The Curious Incident of the Contradictory Crocodile
rating: +41+x

Cairo, Egypt
September 22, 1878

Dear Aunt Cecilly,

First, and briefly, Uncle Alec and I are as well as can be expected. We will be traveling back to Athens within the week, where the good Doctor Manos has offered to house us until Uncle’s leg is healed, which frankly will suit Uncle quite well: they did not have the opportunity during our short stay to truly reconnect. I shall a go-a-wandering and leave them to it.

I hope you will forgive the scribble-scrabble nature of this note when you read the enclosed document. I have copied it over seven times all told, not including, though my wrist tells me even now I should, a personal copy in my book. I have sent copies to yourself and Aunt Jessie, along with friends at four other Chapterhouses, and given a copy to Lady Stanhope, who may be contacting you separately. The reason for this is included therein, as is the reason I saw fit to contact you by telegram for an Introduction to Lady Stanhope, or as I believe I put it, ‘For the Love of God Above, is there a Sister here or nearby I can call upon to Witness?’

I entreat you to heed my call to action and conduct a full audit of all our archives, and ensure that good and true copies of everything exist somewhere, preferably multiple somewheres. Forgive my terrible grammar as well. This ordeal has served as quite the climax to our adventures.

Barring further complications, we will be back by Christmastime, whereupon I shall be able to provide assistance with the audit. I shall send this off with the evening post, and then go soak my poor hand in some lavender and epsom salts.

Your loving niece
and faithful acolyte,

Elisa

The Curious Incident of the Contradictory Crocodile

Being the Statement of Elisa Carrington, Chapterhouse of Indianapolis, attested to by herself as the truth to her best recollection, and Witnessed by Catherine Stanhope, Late of the Chapterhouse of Devonshire, in regards to the recent events at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

I will not trouble with much in the way of preliminary whys and wherefores, suffice it to say that after nearly two years of touring the Continent, my Uncle and Guardian, Alexander Carrington, and I, had arrived in Cairo, the final leg of our grand adventure. And though I had dearly loved my time abroad in spite of, and admittedly sometimes due to, the advent of several Crises and Curiosities, which are detailed under separate cover, I had to admit that I was longing to return home.

Our plan had been to meet with Monsieur Auguste Mariette, the celebrated French Egyptologist, and an old friend of Uncle's from his ‘vagabond’ days. He would join us on our final excursion, a voyage down the Nile, as much a guide as a companion. Sadly, it appeared at first that this would not occur, and never did, as reports were arriving from the regions of the Upper Nile, which is in the South, which always seemed odd to me, that this year’s inundation was to be rather extreme. While this would not prevent us from hiring a dahabiya for a cruise, it would make landing at various points along the way more difficult, due to the flooding of the low-lying areas.

While we waited for further reports, Monsieur Mariette took us on a tour of the Museum of Antiquities, which he had established in the late fifties in the Boulaq district, next to the Nile. The facade of the building itself was somewhat marred by scaffolding, as restoration of the roof was underway, but the interior was breathtaking, with artifacts from all periods of Egypt’s history: carvings, stela, numerous fragments of and quite a few intact papyrus scrolls, and all of Monsieur’s drawings and notes over his decades of work.

“But here is my Prize, from our recent findings at Mazguna,” he said, taking us over to a large table, where a scroll lay unrolled. “I am translating it even now.” He put on a pair of white cotton gloves to adjust its position but bade us stand back. “For even the dampness of your breath may be damaging until we treat it. The greatest danger for such things as this is water.”

It was beautiful. Written in a combination of the Hieroglyphic picture-writing, and a flowing script Monsieur called ‘hieratic,’ the colors seemed as brilliant as if they had been applied only yesterday. I could not, of course, read the writing, but my eye was drawn to one of the illustrations. A woman wearing Pharaonic headdress and regalia, with the head of a crocodile, sat upon a throne.

