Part One - Meeting a Friend
On a train from London to somewhere in the English countryside, 1943...
Lesley Patterson looked out of the window as the countryside flew by; mile after mile of endless green hillsides and greener pastures. He gritted his teeth and tried ever so hard not to pout; the bullies in the next car had given up after a scolding by the conductor. His cheeks still were warm and quite likely red from the teasing they gave him and he could only hope his champion in blue would keep the boys at bay. He was only slightly proud that he hadn’t given the boys the satisfaction of crying in front of them; he was nine years old and he was going to be a man!
"Anyone sitting here?"
He looked up to see a girl about ten years old or so staring expressionless at him. He scooted over against the compartment wall, giving her the window view.
"Thanks. Name's Jill, Jill Pole."
She smiled and held out her hand, which he took in his, shaking it gently.
"Lesley...Lesley Patterson." He shrugged his shoulders apologetically
She looked over at the two little girls asleep against each other, a woman sitting next to them. With the evacuation, children rarely received an escort, so the girls were likely traveling home with their mother.
"First time out, right?" Lesley nodded. The girl seemed very forward, but certainly friendlier than his assailants in the next carriage.
"Don't worry...You'll be alright. Jerry never bombs out in the country...leastwise that's what we've been told. I've never been, but I know from friends that it can be okay, as long as you just go with the flow,"
Lesley nodded again. He didn't agree with her at all. This was the first time he'd ever been away from home. Most likely he'd never return to London, since his father had been killed over Belgium in a dogfight from what he'd heard, and his mother quickly followed her husband after a bomber destroyed the underground they'd been sheltered in. He and two little boys from his neighborhood along with their mother were the only survivors out of seventeen. He bit his tongue. He wasn't going to cry in front of this girl, and that was all there was to it.
"My dad's in North Africa and mum's a nurse in hospital in Netley. How about you?
"Me mum died last month....been stayin' with me Auntie in London. Dad got it over Belgium...I don't..." Lesley was saying what he had avoided speaking for nearly three weeks. The realization of what he spoke hit him in the stomach like the fists of the bullies in the next car. His lip quivered and the tears began to flow.
"Oh, bother, I'm so sorry. I should have known better. There, there. It's going to be alright." He hoped it would be, but nothing seemed further from the truth.
"Now, little man, no tears," the woman across from them spoke up. "Mustn't cry like a little girl. Buck up and all that." She smiled at her advice, truly believing that the best thing for a nine year old orphan was to be strong and stoic.
He sniffled and stopped crying, at least outwardly, but his expression was anything but stalwart. The girl reached over and grabbed his hand, patting it softly. She waited until the woman returned her attention to her book before whispering,
"It's okay, Les...don't you worry. Turn your head to the wall. I'll start singing and she won't hear you, okay?" He nodded and wiped his face with his sleeve, and did as she suggested. For the next twenty or so minutes she reveled the woman and her two girls with renditions of "Oranges and Lemons," "A Hunting We Will Go," "Diddle, Diddle, Dumpling," and some silly verse about a place called Narnia.
What seemed like an eternity later, the train stopped at one of the many outlying stations along the route. There was nothing to be seen besides the verdant hillside that cozied up to the crude wooden platform. A stern-faced woman sat in the front of a pony and trap, looking quite impatient.
“Well, this is my stop,” Jill said with a smile. Sorry about before. Don’t worry, you’ll be alright, I’m sure of it,” she said confidently, evoking a half-frown from Lesley. She stood up and as she leaned over to hug the boy she noticed the paper tag pinned to his jacket.
“Well, look here…this is your stop…Professor Kirke’s Home…” She pulled him to his feet, startling the boy a bit.
“Oh…okay…” She grabbed his hand and they made their way down the aisle and out.
“Watch your step, young lady…and you, too, lad. Just a bit of a dip there...platform is sagging a bit. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright.” The conductor said, giving the children a hand off of the car and onto the platform.
“Thank you, sir!” Jill said politely; Lesley stared at the conductor before turning away from the train. He took one step and ran into the woman from the wagon they had seen from the car.
“Don’t you look where you’re goin’, laddie?” She stepped back and he stepped back, looking up into her scowling face. She tried not to grin, but the boy’s red face gave away his great embarrassment.
“Now look here, young laddie, you mind your business and you and I will get along just fine. Come on, I know you can talk…what’s your name?”
“Les…Lesley…Puh..Puh.” He stammered.
“You’re soundin’ like a motor car there, laddie. Take a deep breath and try again.”
“Le…Lesley Pat..Patterson, Mum.” He put his head down and looked at his shoes.
“Well, Lesley Patterson, I’m rather pleased to meet you. And what would your name be, lassie?”
“Jill, Mum…Jill Pole.” She smiled and looked the woman directly in the eye and nodded.
“Quite good, Miss Pole. Is this lad kin to ye?” Jill shook her head no.
“Well, no never mind. You’ll be almost like brother and sister, I expect. My name is Mrs. Macready. I’m the Professor’s housekeeper. You’ll be wise to pay attention, because I don’t like repeating myself.” The children nodded.
“The Professor isn’t to be disturbed under any circumstances, not matter what anyone says to the contrary. Over the last several years we’ve had a few children such as yourself comin’ to the home here, and Professor Kirke is more likely than not to come out of his study to talk. And of course there’ll be meals and such, but please mind and don’t be botherin’ him if the door is closed, aye?” The children stared at her.
“Aye?” They picked up on her prompt and nodded enthusiastically.
