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The Stone Gryphon, Part 1, Oxfordshire 1942

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The Stone Gryphon, Part 1, Oxfordshire, 1942
Chapter 1 - Digs

In which Digory receives an Alarming Invitation


With gratitude and admiration to the creator of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis. I claim no ownership interest whatsoever in any derivative fiction I write. Any original content in my derivative fiction is in the public domain and may be used freely and without notice to me or attribution.


"Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me."
The Last Battle, Aslan to Emeth a Calormene

"Now, Bree," He said, "you poor, proud, frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast."
The Horse and His Boy, Aslan to Bree.


15 June 1942

Digs-

As I know you have heard (yes, there is piqe in my writing of that), the Nazis chased me out of the Sahara. You can be sure that Rommel shall hear from me on the subject. Richard is finally back from East Africa. We've not seen you in ages, and we've not been able to tell you anything about our latest.

Imagine then my chagrinn to learn, from Copeland no less, that you are here for the summer and that you are hoarding a reserch assistant. Curiouser and curiouser say I, when I further learn that your student is none other one of the mystireous Pensieve's about whom you have been going on (and on, and on) about for almost two years! This is unaceptable, D.

As you have not come up to the house to see us, R and I are coming to see you and Master P. For tea. Today.

You needn't do a thing except wait, and warn Pevsnee (which I wish you would not do, but shall do anyway. You know I prefer to catch them unawares). Kwong Lee will pack us a proper Hong Kong tea. And if that prospect is not sufficeint to entise you - and I know how fond you are of her buns - then you must live with the guilt that P shall perish without ever having enjoyed L's cooking. Moreover, it shall be all your fault if her excellent efforts are wasted on C and the trilobites.

Sufficiently chastized, yet? Excellent. You shall tear yourself away from the fascinateing erudishions of Franciscan theology and Dunce Scotus, force P to do so as well, and spend an hour or two with us.

Yours adoreingly and admonishngly, etc.

MAR

PS- I warn you now of R. EA was not kind to him. res loquitur ipsa

Professor Digory Kirke, distinguished holder of the Barnett Chair in High Medieval Theology, was embarrassed to find his hand shaking slightly as he read the fine, creamy engraved stationery again. A polite throat clearing brought him back to the matter at hand and the impatient man hovering at the threshold of his College office.

"Thank you, Mr. Stevens. Would you mind running over to the library and asking Peter to join me?" He waved the note for emphasis. "Quickly?"

The porter nodded and with a crisp, "Of course, Professor," hurried out.

Digory studied the note again. Mary's scrawl was nearly illegible and completely at odds with the quality of the paper it marred. Glancing at the clock, he figured they probably had an hour, and possibly more if the Russells became distracted by something entombed, crumbling, or pickled and certainly long dead, in the Museum, which they could be counted upon to visit first. Richard and Mary would be late for their own burials, doubly so if there was a natural sciences museum between church and graveyard.

It was his own fault, really, and now this formidable introduction he had vaguely, if unrealistically, hoped to avoid was imminent. If he hadn't fairly gushed to his colleagues about the remarkable children who had stayed with him during the Blitz, he would have never aroused their curiosity. But, the Russells had noted his uncharacteristic enthusiasm and such things could not, in their view of the world, be politely ignored. Inconsistency aroused interest and demanded investigation and explanation.

Well, forewarned, forearmed and all that. Peter Pevensie had grown into a kingship and ruled for over fifteen years in Another Place before being crammed back into his present adolescent incarnation. He could probably manage a Hong Kong tea with the Russells. Nor was Digory under any illusions; for Peter, it would certainly be an interesting diversion from studying and parsing a Franciscan saint's medieval writings.

A hurried tread in the hall signaled the young man himself. Plunging into the room, it looked as if Peter had run all the way, what with blond hair askew, shirttails out, and face quite red with exertion. Between where he stood now and where he had been there were at least four flights of stairs and several hundred yards. Peter had covered the distance at an alarming speed. They would both undoubtedly hear about it tomorrow from the Theology librarian.

"Professor?" came out in a rush of heavy breath. "Stevens said you had a note. Is everything..."

"All is well, Peter. Nothing to be alarmed at." Digory brandished the card, feeling apologetic. "Catch your breath. Do you want some water?"

"No, I'm fine. What's this about?"

"We're having visitors shortly." More softly, he added, "close the door, would you?"

Peter mouthed a wordless "Ah," and did so, then swiftly moved to sit across from him in the office's extra chair, still breathing hard. The massive desk was between them. It was assumed to be oak, but such evidence was no longer visible, buried as it was under mountains of papers, manuscripts, books, lectures, calendars, and other things, important and insignificant, all jumbled together.

"This invitation, well, summons, really, just arrived," Digory explained dryly, proffering the fine card. Peter took it gingerly and then frowned in concentration as he puzzled through the scratchings.

"I'll never complain about a monk's handwriting again," he heard Peter mutter. "This isn't a test, is it?"

