Narnia closed to him did Edmund fully appreciate how extraordinary Polly and Professor Kirke were. He felt a surge of gratitude and hugged Polly again as she was closest and Lucy had her arms thrown around the Professor's neck. Polly's spaniel, Simon, stationed at her heels, pushed Edmund's leg with his eager nose.
If I do a fraction of what they have accomplished in this world, Aslan would be well pleased.
Edmund felt a warm, fragrant breath and looked about. Lucy's radiant smile told him that it was not his imagination.
Thank you, Aslan. Thank you for giving me such wonderful people to emulate. If I follow their example, it will be well.
Behind him, Edmund heard the throat clearing of his MRF-ness.
"Sorry, Peter," Edmund said. He had not meant to leave his brother with the baggage – suitcases, pack, and Eustace.
"Professor Kirke, Miss Plummer, if I may?"
If they had not been on a train platform, Edmund thought Aunt Polly would have dropped to a curtsy right then and there.
"Of course." Even the Professor stumbled for, at a moment such as this, Peter was High King, their High King, for all of them.
Peter stepped to the side and gestured a reluctant, foot dragging Eustace forward. "I would like to make known to you a new Friend of Narnia, our cousin, Eustace Scrubb, who is undragoned by Aslan's Grace."
Eustace stumbled into the welcoming arms, all slights and transgressions forgiven.
"Are you sure you don't want to go to the Museum with them?" Peter asked as they climbed the steps to the Radcliffe Hospital.
"Quite sure," Edmund replied, pretending greater disinterest than he actually felt. He very much wished to see the Professor and Aunt Polly, but not if it meant hearing Eustace go on about beetles in glass cases. "Besides, we have many meetings to accomplish. You want to see Doctor Russell and need to speak to Asim, and I should like to speak to Asim and meet Doctor Russell, and so shall move this all along, if I can."
Peter blew out a breath. "Thank you. That had all occurred to me, but I did not want to impose upon you."
"You are welcome, but I will always have your back, Peter, even if you have let Asim replace me as your logistics man."
"Never, Brother!" Peter emphasized the point with slap to the shoulders so hard Edmund nearly pitched over the railing into the holly bushes.
Reception confirmed that Doctor Richard Russell was still in the room 23. The orderly made the pronouncement with all the gloom that greeted air raid sirens.
On the second floor, they had to run the gauntlet through the Nurses' Station. It was Narnia all over again. There was no way they were going to sneak by without proper courtesies. A Nurse Hawkins was most attentive. To Peter.
"Oh, Mr. Pevensie, how lovely to see you again! Doctor Russell has been asking for you."
"Asking?" Peter repeated.
She smiled, all dimples and ringlets of blonde hair framing her pretty face, and took a step closer, blocking Peter's way down the hall to room 23. Seeing how this was going to unfold, Edmund performed the Good Brother Manoeuvre and wandered back a few paces, pretending to intently study a lifeless watercolor landscape on the corridor wall. He did not want to interfere, for he would be able to rib Peter about it until his brother pummeled him senseless. Not that it was a particular hardship for Peter other than the obvious. Nurse Hawkins had a nicely curved, trim figure that her uniform showed off to brilliant advantage. She did not giggle.
"Well, Doctor Russell can be a trifle demanding," she admitted. If she twirled her hair with a finger, Edmund was not certain he would be able to contain himself. Ah, no, not twirling, just one of those impudent head tosses. So, Nurse Hawkins was an independent sort.
Peter laughed and… oh yes, he was leaning against the wall now. Immovable object (Peter) meets irresistible force (Nurse Hawkins).
"I think we can agree that Doctor Russell is a brilliant man and a terrible patient. I admire him very much, but would not wish to be his nurse."
"There are compensations, Mr. Pevensie."
She had made her offer and if Peter missed the appropriate response, Edmund would have to provide remedial tutoring. She would be batting her eyes, widening her smile, and sidling up just a bit closer into the crook of Peter's arm.
Edmund mouthed the words silently as Peter responded, "And what compensations might those be, Nurse Hawkins?"