“You’ll have chores and all that, but you’re free to roam around the grounds. Mind you to take your shoes off at the back door if you’ve been playin’ outside. Now if I ask you to do somethin’ don’t be standin’ and thinkin’ about it…just do as you’re told and we should get along marvelously.” At the word marvelously she turned her head and grinned. She’d gained a reputation over the years as being cross, but she really was a decent woman at heart, and actually was glad for the company in the huge house.
“My friend’s cousins stayed here a while back. The Pevensies?” Jill smiled and Mrs. Macready shook her head with a glare.
“Don’t get me started about that tribe…Goin’ all sortsa places and such! Indeed, they had the Professor in a dither about this place they kept talkin’ about…Narthex…no, that’s not it…Nebula?” She frowned until Jill interuppted.
“Begging your pardon, Mum, was it Narnia?”
“No, I don’t think so…It will come to me…you just wait and see. I’ll be tossin’ and turnin’ over this all night.” She half smiled and tilted her head.
“Well, come along. I’ve got dinner ready back at the house. I expect you’ll be wantin’ to eat after that long train ride.” She walked down the steps of the platform and over to the trap, getting into the seat once again and pointing to one side.
“Well, I’m off, so you had better get up onto here right quick, aye?” She took the reins in hands as if to signal the horse to start off. The children quickly scurried off the platform and were seated on the side of the trap in seconds.
“Well, this is going to be some time, right Les?” Jill said as she pointed to rows of trees that lined the road.
“We can play all sorts of games and act out stories and adventures. You’ll see, it will be almost like home before you know it.” She had scarcely said it when she regretted her words. The boy looked at her and burst into tears. Unlike the woman on the train, Mrs. Macready was ready and understanding.
“Don’t you worry, laddie. It’ll be alright…aye? Alright!” She turned around briefly and tossled his hair before turning her attention once again to the road ahead.
“Aye…you’ll be alright.” She began to sing softly,
Be thou my speech, be thou my understanding.
Be thou with me, be I with thee
Be thou my father, be I thy girl.
Mayst thou be mine, may I be thine.
She changed the wording only slightly, with the word girl sounding like “gael.” She laughed softly, feeling completely justified since she wasn’t a son. Jill recognized the hymn and began to sing along, but Lesley just back of the seat and began to cry. Jill patted him on the back, but continued to sing along with Mrs. Macready.
Be thou my battle-shield, be thou my sword.
Be thou my dignity, be thou my delight.
She continued to rub the boy’s back, smiling while singing new words to the hymn,
Don't you worry, Lesley, dear,
Yes, it’s going to be alright.
Part Two - If Wishes Were Talking Horses
A bit later...
"Now mind you especially today, the Professor is in town for only a few days, as he's moved to an apartment in London. We'll be right fine, won't we?" Mrs. Macready said as she pulled the cart up to the front of the huge house. A castle was more like it, as the children noted later.
"Begging your pardon, mum, but I don't understand why I'm here; not that I'm complaining and all. I thought they weren't evacuating children, least wise that's what my mother told me at the railway station."
"They're still sending...orphans... to the countryside to willing families and homes." She mouthed 'orphans' silently while Lesley's attention was drawn to feeding the horse an apple.
"Many of the children are being sent to Canada and even Yanks are taking some as well. Even though you're not...I guess your mother thought it would be safer for the time being? I hear that the war should be over by the end of the year." She smiled at that. Her son Angus was a pilot in the RAF, and she had received the first of his letters from the Stalag where he was imprisoned. She hoped the wretched conflict would be over soon, for all of their sakes.
"Either way, you're welcome here, and I suppose the Professor might even put in an appearance during supper to greet you two. Hurry on into the house. Spit-spot."
Lesley continued to pet the horse until he heard,
"Come now, young laddie, remember...obey right away?" He nodded and kissed the horse on its cheek before walking over to the cart to retrieve his duffel full of clothes.
"Is that all you have, laddie?" He looked down at his shoes and nodded his head. She stooped down, holding the hem of her skirt as she knelt. Taking the boy's chin in her hand, she smiled and said softly,
"I think my boy Angus might have some things of his that he wore when he was your age. And there might be a football, as well. Let's just go see about that, aye?" The boy's glum expression brightened a bit as he lifted his head and nodded politely. Truth be told, if she had said she had a daughter and that he'd be required to wear her hand-me-downs, he wouldn't have argued a bit. But I'm getting ahead of myself....
The Professor took supper in his room without coming out to greet Jill and Lesley, leaving the children to dine with Mrs. Macready. The strains of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, First Movement emanated from the radio by the fireplace, the glow of its dial matching the dying embers of the burning wood. The shades were drawn, but with only light of the small lamp by the large reading chair, they needn’t have bothered. And bombs and guns were almost a myth save for the destruction detailed on the front page of the Times; and sadly, in the heart of the small boy who lay on the rug in front of the hearth, reading Oliver Twist. Jill sat in the chair next to him, reading Phantasies, by George MacDonald.
Mrs. Macready, who normally retreated to her own quarters after supper, sat in a large wingback chair across from Jill. Her knitting sat in her lap, unstarted as she stared blankly at a piece of paper in her hand.
“We can always play inside if it’s like this tomorrow,”
Jill said as she pointed with her hand in a broad gesture toward the heavily curtained windows, which did nothing to quiet the sound of the thunderstorm outside. She looked down at Lesley, who shuddered at every thunderclap. Even the crecendo of the symphony courtesy of the BBC did nothing to deaden the sound, and the boy looked terrified.
“It’s okay, Les…the storm is miles off, we’ve nothing to worry about.” Even as she finished her sentence a very loud clap echoed loudly, causing the boy the cover his ears with his hands. Memories had interrupted Dickens with a vengeance, and they had nothing to do with downpours or thunder. Mrs. Macready continued to sit quietly, as if in deep thought, even with the increasing volume of the storm. If the room had been brighter lit, or if the children had stood next to her, they would have seen that her eyes were filled with tears.