"Not of textual interpretation." Digory pulled himself from the chair with a protesting squeak of springs and joints. In its appointed space were the volumes on his bookshelves allotted for the Russells. He withdrew one book and an overstuffed binder.

"Digs!" Behind him he heard Peter laugh. "Professor, if I ever sent you so appalling a letter, you'd rap my knuckles. He? No, she?"

"She," he affirmed, pulling for good measure the A-C's of the Encyclopedia. "Mary Anning Russell and her husband, Richard. Digs is her unfortunate nickname for me." He juggled the three volumes back to the desk.

Peter pushed the detritus of an academic's life from one corner so that Digory could set the books down. He eyed the tomes suspiciously knowing well what they portended, "Research? For tea?"

"For the test to come," Digory corrected, returning to his squeaky chair.

Peter again perused the note. "If I am reading this correctly, Mrs. Russell has been in the Sahara? A war notwithstanding?"

Digory nodded. "And Richard or 'R' is recently returned from British East Africa, the Kenya Colony."

"Copeland?" Peter tapped the card. "He's the curator at the University Museum, isn't he?"

"Natural History Museum, yes. He holds the Lindacre Chair for Zoology."

"Aren't trilobites some sort of extinct...?" Peter's voice trailed off, questioning.

"Marine life. You can see them at the Museum."

"Of course, extinct trilobites aren't drinking 'Hong Kong tea.'"

"In this case, Mary is, I believe, referring rather unflatteringly to Dr. Copeland's research assistants, who for all we know may very well be studying trilobites."

Peter paused, stumbling briefly over the badly written and unfamiliar name. "And, Miss Kwong Lee is their cook?"

"In Chinese the surname is first. She is Mrs. Kwong."

Peter nodded and Digory knew that, having heard this once, Peter would not make the mistake again.

He handed the offending missive back over the piles of paper. "Are these errors deliberate? Mrs. Russell seems to make a point of misspelling my name."

"Mary would say that it is not her job, but that of her editor, to catch errors. The use of abbreviations is scientific convention - you spell something out the first time, and then abbreviate it thereafter. She has the habit of extending it to personal correspondence. As for your name, I'm not sure if that's her idea of humor or true carelessness. If it was Latin or Greek, and expressed in Linnaean taxonomy, I'm sure she'd be more careful."

Peter sat back, templing his fingers - his chair did not squeal in protest. "What have you told them to make them so inquisitive?"

"Nothing about," even with the door closed, he mouthed it, "Narnia, to be sure. But you and your brother and sisters were extraordinary before your experiences and even more so after them." Digory leaned forward, wanting his friend and, in some unsettling way he had yet to resolve, his King, to understand. "You all are very special and I have remarked upon that to a few who are close to me, including the Russells."

"Oh." Peter did not try to deny it. And how could he? God had marked Peter and his siblings and called them to do His will. They had walked with Him and known Him for many years. Then, He had sent them Back.

"In hindsight, I simply should have anticipated the Russells' raging curiosity." Digory gestured to the books on the desk, "They are scientists and tend to approach anything unknown as a personal challenge."

"I'd guessed something of the sort. So, you are recommending I learn a little background in advance of the delegation's arrival?"

Digory couldn't quite tell if Peter's flat tone was humorous or serious; he took it as the later. "I rather think so, yes. It might help prepare you for some unconventional thinking."

Leaning back in the chair again, he began with a caveat. "Understand that academically, the Russells and I move in different spheres so what I tell you is gleaned mostly from my personal relationship with them. Richard Russell is of the Duke of Bedford's family who are themselves longtime supporters of the British Museum," Digory explained.

"Richard is a zoologist, and after a series of Chinese expeditions, he went to Africa. As he is just back from there, I'm sure he's seen Louis Leakey. You've heard of him?"

"The anthropologist? Early humans, right?"

"Yes. He's known Leakey for years and did some early excavations with him. That binder on top has Richard's scientific papers. Richard is, as it would be said, an old East Africa hand and, before that, Our Man In China."

Peter pulled the thick binder from the stack and began leafing slowly through the abstracts and articles. Digory couldn't help noticing that the articles seemed to capture Peter's attention more intensively than medieval manuscripts. While most were innocuous enough, the possibility of having to explain a few of the illustrations and topics was an uncomfortable one. But then again, and this consideration made Digory even more uneasy, how much would he even need to explain? Peter had already been an adult and, as he continually had to remind himself, still was, school age appearance notwithstanding.

Into the hanging silence of Digory's internal deliberations, Peter finally said, "So, Doctor Richard Russell is a prolific scientist, a world explorer, related to a Peer of the Realm, and close enough to drop by for tea. Yet, he is not on faculty here?"

So much for preserving the innocence of youth. "No," Digory admitted.

Peter raised his eyes, catching Digory's own. With a hint of impatient command, he asked, "What are you hesitating to say?"

Digory needlessly cleared his throat. "Understand I say this only because I don't want you to be surprised and it would simply never occur to either of the Russells to censor their conversation for the sake of another's sensibilities."

