Please note: this story takes place after Lewis' Silver Chair and this author's Lesley and the Lion
London, 1946….the Scrubb home…
The boy sat on his bed and looked down at his feet. A strong, odd smell almost filled his small bedroom and he was glad that everyone was out of the house. He stared at his handiwork, if you could call it that. The little bottle of red liquid sat on the nightstand after a futile attempt at art. He pulled on the wool socks and sighed. His big toe stuck out of the right sock, revealing a very pretty if messy shade of red that covered almost the entire nail and even some of the toe.
“What’s up, doc?”
The voice came from behind, startling him. His cousin Eustace had seen a cartoon at cinema featuring a certain rabbit, and the boy actually had done a fair Yank accent, even for a prig…. Excuse me….former prig. The boy quickly shoved his foot into his shoe and turned.
Richard Winslow looked out the window. He had been staying with the Scrubbs since November of 44. His father’s Lancaster went down over Schweinfurt in a bombing run and his mother had died when her hospital was destroyed in 42, so he had only his distant cousin’s family to turn to.
“Don’t give me that,” Eustace said, returning to his own voice, but without the once-annoying and critical tone the Richard remembered; something had changed his cousin, and for the better.
“You’ve been acting very jumpy lately.”
Another voice called from behind Eustace, but Richard didn’t recognize the speaker; the tone was a bit nasal and almost Cockney but decidedly feminine. The boy recalled Shaw’s Pygmalion, but the face that matched the voice was no girlish waif, but a long-snouted brown and white striped-faced badger. Richard took a look at the animal before facing Eustace once again. It had to be a dream.
“And if you ask me, love, red just ain’t your color, if you know what I mean.”
Before the boy could protest, the badger stepped closer. Mavis Gardener, for that’s who she was, pulled off the shoe and pointed to the red-painted toe nail that once again poked out of the un-darned sock. Richard looked down and into the face of the animal, speechless.
“I’d say pink, if you ask me.” She pointed once again to the toe and smiled a very toothy grin. The boy looked over to Eustace who nodded in approval and watched Richard fall back on the bed in a dead faint.
“I think she’s coming to,” a voice called with urgency; a voice that sounded entirely familiar and friendly if a bit anxious. A tall girl wearing a long green velvet gown leaned close and breathed a sigh of relief as a less familiar if also entirely friendly and small poked past the girl and smiled.
“By Aslan’s Mane I do believe she’s alright, I do.”
“Right you are, my dear,” another voice called from behind; the view was upside down and a bit blurry, but another welcoming grin flashed as the animal nodded; catching his spectacles in his right front paw just before they fell of his snout.
“Oh Henry, dear, do be a love and get the Daughter of Eve a nice cup of cold water from the stream?”
“For you, my dear Mavis, anything.” The badger trundled off and came back shortly with a crude wooden cup filled with water.
“Here you go, lass.” He smiled once again; teeth widened by just a bit of a gap in the middle.
“There’s a good girl, then,” Mavis said.
“Good girl,” the thought occurred. “What girl?” An answer came as the two badgers and the girl lifted the still-groggy figure up.
“I bet you’ll have a lot of questions, my dear. Many for which we will have few if any answers.” Mavis nodded at Henry who in turn nodded at the girl.
“Jill? Jill Pole?” The voice came out but sounded unlike anything the boy had ever heard exit his…mouth....his mouth? A hand shot up and came into contact with fairly long auburn hair that surrounded his…her face.
“What’s happened to me?” Richard spoke again but instead of sounding like himself, he sounded more like what he always imagined his sister’s voice would have been had she lived past infancy. It was both pleasing and sad, as you might expect for a boy who was growing up with no family. He shook his head.
“Well, let’s just say that things are a bit different here.”
Mavis used her paw to point all around what looked like a small glade between some poplars and elms. Jill offered her hand and helped Richard to his…her feet.
“I’m…..I’m a girl?!” The now-changed voice spoke again. But instead of feeling odd or awkward or embarrassed, the voice was almost calm.
“What would you expect to be, dear? Haven’t you always been a girl?” Henry asked, but his question was almost rhetorical. Richard nodded slightly and looked at her hands. I suppose it would be odd if I didn’t mention that Richard’s name hadn’t changed even though she was a pretty young lady clad in a very pretty grayish green gown. But I’m getting ahead of myself. As I was saying, she looked at her hands and noticed a delightful pink shade covered her neatly manicured fingers.
“Oh…” She shuddered as a breeze pushed a tress across her cheek, causing her to start. She turned and looked through a gap in the trees at a brightly lit clearing. Her dress felt warm against a cool breeze and every bit about her felt just so right.
“I’m glad you’re all sorted out, Winslow,” Jill said. Children in their school often called each other by their last names, and besides, Jill felt it a bit foolish to continue to call the girl Richard. Just then another voice called from behind.