“Les…It’s really alright....."
Just as she said that, another clap sounded loudly, followed by the brightest of lights seemed to squeeze through the small break in the curtains, flooding the room with light for only a moment. The sound of the thunderclap felt like nothing Jill had ever heard, and she was right, because only Deep Magic can make such an awesome noise. The light dimmed, but only a bit, leaving the room bathed in a soft glow, which was accompanied by the sound of…..a song thrush?
Jill stood up, and realized they were no longer in the shelter of the parlor in the midst of a storm, but in a field surrounded on three sides by larches and beeches, and by a small pond just next to a knoll leading up to more larches. She looked behind her and saw that the reading chair had become a large rock. Lesley had rolled over and had sat up, looking somewhat dazed. Or at least she thought it was Lesley, but instead of the little boy in the shorts and shirt, a little girl of the same age as him sat in his place, not on a turkish rug, but on green clover. She wore a green plaid jumper over a white blouse, and her hair, black and shiny, was almost shoulder length, pulled back by two tortoise-shell barettes.
“Who are you, little girl? What has become of my friend?” Jill said, but having had her own adventures at another time, she was almost not surprised. The little girl looked up at her and cocked her head to one side, her expression that of puzzlement.
“What? What girl, Jill…it’s just me…Lesley.”
The little girl stood up, and looked Jill almost in the eye, a bit shorter than her. Jill looked back, and standing in front of her was a girl who appeared as if she could be Lesley’s twin, save for the jumper and long hair. She had the same forlorn look on her face as the boy; a look of pain that went far beyond just being away from the familiarity of home. Now it was Jill’s turn to cock her head.
“Lesley? Lesley, it is you…or someone…like you? “ Jill half-smiled before uttering a soft laugh, followed by,
“I believe you ought have a look at yourself in a mirror, Les, but just your clothes should tell you something.” She continued to laugh softly, which caused the …child before her to inspect..his…her clothing.
“What’s this? What happened…What have you done?” The girl seemed only a bit angry, and her expression was one more of amusement and wonder than disappointment. She looked over her shoulder, as if the apposing view would reveal trousers or the shorts she wore only minutes before. Instead, the view revealed what she had already just seen; a green plaid jumper coming to just below her knees, with her feet adorned in brown shoes with straps and knee socks. She put her hand to her face, brushing away a few strands of her black hair that had managed to escape the barette.
“Jill…what’s going on?” The girl said with the same voice as that of the boy who had only a while ago been reading about thieves and orphans on a rug in a huge house in England. Whereever they were now, it wasn’t anywhere near where they had been.
“Listen, Les…Lesley,” Jill said, feeling that it was quite right to address the girl by her full name.
“I don’t know what has happened, but….here…take a look.” She pointed to the pond. The girl stood motionless and Jill grabbed her hand and led her to water’s edge.
“Go on, Lesley…take a look at…the new you.” She chuckled, and felt guilty until she noticed the girl staring down at her reflection. Instead of disappointment, the girl’s face grew brighter than she had noticed since their arrival. She turned and smiled at Jill and said,
“I’m a girl,” sighing softly as if it were the truest, most reasonable words she had ever uttered.
“Well, there’s no mistaking that.” Jill laughed again, this time a little louder and with a lot less caution. Whatever had taken place not only seemed not to upset the girl; it rather pleased her.
“What happened? Where are we? Where is Mrs. Macready and the castle? What’s going on?” The girl was almost out of breath from the staccatto of the questions, but her face continued to display a broad smile.
“Well? I suppose we should look at this logically, like I’ve heard the Professor always is saying.” She felt clever and smiled with a nod, as if she had won a math challenge or an essay contest.
“First…I don’t know what happened other than that you’re a girl. We know that’s something brand new.” She paused, thinking to her self,
“She doesn’t mind it one bit…that’s …odd.” She continued.
“Second I’ll get to last. Third, Mrs. Macready and the castle are likely still in England, where we left them, because they’re not here, and we are. Third, I’ve got an idea what’s going on…at least a bit, but I haven’t got that sorted out.” She took a deep breath, anticipating the understandable question.
The girl looked at her and then around at the beautiful countryside. She noticed that two fawn had come down from the top of the knoll and were drinking at the far side of the pond. She bit her lip and scrunched her face, trying ever so hard to think of an answer to her own question. Failing that, she turned again to Jill.
“Where on earth are we?” Jill stood with her hands on her hips feeling all the world like the most clever girl anyone could ever meet and said,
“Well, that’s just it….we’re not on earth.” She laughed softly as the girl tilted her head again in puzzlement.
Before Jill could speak again, the girl stepped back a bit, nearly tripping over a rock, but catching her balance just in time to see Jill jump from fright as her face felt something moist brush her cheek. She turned to see a very handsome sorrel with the most gorgeous eyes you may ever see in a lifetime. He stepped closer and nuzzled her cheek again before making a noise that sounded like a cross between a whinny and a laugh.
“Weeeeeeeehhhhhhhelllo…..Daughters of Eve….Wwweeeeellcome!”
“Jill…just where are we….what’s going on?” Jill looked back at the girl and smiled knowingly and was going to answer her question before the sorrel spoke again.
“Whhhhhyyyyyyyy…you’re in NNNeeeearrrrnia.”
“What did he say…wait…” the sudden realization hit the girl like a ton of bricks, as if finding out that she was a girl instead of a boy wouldn’t have gotten her attention.
