Pendragon LXXIX

Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years: an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur...
That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis

The little cottage stood on the outskirts of Cambridge. It was a long walk from the train station, but not onerous for one unburdened and unopposed. The slight figure walking the road now carried only a purse. And she met no opposition, though invisible battles had been fought here within the last two years.

The figure was a tall, thin lady in a black hat and dress of almost Edwardian cut. But then, old clothes were common in England, now, in wartime. Her gray hair was rolled up in the inevitable bun. She walked up to the cottage and knocked at the door.

It was opened by a golden giant. No, not a giant. He was not quite six feet tall, but he seemed a giant, or a Norse god, massively athletic and somehow taller than his height. He wore a white shirt with a black ribbon on one arm, black trousers, and a black waistcoat. These contrasted with the mane of golden hair and beard he wore, like a winter field under the sun. He leaned on a stout cane and gazed down at her with a calm, youthful face. "May I help you?"

If the visitor were impressed by his appearance, she gave no sign. "May I speak to Dr. Elwin Ransom?" she asked.

"I am Dr. Ransom."

Now a brief look of confusion did pass over her face, but she quickly banished it. She had been expecting someone who looked older. "I am Dr. Grace Ironwood. Allow me to offer my condolences on the death of your sister. She was, at one time, a friend of mine."

"Ironwood? Yes, I remember she mentioned you. And, so far as I know, she is your friend still. Please come in."

Dr. Ironwood did not smile, but a little tension left her face as she entered. Ransom limped ahead of her and led her into a small study, clean but for some scholarly litter on the desk. "May I get you some tea?" he asked.

"Please do not trouble yourself. I can see that your foot is hurt."

"I was about to get some for myself in any case."

"Then thank you. But I have not told you my business. Did you know that your brother-in-law had an elder brother?"

"Colonel Fisher-King. Yes, my sister mentioned him in her letters, and I met him once, at her wedding."

"I am sent by Col. Fisher-King. He is dying, and he wishes to see you." Dr. Ironwood did not wait for any expressions of regret, but plunged on, like one who has a difficult message rehearsed and prepared, and is anxious to discharge it. "You are familiar with Arthurian literature?" she asked.

Ransom looked at her curiously. "Yes. I am a philologist, and have even done a little research on Arthurian influence in English place names."

"So the name 'Logres' is familiar to you. And the title 'Pendragon.'"

"Yes... And 'Fisher-King' as a title."

"And how much historical reality do you ascribe to those legends?"

Ransom smiled a little. "I have come to believe that many legends, and even myths, have a very solid historical reality behind them. Does Col. Fisher-King wish to consult me on the Matter of Britain?"

"Consult? No. But he urgently wishes to see you concerning the Matter of Britain. Are you willing to accompany me? I will give you more detail as we travel, but I wish to catch the first afternoon train. Col. Fisher-King will not live much longer."

"I have traveled far at short notice before this. I am willing. Where is Col. Fisher-King?"

"He is presently in a hospital in Cumberland, but he lives in the village of St. Anne's, near Sterk."

"And near Cure Hardy, speaking of Arthurian place names. I have a friend in the area – Dr. Cecil Dimble of Northumberland College, at Edgestow Univerity."

"Indeed? That is interesting, and possibly significant. But we will go into that later. Can you stay overnight?"

"Yes. Let me telephone for a cab. My foot does not let me hike into Cambridge anymore. Then I will pack an overnight bag. That will probably leave us time to have that tea."

As Ransom packed, Dr. Ironwood told him about Logres – once a kingdom, now a tiny society, but, whatever its form, always the tool of Providence rescuing Britain from spiritual disaster, and always headed by the Pendragon.

"And how does Col. Fisher-King come into this?" asked Ransom as they sat down to tea.

"The colonel is the Pendragon."

Ransom reflected briefly, then asked, "And is also the Fisher-King? That king was not a Pendragon in the tales."

"From our records, it appears the two titles were combined in the eighth century." Dr. Ironwood sipped tea and regarded Ransom warily over the rim of the cup. His calm acceptance of her story appeared to disconcert her.

"You have records, then?"

"Some. There have been loses, especially during the Norman Conquest and Cromwell's time. Also, some of the records are very old and in unknown tongues. For instance, there is a large book in red leather, all written in an unknown script." Ransom's face brightened. "However, we will come to that later." Ransom banked the philological fire in his eyes.

"And what is your own position in the company of Logres?" he asked.

Dr. Ironwood turned paler. All the tension that had been slowly easing out of her since Ransom opened the door now came rushing back. She sat in silence for a full minute, then said in a low voice, "If our future relations are to be what they ought, you should know. Here it is, then:

"I met Col. Fisher-King in India. At first, our acquaintance was slight, but one night he brought two wounded men to my clinic. After that, there was an irregular stream of wounded strangers, and, on several occasions, the colonel himself with mysterious injuries. Mysterious at first. I demanded information, for fear of being involved in something illegal, and from medical necessity. Initially, he replied very tersely, but eventually, while I was tending some injuries of his own, he told me about himself and Logres.

"At first, I thought he was deluded. Mistaken, at least. I thought he might belong to a strange secret society, like an eccentric version of the Masons, but getting involved in odd and violent conflicts. But, mistaken or not, I was quite sure of his benevolence. So I continued helping him. Eventually, I saw enough to believe him entirely.

"Then I retired and returned to England. Col. Fisher-King made me a caretaker of St. Anne's on the Hill, his house. He made provision for me, but– but he had very little liquid capital. I tried to start a practice in the village, but that did not succeed. I was an unfamiliar face, and a woman, and old. And I know that I lack a warm 'bedside manner.' For whatever reason, I kept losing money. You must understand that, though the colonel had little cash, his house contains many treasures."

She took a deep breath and poured out the rest: "I stole a seventeenth-century chair. I pawned it. I intended to re– redeem it as soon as I sold my practice. But I could not stand it. The next day, I took the money back and redeemed it. I wrote a letter to Col. Fisher-King, telling him what I had done and resigning my office of caretaker. I took the chair back to St. Anne's. But Mr. Burchfield was there – the colonel's solicitor – the other caretaker. He had come to take inventory. He saw the chair. I told him. I showed him the letter. I do not think he believed me. It doesn't matter. He wrote to the colonel, recommending that he press charges. I sent my letter, too. The colonel telegraphed back. He refused to press charges. And he refused my resignation."

After a short silence, Ransom said, "So you are still a member of the company of Logres? And a caretaker of St. Anne's?"

"Yes. And a thief. A penitent thief."

Ransom held out his hand to her. "Well met, thief. I am a penitent coward."

Dr. Ironwood met his gaze, shook the offered hand, then once more retreated behind the tea cup and took a sip. "Thank you," she said.

Ransom smiled and changed the subject. "Why did the Pendragon of Logres spend so much time in India?"

"He said he had to do what he could to prevent the evil aspects of Britain from harming the good aspects of India."

"And finally, what is my part to be in all this? Am I being invited to join the company of Logres?"

"Yes. In fact, you are invited to become the next Pendragon."

Pendragon LXXX

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