“Well, I see you’ve found out how things can often go here,” another voice spoke that was oddly familiar, but as with hers, Richard found that the new voice was also oddly feminine.
“I’ve been here a few times, and I still haven’t gotten used to how different it can be from time to time.” The girl smiled a toothy smile and her grin lit up her freckled face, which was surrounded by a shock of nearly unruly blonde hair.
“Eustace?” Richard tilted her head in puzzlement. A quick nod was followed just as quickly by,
“Well, Eugenia for now, dear!” The girl curtseyed politely, holding the hem of her long blue velvet gown. It would have been hysterical under any other circumstance, but it was actually a sweet moment.
“Aslan thought it might be a good idea if you had….company.” Jill laughed, but it surprised everyone that Eustace…Eugenia, actually, didn’t seem to mind at all.
“Something about being all things to all people…an old quote, from what I understand.” She smiled and duplicated the curtsey.
“I suppose a fellow could get used to this. But like they say, he might not be a tame lion, but he’s good!’ Eugenia grinned again, and Richard could see that she meant every word of it. Like the older brother you might have that you can trust to pull you out of anything, even if he gets you into it in the first place, Eugenia trusted Aslan.
“Well, I suppose you ladies should be off, aye?” Henry smiled.
“Give us a kiss, love, and wish us well?” Mavis leaned closer, offering her muzzle, which Henry proceeded to kiss gently.
“May the Lion go with you, aye?” With that, Henry stepped back and the four girls turned to each other.
“This is the hardest part, I’m afraid.”
"But I just got here...and..." The girl looked down at her new body and things seemed to blur.
"Oh...can't we stay just a bit longer?"
Jill shook her head and blinked back a few tears. It was apparent something not so nice was about to take place….and it did.
A short while later...
“Hey Winslow, ye fairy!”
Nathaniel Brundage called out to the children as they walked around the corner. They found themselves, not in a glade under clear Narnian skies, but in the courtyard of Experiment House. The grey of the day cast a pall over them. All three…all four children sighed deeply. Jill and Eustace had returned to their former dress and form, along with a new friend, a short dark haired girl named Mavis Blaireau (You can look up her family name if you like) along with Richard, who stood in the midst of them all.
“She’s cryin’, Archie…look at the little girl cry!”
Nathaniel pointed to Richard who was indeed crying; not a girl at all, but a not-at-all boyish young man. You wouldn’t blame him for crying if you knew how much being his plain old self hurt. But Nathaniel and Archie and his mates didn’t care at all for how Richard felt. It really wasn’t fair, but it was what it was, and all four of them were about to find out that the worst things on earth aren’t necessarily what we must face, but that the best things can arise from how we face them.
“Oh, my dear Nathaniel, I do believe you have hurt the fairy’s feelings.” David Windsor (not those Windsors, I should say) pointed along with Archie and Nathaniel and laughed.
“Very brave of you, Brundage,“ Jill said, “with all of your mates backing your play!”
“Shut yer bleeding mouth, Pole. I don’t care if you’re a girl or not.” The Windsor boy shouted. It was all Mavis could do to restrain herself. She was even considering biting Nathaniel on the leg, but caught herself in time, saying instead,
“Mighty courageous of you! Why don’t you pick on someone your own species, Master Australopith…pith…. You Neanderthal!!!!” She swung around to her companions and then turned back and into a hit on the head by an apple core hurled none too lightly. It knocked her down and her nose began to bleed. It was the first time she had ever been struck in anger, unlike Eustace and Jill and especially Richard.
“Listen, Nathaniel Brundage. I don’t care if your Uncle is the Head here, leave my friends alone.” Richard Winslow had risen up, his face red, and not at all from the tears he had shed only moments before. He raised his fists and held them out. Something inside him changed and all for the good.
“Oh, is the fairy going to fight me? Look at the fairy pretending he’s a big man.” Nathaniel laughed and turned to urge his mates to join him. The other boys stood with their mouths agape, staring at Richard, who by then had stepped closer to Nathaniel.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Brundage, but I am most certainly…..” Richard stammered and his knees knocked and his lip quivered, but he continued.
“I am not a big man! But…..” He turned to his friends. Jill smiled broadly and Eustace nodded with a grin and Mavis just stepped closer and put up her paws….fists, if you’ll excuse me.
“I am not a fairy.”
Richard was to discover exactly what he was, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself. He lowered his head for the expected blow that never came. Somehow, and Nathaniel would tell everyone who would listen, the boy seemed to grow even though he gained no real stature. And somehow he was accompanied by Pole and Scrubb and a ….badger. But it was the large tawny lion who glared from behind them that got the attention of Nathaniel and he stood and shook.
