Packing for the Journey
After two years at Anvard, Cor was finally more or less used to his new name and his new family. He was still getting used to some of the local quirks, but he had most of it down, too, at least enough to function easily on a day-to-day basis. Some of the food was still odd and so was some of the language and customs. But he had become surprisingly well-attuned to the crazy ideas that entered his brother's head every now and then.
He realised it had almost developed into a sixth sense when he went into the stables, just in case, one summer day when his twin had become suspiciously scarce, and sure enough found Corin there, saddling his horse.
"And where do you think you're going now, brother?" Cor asked him. Corin nearly jumped out of his skin with surprise, but calmed down quickly when he saw it was just Cor.
"I'd like to see if they still have prunes at Stormness Fast," Corin replied.
"Prunes? Really? Isn't that a very childish reason for such a journey?"
"You clearly haven't had Stormness prunes yet," Corin said.
"As a matter of fact, I have, the first time I visited," Cor assured him. Corin had not travelled with him and Aravis that first time, when they had accompanied Lord Peridan, Sir Thunderbolt and their friends the Horses on their way home from Archenland. So there were actually many things Corin did not know Cor knew.
He knew the prunes were extraordinarily tasty, and still thought it was a childish reason to sneak off. Most of all because it was something he might have done himself back in Calormen.
"So what was your plan?" he asked.
"Sneak off, go over the mountains, ask Lorna for the prunes... because last time I did this, Peridan caught me, so I'd better not try stealing this time. Besides, it's a friendly nation, so it makes no sense."
That was a very Bree way of thinking; sometimes, Corin and Bree had much in common.
"When was that?" Cor asked, horrified but not truly surprised by the fact that Corin apparently did this more often.
"Oh, I was about... nine? Ten? After mom... well, I was bored. So I went over the mountains and tried to snatch some prunes, but Peridan found me and insisted on taking me back home."
And he was right, Cor thought.
Two conflicting thoughts were fighting for dominance in his mind. The first conflicting thought: Corin should not be going alone over the mountains. The second conflicting thought: Corin should not be going alone over the mountains.
In the end, the second thought won. He knew from experience that he could not stop Corin. He still held a hope that one day, he would be able to; but as matters stood right now, he would have to fight with Corin, win that fight and tie his brother up to stop him. The first step of that procedure was very likely to happen, but the two following ones were highly unlikely.
"It's not even a plan," he told Corin. "What if you get trapped in the mountains?"
"Oh please," Corin said. "It's just half a day's ride."
"In the mountains," Cor supplied. "Anything can happen. There could be an avalanche. Your horse could get frightened by – by a bird, and fall off the path."
Corin started adopting a fighting stance. Cor held up his hands in a gesture of peace.
"All I'm saying is, you need to be prepared, you ought to take more food with you, and you should not go alone. Well, I also ought to say you should not go in the first place. And you really shouldn't. But I can't stop you, so at least I ought to make sure you don't just dash off as if going to visit an uncle."
The realisation that he did have uncles he could dash off to visit might have been an even greater shock than finding out he had a father and a brother who were a king and a prince, making him a prince as well. Well, at least if you considered his previous life and ideas about the world. He had been aware of the existence of kings and princes, but friendly uncles had been a completely foreign concept.
Corin's eyes lit up as he began to realise what Cor meant.
"You're going with me?" he asked.
"Of course I'm going with you," Cor replied. "I've been there before, and I dare say Peridan and Thunderbolt have taught me a thing or two about travelling in the mountains."
Of course, he had not really experienced any of those extreme situations the two Narnian nobles had mentioned to him (except for the mist when Aslan had been with him, and that obviously did not count). So he suspected he would still panic and forget about his preparations. But... at least he would be prepared; better safe than sorry as people here in the North said.
So he produced two oilcloth bags and a tarpaulin and rope that could serve them as shelter in case they needed it; he sent Corin for food with very specific instructions and grabbed two warm cloaks and some change of underclothes from their rooms himself. They met again in the stables half an hour later and then, horses saddled and equipped better than Corin had been originally, they crept off via Corin's tried and trued escape route through the gardens.
That route actually meant, Cor reflected, that Aravis could possibly see them from her chambers – the lady chambers that had been empty for much of Corin's recent life. He did not regret that possibility. It was a safeguard against Corin's hotheadedness, just like the quick note he had left on his bed was.
Six hours later, when a sudden storm and persistent rain had turned the road into a swift river and they huddled into the cloaks under the tarpaulin, sitting on their oilcloth bags, he could not refrain from saying "I've told you so."
At twenty-four, Corin was leaving with an embassy to Tashbaan to negotiate with Rabadash, the new tisroc. Everyone had agreed that while Prince Cor and Lady Aravis had undeniably more experience with the country, sending the runaway tarkheena and the crown prince who had saved Archenland from a Calormene attack by none other than the new tisroc himself would probably be a huge diplomatic mistake. So it was Corin's turn to represent the country, something he would undoubtedly be called upon to do more often in the future. Just two years before, it would have been a bad idea; but now even Aravis had to admit her fiancé's mischievous twin had grown more responsible recently.
At least where relations with people and fist-fighting at the slightest opportunity were concerned. He still had the craziest ideas and an insatiable taste for adventure, without the sense to plan for it, apparently. When Aravis asked him what he was taking with him, Corin picked up a single bag and nonchalantly upturned it on the table. What came out was a mess of mostly light summer clothing and mementoes of Archen countryside.
"By the Lion, you are the worst packer I've ever known!" Aravis cried out. "Do you realise it's winter?"
"So?" Corin shrugged. "I'm going to Calormen."