He pointed to a series of cartouches at the bottom of the drawing. “Sobekkare Sobeknefru. Her name means ‘The beauty of Sobek’. This, and the contents of the text are why we have tentatively dated this scroll to the Twelfth Dynasty. Though there are mentions of female Pharaohs dating back to even the First Dynasty, the first we have evidence for is Queen Sobeknefru, daughter of Amenemhat III, who was instrumental in establishing the cult of Sobek that held prominence in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties. “

He picked up a book from a nearby desk, opening it to a sketch. “This is what we have found of the northern Mazguna pyramid. I say pyramid, but the superstructure and that of its southern brother were never completed. The interiors, however, are quite like that of Amenemhat III’s Hawara pyramid. That and the items we retrieved, including the scroll, have led us to believe it was her intended tomb, though we doubt she was ever interred there.” He sighed. “Sadly, a number of sandstorms have made excavation quite difficult. We actually lost them between one season and the next a couple of years ago. Thankfully, I had extensive notes and drawings of the locations. It is important that we preserve these things, or all knowledge of them may be lost, even to memory.”

We spent the rest of the day touring the Museum with Monsieur Mariette, before retiring to his house for dinner. It was planned that we should stay with him for the next several days, in preparation for our hoped Nile excursion. Though even as we left the Museum that evening, I had my doubts, looking at the nearby Nile, which to my mind seemed closer than it had been even that morning. When I mentioned this to Monsieur, he looked serious for a moment, but then pointed at a series of structures between us and the river.

“You see? There are levees and channels which are to route the river away from the city proper. And we have certain safeguards planned in the Museum itself with which to deal with the river. Should the waters begin to rise, we shall go and deal with the issue, evacuating if necessary.”

Though reassured, I still felt an uneasiness I wish I would have heeded, though like Cassandra, I do not know that they would have heeded me. That uneasiness only increased as we strolled through the gardens surrounding the Museum grounds. What had seemed hardy palms and sycamores on our way in, to my eye now looked somewhat blighted, and terribly, a few seemed near covered with small lizards, and even a few serpents. Uncle said that likely they had been driven from their nests closer to the river. When pressed, he laughed and said we should only start worrying if crocodiles started to join them.

I recalled his words two days later, though I do not know if he does, especially now. As we enjoyed a leisurely luncheon, Monsieur regaled us with a portion of his translation: “’Sobek, son of the god of Chaos and the goddess of Wisdom, is Lord of the Nile, responsible for its bounty and its dangers. He is the ravenous devouring crocodile, and the yearly depositor of the fertile soil. The strength and power and ferocity of a beast, yet the protector of the souls of the dead who are just.' Indeed, the cult of Sobek deemed that anyone who was devoured by a crocodile became divine. When Set tore Osiris asunder, it was Sobek who gathered the fragments of his body and delivered them to Isis for resurrection. Although,” he said with a wry smile, “true to his nature, he could not help himself from eating the final piece.”

“And which one was that?” I asked.

He colored slightly. “Ah. The final one, of course." He looked away from me. "Perhaps the hand?”

Uncle Alec smiled to himself. “I think in some translations it would be a foot.”

Monsieur cleared his throat and got up from the table. “Likely so.” He went over to a small table and picked something up. “Ah! I have something here for the young lady.” He returned and handed me a small ivory disc on a piece of braided leather, carved on both sides with a crocodile in different poses. I began to protest, but he waved me off. “A reproduction I created myself, my child. I am too much the scientist to hand out artifacts as baubles, no matter how charming the recipient.” I blushed as he continued. “In the Hieroglyphic symbols we see this dual nature. If the crocodile glyph has an extended tail, it gives the meaning ‘to devour’, the glyph with his tail curved beneath gives him the meaning ‘to gather.’ So, though a contradiction, he is both a preserver and a destroyer, you see.”

“As is the Nile,” I said, putting the pendant around my neck.

“Just so.”