“He….he talked…he’s a horse….and he talked.” The girl stuck her face out and raised an eyebrow, wondering why Jill was so calm. Jill smiled politely at the sorrel before turning back to the girl.
“Yes…he’s a talking horse.” She said it as if it were the most normal thing in the world, but then they were finding out that they weren’t in a normal world were they?
“Yes I am ddauuugter of Eeeeeeeve….Welcome to Narrrneeeeeia…I’m ssooreeee…Hmrhmph… hmmmph….” He shook his head from side to side, as if he were trying to dislodge something in his throat.
That’s better…I’m always so much more horsey in the morning.”
“Hhhhorseeee?” Now it was the girl’s opportunity to be horsey. She looked at the sorrel in amazement until he uttered finally, this time distinctly and with authority,
“By the Lion’s Mane, I am pleased to make your acquaintances and welcome you both to Narnia!”
Part Three - The Lion's Mane
“Thank you, kind Sir Horse,” Jill said with a smile. She looked over at Lesley and raised her eyebrow in a prompt.
“Yes….Thank you…Sir Horse!” Lesley smiled too but turned to Jill and stuck her tongue out in thought as if to question, “Is this really happening?”
“You may call me Fleetfoot, for that is my name. My father was Swiftfoot, and my grandfather was descended from the line of Fledge, the first Talking Horse in Narnia.”
He actually said Narnneeeehhhhhaaa, a habit of his that became more pronounced when he boasted of his lineage, which he did often, as is the wont of most Talking Horses.
“Come now, we have far to travel to meet up with Great Lion.” It was only a little horsey, and came out as “meeeeeeth hhaaaap.”
“Will we be able to walk all the way today?” Jill asked. “You said it was far.”
“It is a very far distance to walk, if a Daughter of Eve were to walk, but you shall not walk, but ride upon my back, Queen Jill.” Jill shrugged and blushed a bit at the mention of the word Queen. Truth be told, she didn’t feel much like a queen, and was even almost embarrassed at the mention of the word daughter, for reasons which would soon become clear.
“Excuse me, Sir Horse…” Lesley started to ask, but the horse’s soft whinny and a stomp gave her pause.
“Excuse me, Fleetfoot,” she corrected herself. “I’ve never ridden a horse before, and….” She looked down at her feet and a single tear fell to the ground.
“I’ve never worn a dress before. What shall I do?” Jill looked at the horse, wondering what his answer would be for Lesley.
“Well, first of all, riding a horse isn’t so much you over him, but him under you; I will allow you to ride me and you shall be safe as if you were in your mother’s arms.”
The horse looked at Lesley, who put her head down again as her tears flowed freer, blessing the ground with her grief and loss much like a summer shower blesses a garden. Jill waved at Fleetfoot and shook her head with a sad frown. He nodded and stomped his right hoof in acknowledgment.
“If a Daughter of Eve rides a steed such as myself, she may ride what they call, ‘side saddle,’ sitting with her skirt or dress draped properly and modesty over her legs. But seeing as I have no saddle in which to sit and seeing that you wear no dress, it will be no problem for you. Lesley raised her head and looked at Fleetfoot in puzzlement.
“No dress, Sir Horse…Fleetwood?”
She began to question but noticed that Jill had an amazed look on her face. Looking down, Lesley saw that the jumper she was wearing had been replaced with long, velvet-like tunic in what appeared to be a burgundy. Her legs were adorned with pants-like legging of the same material in a pinkish color. The tunic reached well below her knees, but was split at the sides up to her thighs. She wore soft brown boots, and a belt of silver cord girded her waist. She walked to the pond and eyed her reflection, which revealed that her black hair had grown even more, and was arranged in a braided pony tail that reached the small of her back. She wore a similar strand of silver cord banded around her head, and her neck was adorned with a silver necklace with a single silver charm of a lion’s head. She appeared older as well, nearly fourteen she guessed, and she was pretty.
“You look a dear sight, Lesley.” Jill said, but Lesley just smiled and pointed at her and the pond. Jill took her gesture to heart and walked quickly to view her own reflection.
“Oh by the Lion’s Mane!” She looked at the image reflected from the water. Her outfit was nearly a match for Lesley’s save that her tunic and leggings were shades of green and her jewelry was gold instead of silver. She too appeared older, maybe eighteen or nineteen, and she was beautiful; her face blushed red, first with embarrassment and then pride, which was followed immediately by shame.
“Come, dear ones, we must be off. Climb upon my back. You first, Queen Jill, “Fleetfoot said as he stepped over to the rock chair. Jill climbed upon his back and leaned closer to his neck, grasping his mane, since no Talking Horse is ever reined.
“And now you, Queen Lesley.” He appeared to smile a horsey smile, which to most folks would look like he was angry, but both girls seemed to know better and smiled back.
“Grab your sister’s waist and hold on. I won’t be dashing off; this isn’t a race, but neither shall I tarry, for we have a King to meet.” As Lesley grabbed Jill’s waist the horse took off in a brisk pace; not as swift as a gallop but not as slow as a trot.
“Isn’t this just marvelous?” Lesley said. Jill shrugged and looked ahead, her eyes filled with tears. She was, after all, going to meet a King.
They traveled for what seemed like an eternity, but before the hour was up, they had crested a hill and came to stand looking down at the shore of the sea, where a caravel lay at anchor. Its tall masts held brightly colored sails, and its sides were festooned with bunting, as if the ship were prepared for a celebration.
Standing on the shore just to the side of the gangplank were three figures. A knight dressed in a bright blue tabard over a knee length tunic and tights. His chest was marked with the image of a red lion. He wore no headdress other than a single gold strand with a star at the center of his fore head, and his face was decorated with a welcoming smile.