“We….we….we…apologize.” The boy stammered and his friends stared at him askance until they noticed the look of fear on his face. All of them, Nathaniel included, walked away quietly. It would be nice to report that all the boys grew up and became fine outstanding citizens that day. I can say gladly that after a brief stint as a medic for the Royal Marines where he distinguished himself at the Imjin River in 51, he returned to England and served as a very caring veterinarian who learned to respect all animals.
“Good show, Winslow, good show!”
Jill patted the boy on the back and shook his hand. Eustace grabbed his other hand and held it aloft like the victor in a prizefight. And Mavis just grinned a toothy grin. Richard was happy and relieved, and just smiled weakly before bursting into tears. The children thought they heard a soft bellow like sound that broadened into the loudest purr you ever heard and suddenly they were back in the glade where they had started.
“Tell me, dear one? Are you brave?” Richard turned and faced the most feral and sweet looking cat he had ever seen until he realized the cat was huge and playful and stern and loving and a Lion after all.
“No…no sir.” With head down, Richard did not see the Lion approach. He placed his muzzle against Richard’s face.
“Why did you stand up against the bully, child?” He almost knocked Richard down with his growl, but the sound was the sound of a growl of a protective caring strong king.
“All is well, child. Speak.” The words came as encouragement rather than a command, even if the Lion held the authority to demand.
“My friend was hurt. Someone had to say something.”
“So…in spite of your fear, you spoke on behalf of your friend. That was very faithful indeed, child.”
“I am sorry I am so weak.” Richard said. And he looked at himself. Rather than the rainment of a Daughter of Eve, he was clad as a Son of Adam, as was Eustace. Jill wore the same green gown she had worn before their adventure. He began to cry and he buried his face in the Lion’s mane and wept enough to shake. After a few moments he pulled away and wiped his tears with his sleeve. It was then he noticed the Lion’s tears.
“May I stay here?” The boy said haltingly, as he wiped his nose, missing Jill’s proffered handkerchief. The look on the Lion’s face told him everything, causing him to cry once again. But then the Lion leaned closer and spoke words in a deep but silent voice that only the boy could hear. He looked at his friends and back at the Lion and nodded. His frown had disappeared and a half-smile grew across his face; a look of contentment no one had seen for years.
“It is time to return to your world, children.” The Lion used his muzzle to point to a parting between two beech trees at the other end of the glade.
“What of Nathaniel, O Lion?” The boy looked in the direction of his friends before turning back to the Lion.
“Will he seek to harm us when we return?” The boy was fearful for himself, of course, but he was truly thinking first of his friends.
“I tell anyone no story but their own, dear one. All will be revealed in time.” He turned back and Eustace and Jill nodded as if they knew what the Lion meant. (They did) After a few hugs with Mavis and Henry, the children walked to the gateway and passed thru, but not before each received a warm nuzzle from the Lion. The last to walk through was Richard, who had begun to cry once again. I believe you'll agree with me that we can forgive him his crying; a boy who loses his parents and sister and feels not at all like he fits in because of how he sees himself is entitled from time to time; especially one who is so brave even if he would be the last to tell you so.
“All will be as it should be little one.” Aslan used his muzzle to give the boy one last affectionate nudge, and then a moment later Richard stood once again in the courtyard of the school. It had begun to rain, but the sky seemed to be as clear and colorful and alive as any of them had ever seen in their lives.
Eustace and Jill kept close with Richard; he found that Jill was as stalwart a friend as anyone could ever have, and Eustace proved to be family by recalling his kinship with Richard; a kinship that included a little known cousin named Eugenia which they held until they parted at the last as Eustace and Jill went onto their own journey once again into Narnia. The final journey where they took the adventure that Aslan sent them. Richard finished school in due course and was fortunate enough to attend university and post-graduate school overseas; courtesy of an endowment scholarship from a Professor Kirke.
Burnley Veterinary Clinic, Lancashire, England, 1959...
The woman stood by the examination table. Her hands gently pet the animal before her and she sang softly,
“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small….”
“Doctor?” Her assistant called from behind the counter. She turned and faced the young man.
“Doctor? Your husband is on the phone. He says that the foal at the Mayweather farm came out just fine, and that he’ll meet you at home, alright?” The young man held up the phone and waved. She smiled and waved back playfully.
“Tell my husband that I’ve got my hands full with a sow who managed to get herself fouled up in a trap. I’ve got to set her leg, but I should be along shortly.” She smiled and the young man nodded before talking into the receiver and then hanging up.
“What did he say?” She laughed a deep alto laugh and the boy blushed.
“He said, and I quote, ‘Tell Faith that I have the lamb and the potatoes in the oven and the wine chilled.’”
“And?” The woman laughed again.
“’Tell her I love her!’” He blushed again and retreated into the front of the clinic as she turned her attention once again to the badger sow wrapped in swaddling to keep her from moving.
“And I love you too, my sweet Nate!” She sighed quietly. She resumed singing.
“All things wise and wonderful; the Lord God made them all.” And she could have sworn that the badger winked at her.
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