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A correspondence between Bibi Tarkheena, wife to Kidrash Tarkaan, lord of Calavar Province, and her aunt Latana, High Priestess of Zardeena, being a selection from the Calavar archives, presented here for the edification and instruction of young ladies.

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A correspondence between Bibi Tarkheena, wife to Kidrash Tarkaan, lord of Calavar Province, and her aunt Latana, High Priestess of Zardeena, being a selection from the Calavar archives, presented here for the edification and instruction of young ladies.

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From Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, to the High Priestess Latana at the Temple of Zardeena, Tashbaan, salutation and peace in the name of Zardeena, Lady of the Night and Azaroth the Weaver of Lives.

Oh my most revered aunt, may the goddess smile on you and shower you with blessings for the foresight and wisdom with which you arranged my marriage. Know that my lord Kidrash is a diamond set in gold, his sons a delight, his palaces and servants all that could be asked. In one matter only does my life here in Calavar weary me, and in that one matter I am baffled and perplexed. I turn therefore to you, my most revered teacher and beloved aunt, in the hope that your sage counsel may ease my burden.

My lord's two sons are a delight, as I have said. The first is nearly a man, and will soon leave us to take up a man's part in the world; meanwhile he is courtesy itself. The baby is charming; his nurse brings him to me daily and already I start to think of him as my son, not a stepson at all. The daughter, on the other hand! Aunt Bibi, I have not yet had a single warm word from her. I despair of ever seeing Aravis as my daughter; yet I must, for she needs a mother, and that role has fallen to me, young and inexperienced though I am. In the presence of her father, she is never more than coldly polite. When we are alone together, though, she simply will not speak to me at all, unless it is to say "You are not my mother".

Most revered aunt, have you any advice for your perplexed niece Bibi?

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From the High Priestess Latana, Tashbaan, to Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, salutation and peace in the name of Azaroth the Weaver of Lives and Zardeena, Lady of the Night.

My dearest child - though I should call you that no longer, now you are a woman grown and married, yet still to me you are the little girl whose path through life I would smooth in every way. It is as refreshing as the first rain after drought to hear your words, and to learn that you find joy in your husband and your new home.

Now to the matter of your daughter Aravis. She is at an age when many a child becomes a trouble to her parents; thinking herself almost ready to become a woman, yet showing daily by her deeds and words that she is still a child. This, however, seems more than that. You say that she has been cold from the start, never giving you a chance to show her that you would, for her father's sake, love her as one of your own. So, then, could it be that her mind has been set against you, even poisoned against you? Could some servant be filling her with bile? Enquire closely amongst your household, for if this canker does indeed have its root there, you must cut it out at once before it spreads further.

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, to the High Priestess Latana at the Temple of Zardeena, Tashbaan, salutation and peace in the name of Zardeena, Lady of the Night and Azaroth the Weaver of Lives.

You were right! How could you tell, from so far away - but you always did have the gift of seeing into hearts. It was Aravis' old nurse, who has, it seems, been filling her head with silly tales of wicked stepmothers (and has been for years). We sold the old woman at once, and she should bless our benevolence that we spared her a flogging! So now I am in search of a new slave to take her place, perhaps a maidservant rather than a nurse, since Aravis grows apace. What think you, oh wisest of counsellors?

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From the High Priestess Latana, Tashbaan, to Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, salutation and peace in the name of Azaroth the Weaver of Lives and Zardeena, Lady of the Night.

Beloved niece, you heap disgrace upon me and all my cares with your upbringing. Have all my lessons had so little effect? Were your heart and your head flying with the birds when you were supposedly attending to my sermons? Do you truly imagine that the raising of daughters is accomplished at so little cost, or with no sacrifice?

Buy another nurse or a maidservant, say you. This is not a care that can be met by so simple a means as the spending of coin! You would trust the nurture of your daughter Aravis to one who is a stranger to you and your household, careless of what influence such a one might have on the child, just as she stands on the very threshold of womanhood.

No. This requires careful thought. Select one from among your own maidservants, someone dependable and loyal. But, you will say, I need this one to make my tissanes, and no-one quite understands my hair like that one. What of it? You must be prepared to make sacrifices if you are to bring peace to your household, and your daughter's need is greater than your own. Give her the most trustworthy of all your maids, and spend your coins not on replacing her nurse, but on replacing your maid.

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, to the High Priestess Latana at the Temple of Zardeena, Tashbaan, salutation and peace in the name of Zardeena, Lady of the Night and Azaroth the Weaver of Lives.

Well, my most honoured aunt, I have followed your advice and given Aravis one of my own maids. The girl's talents are sadly wasted on Aravis, I must say. Aravis takes no delight in matters of dress, or hair, or perfumes, or any such womanly matters, but prefers the company of her horse, hawks and hounds. I suppose she will grow out of it, though if you have any advice on how to encourage that I will be deeply in your debt. In the mean time, at least while she is out riding she is not sulking, so the household grows calmer.

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From the High Priestess Latana, Tashbaan, to Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, salutation and peace in the name of Azaroth the Weaver of Lives and Zardeena, Lady of the Night.

My most esteemed niece, has it occurred to you that Aravis can have but few friends of her own age and rank in Calavar to influence her? Maybe after the rains, you can send her to me in Tashbaan for a season, and we will see what we can teach her. Meanwhile, have you considered making visits to some of your friends, ones with daughters her age, and seeing what effect improving company has on her? If my memory does not play me false, Aravis was, when quite little, almost inseparable from Pipitara Tarkheena's daughter Lasaraleen, and Lasaraleen is now a young lady rejoicing in the full flowering of youth and beauty; almost to a fault. You could do much worse than spend some time down at the lake at Mezreel rekindling the girls' friendship.