My words were prophetic, it seemed, for just then we were interrupted by one of Monsieur’s assistants. The river had breached the first levee, just that morning, and was threatening to do so to the second. As a matter of precaution, it would be best to start evacuation of the larger artifacts immediately, should the waters continue to rise. Which they were.

And which is how Uncle and I found ourselves speeding with Monsieur to the Museum post haste. Uncle joined with the Monsieur’s assistants and other employees, in strapping sarcophagi and stela onto carts for removal to a more inland warehouse set aside for just such an emergency, and I went with Monsieur into the archives, to assist in the careful packing of more delicate items. The first carts had just filled, with Monsieur accompanying to direct his assistants how and where items should be placed, when the waters lapped over the final levee, and began their inexorable spread towards the museum grounds.

“The scaffolding!” Uncle Alec pointed up to where it rose beyond the high windows that provided light to the exhibit halls. “We can shut the main doors and seal the cracks as best we can with rags, and then pass things out through the windows. We may have to keep them on the roof for the time being, but they will escape the waters.”

I was skeptical. “Are there ladders inside we can use to reach them?”

“We will soon see.”

He charged into the Museum, while I looked askance at the scaffolding. It did not look terribly sturdy. And it appeared to have been used as an alternate refuge by some of the lizards I had noticed before in the trees. The trees themselves continued to look ill-used, and as the water began to creep around their bases, it seemed to me as if the lizard populations had trebled. With a shudder, I followed Uncle inside.

We shut the doors and began stuffing the cracks with every scrap of fabric we could find that did not look like an artifact. Curtains, towels from the small kitchen area alongside Monsieur Mariette’s office, rags from a closet holding tools and supplies for cleaning. It also had a tall ladder, which we hastily erected, and began ferrying cases of documents and smaller artifacts up to the windows, where the others waited upon the scaffolding. During our trips in and out of Monsieur’s office, I looked with dismay at the shelves full of files and journals, and the beautiful scroll still spread upon the table. I was shocked that Monsieur had not gathered them first. Perhaps, until it was inevitable, he had hoped it would not be necessary to move them, risking damage. But was it now too late?

The waters spread far more quickly than anyone could have imagined, reaching at least a foot in depth. Despite all of our efforts, water had begun to seep in through the front doors. It was then that Monsieur Mariette returned with the empty carts, only to direct several of his assistants to run and fetch boats, as the carts would not be of use after this last trip. Uncle Alec clambered out onto the scaffolding to go assist in the packing of the carts, when suddenly there came a terrible creaking and groaning. As I raced up the ladder, I reached the window in time to see a large palm tree, the soil around its roots saturated with water, overburdened with wildlife, come crashing down on the scaffolding, which in turn fell to the drowning earth below, taking Uncle Alec with it.

As I cried out in horror, the men splashed through the morass and pulled Uncle Alec from beneath the wreckage. They began to load him into one of the carts, and then transferred him to the boat that had just arrived. He called out to me, white with pain but still conscious, his leg twisted at an unnatural angle. I shouted back from my perch, telling the men to go, to get Uncle to safety. I would take refuge in the upper story of the Museum, taking what items I could with me, and await the arrival of more boats.

Monsieur Mariette’s reply was drowned out by a sudden scream. One of his assistants had suddenly fallen in the now knee deep water, which quickly began to turn bright red. The others fled, taking up his last cry: “Crocodiles! Crocodiles!” They had come over the now drowned levees, moving swiftly in the water that was their element.

“Sobek takes back his own.” I murmured. And then shouted at Monsieur to 'leave now'. I was safe in the Museum, they were not. Protesting all the while, he was dragged off by his men, while I scrambled down to the floor that was now ankle deep with water and continuing to rise.

With resolve I truly did not feel, I marched into Monsieur’s office, and began to pile as many journals and documents I could into two small satchels that hung on the far wall. Last of all, with trepidation, I carefully rolled the beautiful scroll and wrapped it in what appeared to be a painter’s smock which hung by where the satchels had been, and placed it in the larger of the two. Slinging the satchels on my back, I left the office, shutting the door behind me. The water was now above my ankles, but any barrier could help. I headed for the entry, where I planned to take the grand staircase to the upper level.