He knew he was only intriguing Peter all the more. Peter, to his credit, waited patiently, returning to his study of the binder in his hands. Digory still had to grope for the words. Finally, he said slowly, "I believe the reason Richard is not still curator here with his own endowed chair is because it is widely reported that he has an African common law wife."

"Really!" Peter looked up suddenly and far too enthusiastically for Digory's own comfort. "And Mrs. Russell..."

"Doesn't care a whit." So much for avoiding that issue.

"Fascinating."

"Goodness, Peter, try to curb your rather obvious curiosity. And please don't tell your parents."

"Well not Mum. Maybe father, though. And Edmund. I'll just have to tell Ed all about it. He's stuck with Eustace for the summer, and I'm having Chinese tea with world traveling evolutionists of dubious moral character."

Digory tried to scold with a severe look, but Peter just waved him off. "Don't worry. Of course I wouldn't say such a thing." He paused, and became rather stern, "Professor, I do know how to conduct myself around those who are quite different from me, and older, with all that necessarily entails. While I appreciate your sensibilities, I am not ignorant of these matters."

"Have I ever mentioned how alarming it is when you swerve from Peter Pevensie to High King in a matter of a few words?"

Peter shrugged. "We are the same person."

"Indeed you are." With a deep breath, Digory continued. "My apologies, but I am bound to flounder occasionally. I agree that thinking more as the King and less as the student will serve you in better stead here."

"As for Mary," and here Digory exchanged the book on his desk for the binder Peter held and seemed reluctant to relinquish.

"The New Conquest of Central Asia?" Peter read from the book's title.

"It's an account of American paleontological expeditions to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. I want you to look at the photograph on the inset." He pointed to the page in the book. "It's the excavation team. One of them, anyway. Richard was part of it, given his China experience. He's there, the thin man on the left."

Peter studied the image, his finger marking the page.

"And on the right, do you see the little girl?"

"Yes?"

"That's Mary."

Digory saw Peter glance quickly from one side of the frame to the other, a rather disturbing and sly smile breaking on his face. "She must be…"

"Errrrm, yes," Digory interrupted. "Mary is a great deal closer to your age than to her husband's." Trying to explain this was really making his head hurt.

"Edmund will be so envious."

"Please leave that bit out in your letter to your mother as well, if you would, Peter."

Peter's casual, knowing gesture was completely inappropriate for someone of his supposed age and background. Worse still, it was then followed up with an extremely disconcerting, "It's not at all uncommon in my experience."

Digory resolved not to learn the particulars of those Narnian experiences.

"But seriously, Professor, the more interesting question for me is what she was doing there in the first place. She is younger than Lucy."

With a mental sigh of relief, Digory returned to topics that were less challenging, for him at least. "Mary's father was a diplomat stationed in Hong Kong. He was instrumental in getting them into Mongolia and Mary somehow invited herself along. To explain what happened next requires another reference text."

Digory pulled the Encyclopedia toward him and opened it up to the entry. "To paraphrase, Anning, Mary, 1799 to 1847. Born to poor family, from Dorset, etcetera. One of England's first paleontologists, she excavated fossils from the sea cliffs in and around Lyme Regis. The twister, 'She sells seashells by the seashore' is attributed to Mary Anning.'"

"So, it's in the family so to speak?"

"Oh no," he replied, shutting the book and managing to push it away without toppling any other pile. "After trekking about the Gobi digging up remains, Mary decided she wanted to be Mary Anning. She changed her name from Wallace and has answered only to that ever since."

Peter snorted softly. "I see. An abundance of personality, then."

"I don't mean to sound censorious. I've known Mary since, goodness, before Mongolia, even. I tutored her throughout most of her school years when the family was in London. She has since excavated all over the Sahara, Arabia, and the Gobi." He gestured to the binder still in Peter's hands. "Not all the papers in there are Richard's. She's a respected paleontologist in her own right."

Peter glanced down again at the binder, looking more thoughtful. "I suppose to do such a things a woman would have to be forceful. In England, anyway," he amended.

"I recommend not mentioning that. Mary has a quite a mania on the subject – it's just one of several. She'd be happy to discourse for hours on Great Englishwomen of Archaeology and the Men Who Hindered Them, if you make the mistake of asking her."

"And then the tea would get cold. Duly noted." Standing, Peter proceeded to fulfill the obligation of every lowly student, and reshelve the books. It was remarkable how easily he could slip from one persona to another. "What do you make of the postscript, Professor?"

Digory shook his head with a frown. "It's very worrisome. Did you recognize the Latin she added?"

"Res loquitur ipsa? The thing speaks for itself?"

"Yes. Whatever is ailing Richard, Mary writes, will be obvious. East Africa is a dangerous place to travel and I can't imagine they had an easy return. They must have..."

A loud, impatient knock interrupted him, followed immediately by an irritated, and more alto then was strictly feminine, voice, "Open the damn door, Digs!"


Chapter 2 –Tetchy

In which there are Alarming Introductions and Peter mistakenly mentions King Kong