A woman stood to his side, holding his hand, but she wore no smile. Neither did she wear a frown, but her face was filled with wonder. She had on an outfit similar to the girls, but her dress was of gold thread and she wore a silver corded belt. Her hair was decorated with a garland of flowers. She looked up and saw the trio on the hilltop and her face lit with recognition as she smiled a loving, knowing smile.
And next to her stood the largest lion both girls had ever seen, either at the zoo or in pictures in magazines and books. He looked regal, which he was as King over all the land he surveyed. Lesley could have sworn he was purring.
“Come, dear children,” Fleetfoot said as he trotted quickly down the hill.
“Hail, Aslan, King of Narnia,” the horse spoke in a reverent whisper. Of course, it sounded more like
“Keeeeeng of Narrrrneeeehaaaahahahha,” but we won’t begrudge him since it was whinnied in a very respectful tone.
“Hail, Fleetfoot, faithful servant.” A deep timorous voice proclaimed, but it came, not from the knight but the lion. That it came from the lion was no surprise to either Fleetfoot or Jill, but it was to the astonishment of Lesley, who trembled in fear and joy.
“Hail, Jill and Lesley, Daughters of Eve and Queens of Narnia! Welcome!” The lion seemed to whisper and roar at the same time. Both girls looked at Fleetfoot, who nodded as they slipped off his back. Jill stood and folded her arms, as if she were hugging herself, and she lowered her head. Forgetting her fear while embracing her new-found joy, Lesley raced to the lion. She looked into his eyes and felt both shame and forgiveness; love filled her heart as she noticed the lion’s eyes were filled with tears.
“Excuse me, Sir. I don’t know how to behave; will you tell me that I may adore you?” She said as she bowed her head reverently.
“You are polite and kind and thoughtful; that is good and proper behavior for a Queen of Narnia. Lift your head, Queen Lesley and behold the very reason for your visit to this land."
Lesley raised her head and saw the knight once again, this time closer. He still wore the same smile, but his eyes were filled with tears, and they spoke of sadness and joy mixed together. He appeared familiar, as if they had met before, but she knew he just must look like someone she had met or knew. Aslan nuzzled her softly and directed her toward the woman next to the knight. She looked up into a very familiar face.
“Meet Queen Alice, Daughter of Eve.”
What should have been a joyous occasion quickly turned sad as the girl ran to the woman and embraced her; holding onto her as if to never let her go again. For Queen Alice was Alice Patterson, Lesley’s mother.
“I missed you so much, Lesley; more than I can ever say.”
The girl looked up into her mother’s loving face and wept tears of joy. She noticed a quizzical look on her face, and then looked at herself, eyeing herself up and down as if inspecting her clothing. She began to sob, and fell at her mother’s feet.
“I’m so sorry, mum…I’m so sorry.” The girl appeared to have reverted to her real age, and she cried as only a nine year old can cry. Alice raised her chin with her hand and looked at her once again, but her face was aglow with wonder and joy.
“Why so sorry, Lesley, did you do something wrong?”
“Something wrong? Mum…I’m….look at me…look at my clothes…my hair…I’m so….ashamed…” her speech descended into sobbing once again until her mother stroked her hair softly.
“My dear sweet daughter, you’ve done nothing wrong.” Alice shook her head before pulling Lesley up into a tight tearful embrace as mother and daughter hugged for the very first time.
“Why so glum and withdrawn, Queen Jill?” The lion seemed to growl and purr the words at the same
“Oh, Aslan…I am so ashamed. My heart filled with pride. I should have told Lesley straight off that we had come to your kingdom. it's been so hard for her. I chose to hold back as if I were more important than her since I knew…I had been blessed with knowing you. Please forgive me.”
The girl’s face was stained with the streaks of tears that cleaned some of the dust of the ride from her face. The Lion roared once and then began to nuzzle the girl.
“That you were prideful was wrong. That you know you were prideful is very good. Come and grab my mane.”
“Oh, Aslan…it’s so hard living in my world…children and mothers and fathers die every day.” She wept, this time not from shame over herself, but from compassion for others. She looked over at the scene playing out between Lesley and her mother.
“In your world, dear heart, there will always be the threat of hate and war. But there is also there the promise of love and compassion. Let your heart be lifted if only for a while and know that you will be a part of the promise of love and compassion as I have said. Come. You and I have one more to meet; then you must set out on your mission.” The Lion seemed to purr once again as she buried her face in his mane and laughed and cried softly.
“Please forgive me, Lesley, I only did it to spare you from hurt.” Alice plead.
“Mummy…you couldn’t help it…” They both knew she meant Alice’s death, but her mother shook her head.
“No, child…I’m sorry for lying to you.” She shook her head as tears came to her eyes.
“Your dad didn’t die…he …I made the story up about him and the RAF… I just didn’t want you to feel ill will against your father. He abandoned us when the war started, and I don’t know where he is. I just wanted to spare you and help keep your innocence.”
“Oh, mum….I think I always knew…It’s alright, mummy…I forgive you.” She sounded so adult for all of her nine years. She hugged her mother once again, even as she felt a soft nudge from behind. Turning, she found herself face to face with the Lion once again.
“Come little one, it is time you learned why you are here and what lies ahead. “
“But isn’t this why I am here? To be with my mother?” Lesley asked. Alice looked at Aslan and nodded in surrender, but at peace.
“No, dear heart. There will be time again for you and your mother, but it is not this day.” He placed his muzzle next to the girls face and licked her tears with his broad tongue. It felt rough but it was also soothing. She wiped her face and looked into his eyes, gaining strength as she waited for him to speak.