"Why, the company who come to visit Doctor Russell, of course!"
Peter laughed again and Edmund wondered where the custodial closet was. He would need a mop and bucket to sponge up the limp carcass of the smitten Nurse Hawkins.
"Is there anyone with him now?"
"Mrs. Russell was here earlier, but she left and that Arab man came."
This was Edmund's cue.
"Oh, I say, Peter! Shouldn't we be going then!" Edmund pitched his voice higher and younger. "I so wanted to meet Mr. bin Kalil."
Peter managed to neither grimace nor laugh at his prevarications. His brother did the quick fake in one direction and then duck to the other side that had foiled the pursuit of ladies from all the Known Lands.
"Thank you, Nurse Hawkins. I hope to see you again."
She swatted him playfully with her clipboard. "I'm here at the same time as always, Mr. Pevensie, Sunday through Friday, and …"
"Yes?" Peter prompted, all charming good manners. Goodness, his brother still performed this role beautifully.
"I'm off at 4 o'clock."
With that smart reply, she tucked the clipboard under her arm and sashayed away down the corridor.
"Nice legs," Edmund murmured watching Nurse Hawkins' retreating backside. She was certainly swaying her hips for Peter's benefit, so he saw no reason to not appreciate the view she was going to such effort to provide. "But a little short for your tastes, I think."
"Sixteen, remember?" Peter said with a grumble. The age differential did not stop him from looking. She knew it too, for she tossed Peter a saucy look and a wink before turning a corner. "School boy?"
"Nurse Hawkins seems to have no objection."
"I would not even know how to make a proper overture to a woman without you first negotiating a thirty page contract covering a simple drink at a pub."
Now it was Edmund's turn for the guffaw and chest clearing slap to Peter's shoulder blades. "I knew the day would come when you would see I had the right of it! She is a nurse so I would not even offend her purported virtue with impertinent questions! Great Scott! I could use a typewriter! But, how shall we ever manage precautionary measures without consulting a Hound!"
Peter shot him a venomous look and stalked down the corridor to knock on the door of room 23. A voice bellowed from inside, "If you are in the healthcare profession, go to hell!"
"Then I may come in?" Peter asked, pushing open the door.
For a sick man, Richard Russell did not seem to be dying just yet. He looked so peevishly irritable, Edmund was reminded of Sir Leszi laid up – furious, more than pained.
"Peter! Finally! A sane person who is not going to mollycoddle me to an even earlier grave." Dr. Russell snarled from his hospital bed. "That had better not be the nurse skulking behind you. I'll throw a bed pan at her."
To the man sitting quietly in the chair next to the bed, Peter said, "Hello, Asim. It's good to see you again." He spoke so easily, Edmund knew his brother had been reviewing how precisely to proceed with this awkward beginning.
"And you as well, Peter. Digory said we should expect you today."
"As for Nurse Hawkins, Richard, you are quite safe from her for the moment."
"But you are not, which means I'm not so long as you're here. And don't say another word about her, or I'll need an aspirin." Dr. Russell craned his neck and Edmund emerged from behind Peter's obscuring bulk.
"Richard, Asim, this is my brother, Edmund."
Even knowing that Asim was in the room, he was still not fully prepared for just how different this man was from the Major in the Cambridge pub – bearded and glowering, belted knife, long robes. He was an unnervingly dangerous figure and Edmund found his hand automatically moving for the sword that was not strapped to his back. Asim was of a type Edmund instinctively recognized, just as Peter had when they had first met. Edmund found he was automatically sizing up the man and examining what might be used offensively and defensively in the room. He fervently wished for something more than his pocketknife.
Asim saw him as clearly and did Edmund the courtesy of not provoking his instinctive unease further. He rose slowly from his seat, carefully keeping his hands loose, open, and at his sides, palms out. "It is very good to meet you, Edmund."
Edmund stepped forward to shake Asim and Richard's hands. "It's a pleasure, Dr. Russell, Mr. bin Kalil. Peter has spoken of you often." Richard's hand was shaky and clammy; Asim's was firm and cool.