"It's the rain season," Cor pointed out. "The nights are cold. You'd be cold and wet very soon, with no change of clothes."
Corin eyed him thoughtfully and then said:
"Fine, what would you take?"
Cor went on to give him a fifteen minute lecture on the sort of clothes one might need in Calormene winter (which he truly had no personal experience with, what with the life he had led in Calormen) and the sort of clothes one might need on a diplomatic mission (which he did have some considerable experience with already). Aravis added her point of view, remembering what sort of social functions the Archen embassy would most likely be invited to in winter in Tashbaan, and what could, in the worst case, be bought there fairly cheaply (underclothes and things like soap) and what Corin would be much better off bringing from home (anything warm to wear, especially furs and wools). Then Cor suggested Corin should also have some notes on what he needed to discuss and achieve, and most certainly some writing utensils and spare parchment or paper to add to the notes and send letters home as the negotiations would proceed (he had started the habit of note-taking himself when he was first asked to send letters, and had stuck to it since).
"We can use every bit of information about Calormen as it is now, no matter how insignificant it may seem," he pointed out.
"Father's told me as much already," Corin frowned. "But I saw no need to take those things myself; Tar will be staying there and will have his own."
"Two sets of eyes see twice as much," Aravis said. "That's why we always go together, me and Cor."
"Yes, because that's the only reason you're always together; politics," Corin smirked.
Aravis found out, to her chagrin, that she was blushing; but a quick look Cor's way told her clearly that so was he.
"You'd better take that blue velvet coat," he said quickly, pacing towards Corin's chest to hide his embarrassment. He opened it and pulled the aforementioned clothing article out. "It is representative and it's warm, but not too warm; all the feasts take place in the evenings and at night, so you'll get much use out of it."
"Yes, mother," Corin grinned. And then his grin fell under the pained look on Cor's face.
Cor's mother had died before he had come home. He had never known her, or any sort of mother for that matter. Aravis and Corin had an advantage over him there, as dubious an advantage as it was.
"Thank you so much for helping," Corin added quickly, gently. "I'd be lost without you."
And it was moments like these when Aravis was absolutely sure they were brothers. Despite their differences and the fact they had grown up separately, they cared for each other deeply and always could tell when the other was troubled. Despite all the problems and arguments, it would be good to be part of Cor's family. It already was.
When Corin came back two months later, he came with some trouble at his heels. Really, what else could they have expected? It was not his fault, but trouble seemed to find him even when he did not seek it out himself.
But he did not forget to thank them for all the advice they had given him about his packing. There, he said, he had had no trouble at all.
It was a bleak a dreary Christmas, the year Cor had become King. It was a bleak and dreary winter, after a sad year. Archenland and Narnia had both lost their Kings that year. And even though new Kings were now sitting on their respective thrones, it was... just not quite the same.
It was not quite the same without Father, in oh so many respects. The little moments were the worst, the little moments when Corin momentarily forgot, and then was yanked back into the painful reality. At least Archenland was peaceful and prosperous, though, and the new King was warmly welcomed to his throne. The news coming from Narnia was less encouraging.
And despite the Christmas cheer at the banquet, news was brought up. The new Narnian king losing support in his own country. Humans turning on Beasts. Beasts going wild.
Corin slipped out of the great hall, accompanied only by a silent understanding nod from the queen in her high chair. He wandered through the corridors without aim but with the conversation still ringing in his ears. Lapsed bear under Stormness Head.
It was this last piece of information that had finally sent him away, unable to pretend at merriment anymore. Stormness used to be a safe place. A place you could dash off to visit and all you had to fear were rainstorms; and that much had to be expected with its name.
Now? The Four were gone, Peridan was no more and Stormness Vast was once again turning into the wild mountainous border region he was told it used to be.
It was not fair. It was not right. It had been six months now since either of the Horses last visited. True, they were growing older; but that had not stopped them before. Hwin had sent an apologetic message in autumn: the path was not safe. Bree had not, most probably because his reason was the same and he was embarrassed by his fear.
But he was not afraid of the bear, Corin realised, with some surprise. He had fought Bears before, in training, and this one, though lapsed, was no doubt still like them. Bears had weak spots when you knew how to look out for them.
It was better than sitting at a feast no one was truly enjoying. And if he was successful, Hwin and Bree could come again – they would, no doubt, need that change of scene. They would all need it.
Resolved to this, he quickly turned on his heel and strode to his chambers. He changed into some more weather-appropriate clothes, took some weapons (he did not intend to use them unless absolutely necessary, but it would be foolish not to be prepared), left a note on his bed and ran down the corridors and stairs to the stables.
As he was leading his horse out, he noticed one of its shoes had come a little loose. He bent down to inspect it and then had a small shock. A fully packed oilcloth bag landed in the snow at his feet. Corin looked up into the solemn face of his brother.
"It's high time you learned to pack your own things, brother," his King said. "And not to go over the pass alone."
"You can't come," Corin pointed out. "That would be irresponsible, now that you..."
"No, of course not," Cor replied. "But I can send someone with you, just in case."
"That would be splendid," Corin replied, suddenly relieved of a fear he had not known he had felt. He did not fear the bear, but he did fear his family's worry. Maybe that was precisely why he had always been sneaking away secretly.
Cor smiled, with a tinge of sadness to it.
"Be careful, as much as you can, anyway," he said.
"I will," Corin promised. "I cannot promise not to come back without a scratch, though."
"I've long learned not to ask that of you," Cor laughed.
When Corin came back two days later, badly scratched but whole and victorious, they did not say much to each other, just embraced, glad to be together once again. Aravis rolled her eyes at him and then embraced him as well.
"Welcome home," she said. "Until next time."
And they all laughed, relieved.