“There is someone in your world that needs something that you can provide, little one. Only you can do this task for it was designed for you and you alone even before you were born.” His voice trailed off into a loud purr as she stood there feeling lost and found at the same time.
Forgetting what she had just spoken about with her mother, she looked once again at her clothing and felt ashamed and naked, even though her body was covered.
“Lord Lion? Aslan? I’m not really a girl am I?” Her eyes filled with tears as she recognized the truth of her words; the little truth she knew.
“No, dear one, you are not, at least in any way that you understand. But a girl you shall be....one day.“ Lesley began to cry harder, feeling more shame and loss than she had ever known until Aslan nuzzled her.
“You and Jill must return to your world. There is someone who needs what only you can provide, and she holds in her heart something that you need, little one.”
“How will I know who it is, Aslan?” Lesley looked back at her mother with pleading eyes, but was met with a shake of the head accompanied by tearful smile.
“You will know, child.” His breath smelled like mint and pine and berry, and it wrapped her in its warmth, giving her courage for the task ahead.
“I’ve only just gotten here, Lord Lion. I’ve barely gotten to meet you and I must go?” She began to sob again and she grabbed onto Aslan’s mane.
“I have brought you here for the task at hand. But I also live in your world, and I have other names that you will learn to know. You have met me here so that you will know me better there.” She nodded her head in understanding, even if his words were hard and sad to hear.
“And what about me, Aslan?” The words weren’t demanding at all, but soft and respectful.
“What shall my task be?” She stood there nearly weeping, realizing what Aslan was saying. He stepped close once again and rubbed his face against hers, almost purring.
“Queen Lesley will need a friend, as well as someone who will be able to help her complete her task.” She nodded, waiting for instructions.
“She will know whom she is to help, and you will help her and her charge.” Jill’s eyes widened as she began to think; logic and obedience went hand in hand with her. She nodded again as the Lion said finally,
“You shall hold their hands.”
“What became of my father?” Lesley said tearfully as she stood next to her mother.
“I can tell you no story but your own, dear child. Trust that he will come to know me before the end, but his path and yours parted long ago. “ Lesley shrugged once and bit her tongue, smiling at the thought that at least her father would find peace eventually.
“Come now, Daughters of Eve, for now is the time of your leaving.” Lesley looked up to see that her mother and the knight had boarded the caravel. She waved and blew a kiss to her. The knight waved before shouting with his hand cupped at his mouth.
“Tell her it’s in the closet in the long hall!” With that he and Lesley’s mother turned and the ship began to pull away from them. She turned to see Aslan and Jill standing before a large, multi-paned double window. Water had beaded against the glass, and it was beginning to feel cold. She could see the dimmest of light peaking between the curtains behind the window.
“Farewell, children! When next we meet, it will be at a grand celebration in honor of my father, the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea! Farewell!” The Lion spoke and then roared the loudest roar either girl had ever heard. It was followed by a flash of bright light and then they found themselves….back in the parlor.
The BBC had moved on to Beethoven's 7th, the second movement. Jill was sitting in the reading chair once again, her copy of Phantasies in her lap. She was wearing her old clothes and the air felt cool against her arms. She got up from the chair to get some wood for the fire and stepped over……a boy reading a book whilst laid out on a rug in front of the hearth. She looked over and Mrs. Macready was still in the chair opposite her; her knitting still unstarted in her lap and her hand still clinging to the paper, but she had fallen asleep. Picking up a log from the side, she laid it over the still glowing coals and turned to Lesley, who had looked up from his book.
Both children would have sworn it had been a dream but for the same look on both of their faces; the look you seen when you meet someone and you know that they know that you know. Jill smiled before walking over to drape a blanket over Mrs. Macready. She noticed that the paper had slipped from her hand and was lying dangerously close to the hearth, where a spark threatened to light it. She brushed it off before she went to place the paper on the chair next to the sleeping woman’s side. It was only then she noticed that the woman’s face was read and puffy, and it was clear that she had been crying. Jill looked at the paper in her hand and her eyes widened in shock.
“What?” Lesley asked as he stood up and stepped toward Jill. She put her finger in front of her mouth to shush him and handed him the paper, which was very official looking. It said,
Dear Mrs. Macready: It is with deepest regret that I must inform you that your son, Lt. Angus Macready, passed away from pneumonia while imprisoned in Stalag Luft III in Silesia, Germany. By all accounts from his mates, Angus was great pilot and even better friend. I am sorry for your loss, which we all share with great sadness. Air Vice Marshall Richard Kingston, Royal Air Force.
Jill looked at Lesley, whose eyes had filled with tears, both for the sad commonality of grief he shared with the woman and the realization that everything they would undoubtedly have assumed had been a dream was true; as real as anything ever could be. It was only then she noticed two things. First, that she was crying out loud; loud enough to have woken the sleeping woman. And second? She was holding both Lesley’s and Mrs. Macready’s hands.
Part Four - The Finale' - Two Hearts
"Whaaaa..what?" Mrs. Macready looked up and saw Jill standing next to the chair, holding Lesley's hand. She noticed at once that Jill was holding her hand, and that
in their clasped hands was the telegram.
"What? Why? Let go...let go." She pulled her hand away and the paper fell to the floor. Jill reached to pick it up and Mrs. Macready snapped at her.
"Leave it alone. You had no business."
"I'm sorry," Jill said meekly. "It had fallen to the floor and blew on the hearth. I was afraid a cinder or a spark might set it aflame."
"Well..yes.. thank you.
"We saw you were crying," Lesley said as he put his hand on her arm. She pulled her arm back quickly and stood up.
"Tish, tosh...the smoke from the fire got in my eyes," she said as she straightened her skirt.