"There are too damn many of you for last names, Edward."
Edmund did as Peter and Asim and ignored Richard's error.
"Very well, Richard," Edmund replied with a nod.
"Is all well with your family?" Asim asked. "We have of course been concerned."
"Yes, fine," Peter responded. "Thank you for asking. There was a family matter that has resolved itself. Which reminds me, Asim." Peter shrugged off the pack. "Thank you also for seeing to my provisioning. I was able to replace the candle and matches. Lucy could not find any nuts to replace what she ate, and so has substituted a sugar ration and a note of apology."
"Thank you, Peter. I would say not to worry about the provisions as they are meant to be consumed, but Lee will make good use of an additional ration." He looked passed them, toward the door. "Is Lucy with you?"
"She and our cousin, Eustace, have gone with Polly and the Professor to the Museum. We are staying with the Professor for a day or two, and then it is back to Cambridge."
"Edmund!" Richard suddenly barked. "Where's your cricket bat?"
Edmund looked to Peter and Asim, but neither seemed any wiser than he. This did seem more intentional jesting than forgetful belligerence.
"Cricket bat, Sir?"
"Or do you use a farmer's cudgel? Bag of bricks? Hammer?"
"I might use any or all of them, at need. For what purpose, Richard?"
"The blunt force you apply to your brother's thick skull. What's your weapon of choice?"
So Richard had experienced some of Peter's obstinacy first hand? Edmund wondered what the context was for Peter had never intimated that there had been any conflict at all between them. This was, like Peter's apparent uncertainty regarding University, yet one more thing his brother had omitted from his letters.
To Richard, Edmund said, "I prefer a Mace for close-in application of force. A Quarterstaff is my weapon of choice for longer range whacking."
"Medieval savagery then? You and Asim should get on quite well. Asim, take Edmund somewhere and teach him how to kill things with his bare hands. I want to talk to Peter."
Richard did not know and so could not appreciate the humour that there was probably very little that Asim could teach him of killing with his bare hands. From the grim, knowing smile, Edmund saw that Asim had drawn the same conclusion. There was no denying it; civility simply made it necessary to politely pretend otherwise. There was a tacit code of silence on the subject between them and that was enough. Edmund never turned his back on the man though – not without something in his possession sharper even than his wits.
Edmund had wanted to come to know this man all summer. Now, with the opportunity finally presenting itself, he felt oddly tongue-tied. Usually Edmund did not wish to discuss Peter with others whom he wished to converse with himself – as Lucy would say, as a subject of conversation, her brothers were duller than toast. Edmund excepted himself from that conclusion; Lucy did not. Moreover, what so very much needed to be said between Asim and Peter was for them alone. Yet, though he showed it no more than Peter was, surely Asim must be feeling some anxiety and Edmund should do what he could to alleviate it.
By further unspoken accord, they left the hospital to go out of doors and spoke only of the obvious common ground between new acquaintances, delays on the trains and coupon ration booklets.
He followed Asim onto the hospital's encircling grounds. "That is Richard's window," Asim said, threading his way through a stand of oak trees and pointing upwards. "If we circle the building, we will know when Peter issues his SOS."
It was up to him to begin. "So, Richard wishes for me to use his first name. I find, however, that titles and names, like beginnings, can be very deceptive things." Edmund chose to deliberately echo their as yet unacknowledged conversation of barely two weeks ago.
"They can be cumbersome as well," Asim replied, picking up the nuanced thread immediately.
"And when there are many names and titles, it can be difficult to know which to choose. So, I shall await your prompting."
"I am, as you see me, Asim bin Kalil, currently of Oxfordshire." He held out his hands and the robes flowed from his arms.
Edmund nodded. "Very well." They turned a corner and rambled into the hospital garden. The blooms were beginning to fade, browns and yellows replacing the green. The winter storms would rise up in another month and lock the ships into Narrowhaven. Edmund pushed the intruding, irrelevant thoughts away, irritated with the lapse.