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, to the High Priestess Latana at the Temple of Zardeena, Tashbaan, salutation and peace in the name of Zardeena, Lady of the Night and Azaroth the Weaver of Lives.

I thank you once more for your wisdom; however it grieves me to report that your plan did not work quite as I had hoped. Yes, Aravis and Lasaraleen were able to resume their friendship as though they had never been apart, and yes, they are now as inseparable as a phoenix and a flame-tree. But it is not love of clothes, or singing, or dancing, or such fancies that Aravis learns from Lasaraleen. It is love of pranks, japes and practical jokes. If they would but confine themselves to making each other, or the other children, the butt of their play, I would rejoice at least to see Aravis laughing. Instead, I am afraid Aravis has been attempting to get Lasaraleen to turn her jests on their elders and betters.

I suppose you heard about the incident with the scorpions? That is an idle thing to say; I should say, rather, I suppose all Tashbaan is talking about it. It was aimed at me (thus I know Aravis is chiefly to blame, though in any case I really cannot see Lasaraleen having the physical courage necessary to set it up), but all my guests were as much the victims of what those girls imagine passes for their wit. I really don't know how I'm ever to look the High Thurifer in the face again; it turns out he has a particular horror of scorpions, and of course the largest landed right in his bowl.

Lasaraleen's family tell me she is to be married soon. No doubt the responsibility of a husband and household to care for will slow her down.

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

I resume this letter with the worst of news - my elder son Ilsombreh has fallen fighting the rebels. My lord Kidrash has no heart for meat or drink, and Aravis - I fear this loss has undone all our good work of this past year. She doted on her brother. We are hastening home. Forgive me if I seemed ungrateful earlier. Your guidance is as the sun and stars to me.

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From the High Priestess Latana, Tashbaan, to Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, salutation and peace in the name of Azaroth the Weaver of Lives and Zardeena, Lady of the Night.

My dearest niece, I have heard of your family's loss and grieve greatly for you all. Great was the insight of the poet who said "A dutiful and loving family is a great lord's finest treasure: not lands, nor titles nor wealth can compare to an honourable
son".

My dear, your mother has been with me these dark days, and she tells me that before the summer is out, with the blessing of the gods you will make good your husband's loss and bring consolation to his stricken heart. May it be so, for in the joy of children there is no measure. And yet there is more that you can do to ease his heart, that the soft breezes of spring may end the barren winds of winter. I refer, of course, to the ongoing matter of your daughter Aravis. Second only to a birth, a wedding eases the pain of our losses, and she is now of an age for you to start considering what arrangement may be made for her. If you wish for any help finding a suitable match, you know where to turn.

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, to the High Priestess Latana at the Temple of Zardeena, Tashbaan, salutation and peace in the name of Zardeena, Lady of the Night and Azaroth the Weaver of Lives.

Your words are timely, O most honoured of aunts. I raised the matter with my beloved, and he agrees it is not too soon for Aravis, though she is the delight of her father's eyes, to move on and delight the eyes of a husband. Ah, but what husband? My lord Kidrash speaks of Alimash, the son of his cousin, but I know well your thoughts, that the gods seldom seem to smile on cousin-marriages. Can you find us some better candidate? It goes without saying he must be of appropriate wealth and rank. More, he must be able to command Aravis' respect (I think perhaps an older man would find her more manageable than a boy of her own age). This alone we could find for ourselves, I think. But I would also see her wed to a man who treasures her as the jewel she is (or at least could be, if the wretched girl would only stop sulking), and this seems a hard thing to combine with the need to be a man of such great state and understanding as to have a hope of commanding her respect. Does such a paragon exist? Can you find him for us?

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From the High Priestess Latana, Tashbaan, to Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, salutation and peace in the name of Azaroth the Weaver of Lives and Zardeena, Lady of the Night.

You pose me quite a challenge. I know of only one man, in want of a wife, who is both great enough to be worthy of your lord Kidrash's treasure, and yet lowly enough to prize her with due measure. I speak of Ahoshta Tarkaan, one of the greatest men in Calormen now, and indeed likely to be named as Grand Vizier, should it please the gods to call Axartha to serve them in their presence (as seems likely all too soon). His wisdom is as great as his wealth, and yet the unfortunate matter of his birth will leave him most sensible of the honour your husband shows him, should Kidrash accept him as a son. Moreover he has something of a romantic streak (they say he has a secret fondness for barbarian poetry and such tosh of love and war) and is therefore sure to dote on a young and lovely wife.

I commit you to the care of all the gods.

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From Bibi Tarkheena, Calavar province, to the High Priestess Latana at the Temple of Zardeena, Tashbaan, salutation and peace in the name of Zardeena, Lady of the Night and Azaroth the Weaver of Lives.

When first I read your suggestion, aunt of mine, I thought you had lost your remaining wits. Marry the fairest flower of Calavar to that weed of unfortunate disposition? I know I said "older", but he must be nearer 50 than 40 , and to such a girl as Aravis, he might as well be a grandsire of 60. If I could have hidden your words from my lord and love (who thought your proposal so fitting, so altogether excellent, that he sent messengers to Ahoshta that very day), believe me I would have done so. And yet, how wrong would that have been.

For against all my expectations, Aravis has taken the match well. Oh, at first she was shocked into silence, and hid her face from the sun. But on the next day she came out smiling and wearing her brightest clothes. She has filled the palace with song and laughter, she dances as she goes. The whole palace is quite transformed, as even the meanest of the slaves pick up on her change of mood.

She will retreat to the woods next week for the rites and sacrifices of Zardeenah, and then, praise be to all the gods, we can prepare the marriage settlement. And once that is over, I can reserve all my prayers for the next blessing to come to our family (which I tell you cannot come too soon).

With all my heart I commit you to the care of the gods.

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The correspondence ends here.