"Mrs. Macready. I'm sorry but I read the telegram...I'm so sorry about your son." Jill said softly while tugging on the woman's sweater.
"That's...it's...never mind...everything is alright." People can often lie or fib when they're angry or scared, but almost as often cannot hide when they are very sad, no matter how they try.
"It's okay...you can cry, Mrs. Macready. I promise not to tell anyone. I cried for a whole week after my mum died." Lesley said softly as the tears welled in his own eyes. He realized at that moment just who Aslan had sent him back to help, and the only way he knew how was to try to understand. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a hankie and went to hand it to her. She looked down at him and shook her head and walked quickly out of the room.
"It's okay, Les...you tried." Jill said softly and pulled the boy closer for a hug as he burst into tears.
Two days later...
Over the course of several days, Jill and Lesley had played almost every board game they found, and they were bored. The rain had finally let up and they had planned on a hike when Mrs. Macready walked into the library.
"I haven't been able to find that football. I'm sorry." She hadn't said anything about the other night, but every day she had greeted the children with red eyes and a puffy face.
"I've looked in just about every nook and cranny...every cupboard and every closet."
"That's it...I think I know where the football is..."
"How could you know...I've been the caretaker and helper to the professor for many years. Before we..." She paused at the pronoun and gasped."
"That's just it...I think I know because I talked with someone..." Lesley felt he knew who the knight was, but he held his tongue for a moment before continuing.
"When we went into Narnia I met my mother."
"You and the rest of the children...Narnia indeed. A fairy tale. Your mother is dead." She hadn't meant it to be cruel, but it was. Lesley bristled at the words, but Jill grabbed his arm and pointed to Mrs. Macready, who had begun to cry.
"That's okay...I understand...I miss my mum awful, and I bet you miss your boy?" She looked at him and put her hand to her face before nodding.
"That's what I wanted to tell you. He told me to tell you...it's in the closet in the long hallway."
"Who told you?" She managed to gasp between sobs.
"The knight...he told me. I think he knows you." She shook her head no and went to turn away. Jill walked around and put her hands out and grabbed both of Mars. Macready's hands before saying.
"He was handsome...and he had the kindest, most gentle look about him that I've ever seen. He had a smile that would take your breath away. And I felt it too...It was like he knew somebody back here...do you think he knew you?"
Mrs. Macready remained speechless and nodded; the tears dripped off her nose and chin and onto the floor. She shrugged and took in a breath before grabbing Lesley by the hand. She walked out of the library with Lesley close behind. Jill followed the two as they walked up the stairs and down the long hallway in the living area.
"Let me see...let me see."
Her sobbing had nearly subsided; she sounded almost happy and sad and scared at the same time. Perhaps you've felt that way when you get news that is bad. You feel sad and frightened but the memories of the one you lost make you feel happy as well.
Walking down the hallway she stopped almost in the middle, in between two doors that faced one another. She looked first to her left, and nodded.
"This should be it...this is where we...where Angus and I lived until we took the cottage on the grounds." She turned and looked at the door to her right. Pulling out a key from her sweater pocket, she opened the door wide. The dimly lit hallway did little to reveal the contents of the closet, so she began pulling things out and placing them next to Lesley on the hallway floor.
A box of tin soldiers and old stuffed animals and blocks lay at his feet, but it was quickly covered by yet another box and then a brown leather suitcase. It bore a tag fastened to the handle that read,
Miss Agnes Day, c/o Clairidge's Hotel, London, UK
He noted stickers on the side of the case, once brilliantly colored but now faded with time and disuse. London...Paris...Rome...Moscow...Cairo...Hong Kong. Whoever Agnes Day was, she had traveled quite a bit, Jill thought.
"Ah...look here...just where he said it would be." Mrs. Macready said before turning around and facing the children once again. Tears were in her eyes as she held a football in her hands.
"Just where he said it would be...." She sobbed. Lesley grabbed her sweater sleeve and pulled her down softly to his face.
"It was your son...the knight was your son, wasn't he?"
"Yeees." She sobbed as the boy did the only thing he knew that would help the one he had been sent to rescue. He kissed her once on each cheek, softly and politely with as much respect as he knew how before crying as she pulled him into her arms.
Two weeks later...
"My mum is going to work as a nurse at one of the temporary hospitals...outside of London...where they take care of the pilots. I can stay with her, so I'll be joining her at the end of the week...I'm sorry, Les...you've been such a brick and all with Mrs. Macready, and I'm going miss you." Jill pulled the boy close and kissed his cheek. Almost any other boy might have pulled away, but as you know, Lesley was no ordinary boy. He began to cry softly, but sucked it up and stepped back.
"I wanted to thank you for being my friend. It's made things better." He finished but his face seemed to indicate there was something else to talk about.
"Okay, Patterson...give it up." Jill laughed.
"I've got a secret...well..it's not a secret to you, I expect. Not after our trip to you know where." He cupped his hand and whispered.
"You mean about..." Jill's face turned red. This was 1943, of course. Little boys didn't feel that way, you might have thought. Good families don't raise their children that way.
"When I was little...I think I was four....I remember watching mummy get ready for church. She wore a pretty dress...long and mostly white with big pink and red flowers. She was the prettiest thing I ever saw." He sighed and shrugged his shoulders.
"I don't think I said it, but I wanted to be just like her." He bit his lip and shook his head. Jill was a good girl and listened, nodding and "hmming" as he continued. By good, I don't mean how she acted, although she was good most of the time like we all are. She was good in her heart; kind and caring...perhaps more that anyone ever could be to a boy who wanted to be just like his mum.
"I don't expect we'll see each other again. I wondered..." His face turned red and he started to cry again.