There came a sudden crash, and the whooshing sound of running water, and underneath the barely audible splash of something moving through it. The water around me began swiftly to rise, and with a muffled exclamation, I reversed course and headed for the far exhibit hall. I had barely entered, and with the assistance of a chair and not a little fear managed to clamber atop a tall display case when the first of the crocodiles entered.

None of the protective nature of Sobek here, as they came right for me, rearing out of the water and snapping, five all told. The cabinet I was atop was sturdy enough, and too high for them to reach, but if the water kept rising, or if I lost my balance, it would not go well for me. To further complicate things, the flood was not going to recede quickly. Since I had told the others I was going to take refuge in the upper story, I would not seem to them to be in immediate danger. Uncle Alec, being injured, would be their first priority. So I had scant hope of rescue unless someone arrived quickly, and that was not likely. After an hour or so, thankfully, the level of the water stopped rising, leaving me well above my captors. All I had to do now was wait.

The light in the windows had begun to fade, and I began to contemplate the very real difficulty of not only keeping my balance, but my wits, and consciousness, for I was becoming very tired, when I heard thumping from the hall outside, and a large splash or two, as though something was knocking over display cases. Could they have maneuvered a boat inside? I called out, warning against the crocodiles, thankful that I was about to be rescued.

But I wasn’t. For into the grand hall swam the largest crocodile not only that I had ever seen, but that I could imagine. What I couldn’t imagine was how he had gotten down the hall, let alone through the doors, for his body was fully five feet across, not accounting for the sprawl of his legs, and though I could not see all of him, he had to have been nigh thirty feet long from snout to tail. The other crocodiles swam away from him, though he had to snap his jaws at one, and crowded into the far end of the room. I gave myself up for lost. Even if he hadn’t been able to reach me, which he could, easily, he could smash through the cabinet on which I stood almost without effort. I still shrank away from him, choking briefly as the satchel straps caught on the pendant which still hung around my neck.

He approached the cabinet, and raising up, gently placed his snout against it and stood still. I crouched at the far end, staring at him, unmoving. After a few moments, he turned his head to me and stared directly into my eyes. Then with a snort of what I could only characterize as impatience, replaced his snout in its original position. Bewildered, I found myself approaching him, and using his head as a ramp, descended to his broad back. Whereupon he made a circuit of the hall, striking the other crocodiles aside as he passed them, and bore me out of the flooded Museum and into the night.

We passed through the remains of the grounds, where not a single tree remained standing. Some had fallen against the building, and others lay on the ground, half covered by the flood. In the dim moonlight I could see the lizards that had taken refuge, as well as other crocodiles, whom I would have expected to prey on the lizards, but all of them were feasting on the fallen trees. I hadn’t known that crocodiles ate anything other than flesh. My benefactor stopped, briefly, to consume part of a sycamore that lay in his path, the other creatures letting him have the lion’s share, before he bore me to the Nile proper.

The moon and stars were reflected in waters undisturbed but for our passing, and barely at that. It was as though we were swimming through the night sky; that which was above was also below. And I remembered what Monsieur Mariette had said, that Sobek protected the souls of the dead. I thought then that I might not have survived. I didn’t feel particularly divine, as those devoured by crocodiles were said to be, just exhausted. I felt myself drifting into a dreamlike state, and lying down on his broad back, decided that in the end, my end was not so terrible as it could have been. I had felt no pain, though I had been very frightened. To be borne to the afterlife through the stars? With some aspect of a crocodile god serving as my funeral barge? Why, I might be as Queen Sobeknefru herself. I arranged the satchels next to me, clasped the pendant between my hands, and gazed into the night sky.