"I will risk overstepping my bounds to say that Peter harbours no resentment. He does not like the situation, but he understands it. It is in his nature to openly acknowledge such things, however, and so he will certainly wish to discuss it with you."
Asim stopped walking and so Edmund did. He clasped his hands behind his back and stared ahead at the garden's winding path of crushed stone and moss. "Edmund, I must claim ignorance even of what you might be referring to."
He was disappointed, but thought this might be the way of it. "I do not expect you to respond," Edmund told him. He wanted to say that he understood, but that was revealing far too much. "And having now said my piece in the hope of easing the way between the two of you, I will happily move on to easier subjects. I very much wish to learn more about your faith, if you would share. I pestered Peter with questions all summer, but he has proven to be an incomplete correspondent in this regard." And in so many other respects, as well.
They were deep into a discussion of the Five Pillars of Islam when Asim stopped suddenly and in mid-sentence, stated, "Thank you, Edmund, both for your information about Peter and for your understanding. I have been perturbed and you have eased my spirit." He then continued on as if there had been no interruption and continued an explanation of the historical development of the Holy Qur'an.
Edmund did not ask him to elaborate, for he knew already. It was up to Peter now.
They were comparing how angels and messengers were presented in Islam and Christianity when they passed beneath Richard's window and Peter stuck his head out.
"Richard and I are almost done."
"I am not taking a bloody nap!" billowed from the open window. "Get out of my room you god damned leech!"
Peter's grimace was tolerantly good-natured. "I shall come down and join you soon." The And then, Asim, you and I shall have a conversation was implied.
Asim nodded his understanding to Peter and his brother pulled his head back into the room and disappeared from view.
They sat under the colouring oak tree on the dry, prickly grass and Richard's curses faded.
Edmund finally spoke, for the first time, of the idea that had been stewing most of the summer. Here now, was the opportunity. "Asim, a favor if I may?"
"You may ask, of course. Whether I may grant it depends upon the request."
It was the sort of response Edmund would have given, and had given, in the past.
"I would like to speak to the Major about the service. Might we arrange that?"
"If your brother wishes to pursue such things, it will be for him to raise it, Edmund."
"I did not mean Peter. I am pursuing German and Russian when I return to school. I am interested in how those skills and others might have applicability in the Major's line of work and what I might do to prepare for it. I would appreciate his advice, possibly even sponsorship, when the time comes."
"I should hope the War would be over before you would eligible to serve," Asim replied gravely.
"But, what of after the war? If we lose, the age for enlistment is irrelevant. If we prevail, the Great Game never really ends. Only the rules and players change. With his long experience, I thought the Major might have insight into this."
Edmund had noticed before, when he had met the Major, how very difficult he was to read. The man, in whatever guise, had extraordinary self-control and communicated precisely what he wished to and nothing more. Peter had said he was a bit like the elder Centaur mages who had been so gravely obscure. Edmund thought him more like Lambert, Susan's Wolf Guard, who had trained himself to not even put a hair out of place unless he intended to do so. Wolf and Man shared the same lethal qualities, competence, and serious manner.
Asim (for that was who he was at the moment) templed his fingers and shifted his position on the grass. His face was polite and interested. They might have been, again, discussing train schedules and ration books.
"You are at Blackpool School? Near Reading?"
Edmund managed to quell his (admittedly boyish) excitement and mirror the same polite expression that Asim bore. "I am."
And that was all that needed to be said and it was time to move on. Edmund leaned against the oak tree. "I have not yet read the papers today. Has there been any further reporting on Dieppe?"
Chapter 2, Learning Curve
In which Peter is student, teacher, friend, mentor, mentee, soulmate, and father.
Phew. And so it begins with a dense chapter, a new character, and many references to the past and what is to come in the future. Links to the research and footnotes are in my Live Journal, tag AW.
A special thank you to Snacky, Autumnia, Min, Intrikate, Miniver and the rest who have been so supportive during this difficult time as I struggled with whether to continue the tale.