"Just a sec...let me see. It'll be like a game...a guessing game." She didn't mean to tease and it only upset him just a bit. She walked into her room and over to the armoire that stood against the wall opposite her bed. She reached in and pulled out a very ordinary looking dress. It was blue and had long sleeves and a white collar. She handed it to Lesley and smiled.
"It's not all that pretty, but I can't wear it anymore. Maybe you know a little girl who might like it?"
It might have been plain and ordinary to her but to Lesley it was the prettiest dress he had ever seen save for his mother's dress that fateful day. A few minutes later two very proper british girls sat at a table in the middle of the room, having high tea with the queen. Jill wasn't really one for ceremony or dressing up, but this was a special occasion after all; she had just gained a new best girlfriend, after all.
"What's going on here," a voice called from the doorway. The girls turned to see Mrs. Macready standing at the doorway looking very cross. Jill immediately stood up and apologized.
"I'm sorry, we were only playing dress up...just a silly game." She looked at Lesley and smiled. Lesley took one look at Mrs. Macready. Her face turned bright red as she burst into tears.
"I'm sorry...I'm sorry...I'm sorry." She cried as she ran past the woman and down the hall to her own room.
"No..." The woman said with a sigh...."I'm sorry."
A while later....
Lesley lay on his bed face down under the covers crying into his pillow. The dress lay crumpled and abandoned on the floor next to the bed. A knock came at the door.
"Go away...please." Not a demand but a sad request.
"It's me...Jill. Come on...Friends..right? Let me in."
"Come in...it's not locked." He sat up to see Jill walk into the room, closely followed by Mrs. Macready. She had a very contrite look on her face and she held the suitcase from the closet she had found.
"I'm sorry...I only meant to tease. Please forgive me." Mrs. Macready walked to the foot of the bed and placed the case on it.
"Very well." Lesley tried to sound like an adult but it came out more like the little kid he was.
"This is for you." Jill said. Mrs. Macready thinks you'll like what you find inside."
He sat closer to the case and Mrs. Macready unlatched it. He expected to find a scout's uniform or maybe some old issues of Adventure or Boy's Own Fun. His eyes widened in amazement as he saw the contents.
"I think these might fit you." Mrs. Macready said with a soft laugh. Angus loved the color yellow...I hope you do, too." She pointed to the case, which held several dresses and skirts and blouses, all for a girl of about ten or eleven." She smiled and sighed.
"Angus was a special boy...oh he played roughhouse with his mates and football and running and adventures. But he had a sweet soft side, something no one else but I knew." She sighed again and Lesley sighed in echo. He had just found out he wasn't alone...that he wasn't a freak or a monster.
"What happened?" Jill asked.
"Well...boys grow up, don't they? And nations go to war...and boys...." She sad down on the bed and buried her face in her hands" A look of hopeful recognition crossed Lesley's face, which was mirrored immediately by the broad smile on Jill's face.
"I think I know what the Lion wanted me to do...what he sent me back for." Lesley was crying, but his tears were joyful and anticipated great things.
"May I....may I be your little girl?" He sobbed. Mrs. Macready turned and looked at him. The moment of truth... a turning point for both as she sighed once again before smiling at him....at her.
"Oh yes...yes." She said as she pulled the little girl close to her and wept.
A few days later...
"Well, I guess this is it." Lesley said as Jill stood on the platform waiting for the train.
"I'll never forget you." She said as she hugged Lesley tight.
"I'm so happy for you." Jill said as she looked back at Mrs. Macready, who waited patiently by the horse cart.
"She says the Professor knows somebody who knows somebody. By this time next week, all the papers will be signed and I'll be her kid. And she'll be my mum."
"You know what?" Jill asked. It wasn't a riddle, but it was just as fascinating and wonderful as any riddle you've ever heard.
"I think the Lion knew all along that the best place for you to be was right here." She smiled and Lesley smiled back.
"Just one thing, though." Jill looked over at Mrs. Macready and back at Lesley.
"Who is Agnes Day?" Jill asked as she recalled the name tag on the suit case.
"Well, when Angus was little, he was sitting in church with his mum and they opened the hymnal while they were waiting for church to start. He had opened it to Agnus Dei...you know...lamb of god. Well he looks up at her and says, 'Look mummy..they spelled my name wrong.' So when they got the suitcase, she thought it would be nice to remember that moment. So when he dressed up, his name was Agnes Day." The two of them started to laugh but their fun was interrupted by the train whistle as the carriages pulled to a stop.
"Write me. We'll be best for friends forever okay, Jill?"
"Okay, Lesley Macready! Best friends forever and and a Day." She laughed and stepped into the carriage.
A moment later Lesley was alone on the platform. The girl, for that is what she was she was, wore a yellow blouse and a nice tweed skirt. Her hair was covered with a pretty brown beret and she wore the sweetest smile on her face. She stepped down off the platform and walked over and hopped onto the cart. Her new mother turned and smiled back at her and turned back to gie the horse. As Lesley looked forward, she could have sworn the horse winked.
It's been said that no one remembers the second person to so something for the 'first time.' In 1951, two years before Christine Jorgensen became the 'first' transsexual, Roberta Cowell became the first British citizen to undergo gender reassignment surgery; performed by Dr. Howard Gillies. Nine years later, on the eve of her twenty-sixth birthday, Lesley Day Macready became the next in the long list of men and women before and after her to undergo what we now call gender confirmation surgery.
Be Thou My Vision (Irish: Bá Thusa 'mo Sháºile) is a traditional Christian hymn, which can be traced to Ireland but is now sung in English-speaking churches around the world. (Wikipedia)
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Movement No. 1
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Movement No. 2
by Ludwig van Beethoven
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.