I saw many things as we swam along. Visions I do not even now fully understand, but with an import I do believe I comprehend. I saw a vast forest, filled with trees of all kinds, covered with lizards that lived in harmony with them. Some of them were well, and some were not. And some the lizards devoured, and some they did not. The ones that survived were the scattered ones. Though a single tree might be destroyed, if its seed had spread far and wide, something of it continued. And if those somethings were gathered, the essence of the original tree could be discerned, and recreated, even if parts of it were devoured, and gone forever.

“As long as fragments are spread far and wide, they can be gathered, and the whole eventually recreated. This is true of knowledge as well as gods.” A deep rumble of a voice seemed to come from somewhere beneath me and surround me. “Even if some pieces go missing," I felt moreso than heard a wry chuckle vibrate through me, "or are devoured. I’m sorry, but that is my nature, after all.”

I awoke on a spit of land atop, what I now know, had been a small sandy hill a few miles up the Nile from the Museum district. I stood shakily, not sure at first what had happened, or where I was. I appeared to be alive, and intact, though my dress hung in sodden tatters around me. I felt over my body, and my hands brushed the crocodile pendant that still hung around my neck. The satchels, however, were gone.

Or were they? As I attempted to get my bearings, I saw the smaller one, its contents spilled around it. Wincing, I went and began to gather them. I recognized some of the things I had packed in the larger satchel among them, but the larger satchel itself, and the carefully wrapped scroll I had placed in it last, were nowhere to be found.

I heard a cry behind me, and turned to see Monsieur Mariette, precariously standing in a small skiff and waving his arms at me. I waved back and called out in return, and soon found myself wrapped in a blanket, and provided with a sip from a flask of whiskey, to ‘settle my nerves’.

“Ah, we thought you were lost! When we returned to the Museum, and found all those creatures, and the doors smashed in.” Monsieur shuddered. "It was dreadful to contemplate."

“I’m fine.” I started to laugh wildly. “My Uncle Alec, where—?”

“He is resting somewhat uncomfortably in the Shephard Hotel. And near frantic about you. My child, what happened?”

Even in my somewhat disoriented state, I knew better than to start speaking of colossal crocodilian saviors. “I wasn’t able to make it upstairs before the doors were smashed in. I climbed back up to the top of the ladder, thinking maybe I could use the remnants of the scaffolding to get to the roof. I started to, but then I saw a boat. It must have been washed from its moorings by the flood. I hung the satchels from the scaffolding and swam for it, and then went back and got them. I almost got to that little island, but the boat was flooding, and fell apart under me. I’m sorry, Monsieur. About the satchel with your scroll and the translation work. I thought I had it, but it must have been washed away with the boat.” I felt my face burning with shame at this last part. It was not a lie, exactly, for I truly did not know what had happened, but nonetheless…

He shook his head. “Scroll? I haven’t done translation work on a scroll for months.”

I stared at him. “Your Prize? From the Sobeknefru pyramid in Mazguna?”

He looked over my head at the others in the boat. “Poor child. She has had an ordeal.” He looked back at me. “I spoke to you of Sobek, yes, and Sobeknefru, when I gave you that pendant. But certainly not of a pyramid. She did work, indeed, on her father’s tomb, which is why we know her, I spoke of this. But there are no pyramids in Mazguna.”

He patted my shoulder and began to tell me that he would take me to Uncle Alec at once, but I fear I tuned him out. Was my ‘lie’ the actual truth, or close to it, and my memories a fevered dream caused by fear and exhaustion? I looked back at the small sandy island where I had awoken. There before it was raised the head of an enormous crocodile, with what appeared to be a leather strap, like one found on a satchel, dangling from its jaws. It looked at me, and then sank beneath the waters of the Nile.

As soon as I was assured that Uncle Alec was recuperating, and assured him that I was well, I arranged for a Sister in good standing to Witness me, so that I could report to the Chapterhouses. Even now, my memories of the experience have begun to blur, but if I can spread my tale far enough, even if only fragments remain, the story can be recreated. I cannot blame Sobek. He gave me my life, though he could not help himself from taking something. And so, one more thing is lost, even to memory. But it is his nature, after all.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License