To flee from memory
Had we the Wings
Many would fly
Inured to slower things
Birds with surprise
Would scan the cowering Van
Of men escaping
From the mind of man
To Flee From Memory by Emily Dickinson
Tumnus relegated riding horseback to the same category as bitterberry infusions, any visit to Cair Paravel's prickly Porcupine Physician, and every brick of Tashbaan – to be necessarily endured with polite countenance and gritted teeth.
Fauns were simply not designed to travel on horses or Horses. In Tashbaan there had been litters and camels were big and broad enough to carry palanquins. There was no time for that now and he did not want to make a fuss. Besides, to avoid their wuffling adoration of the High King's most royal mien, and the spitting hissy fights that invariably ensued when competing to be in his august presence, King Peter permitted no camel within a day's travel of Cair Paravel.
He shifted uncomfortably in the saddle rigged especially for Faun legs and hooves and took a quick breath of the fetid air.
"We're nearly there," Horace said. "Sorry you're so uncomfortable."
"The fault is mine, not yours, Friend," Tumnus told his mount. "Thank you all the same for so willingly bearing me."
"That's the fifth time you've thanked me," Horace snorted. Pinning back his ears, he added, "Enough already."
Given the exigencies of the situation, and Tumnus' own difficulties with horseback, Horace had offered to bear him from Cair Paravel to Anvard with all haste. Horace had done it before and it was his own decision but, nevertheless, riding a Talking Horse was an honour Tumnus never took for granted. As difficult as it was for him, at least a Talking Horse was conscious of his discomfort and tried to ameliorate it.
Dumb crows cawed from the trees and the morning haze had lifted to reveal what was better obscured. The blood on the road leading to the Anvard gates had dried but was still attracting vultures. The dead and wounded, and parts thereof, from the Calormene siege had already been removed from the battlefield but, still, the last of this journey was grim.
And for what?
Tumnus' horns hadn't ached so since he'd poured oil over the roiling waters of threatened war after the Mer-folk had sunk the Seven Isles fishing fleet in retaliation for poaching on their flocks.
The Seven Isles debacle had been resolved through delicate negotiations and significant reparations. In Calormen, however, diplomacy had failed altogether and the Narnia treasury could not afford the price a Prince's wounded pride exacted. They had had to sneak out of Tashbaan like dumb rats through a sewer and Rabadash had, with the support of his father, the Tisroc-who-would-not-live-forever-and-then-what?, single-handedly declared war upon Archenland and Narnia -- with conquest, pillage, and the kidnap and rape of a Narnian Queen next.
"Battlefields are no place for the living," Horace said. "I'm going to canter us in, if that's alright?"
"Fine, yes, please."
"Get a good hold of that saddle. I'll go as smooth as I can."
Tumnus took a deep breath and gripped the leathers. For a human, galloping through the Anvard gate – and thank Father Pan it had withstood Rabadash's battering ram – would be an entrance in grand style meriting a splendid reception. Such was not possible or advisable for a stout, aging Faun clinging to the saddle and his dignity. The Hound guards they'd sent ahead would find Lucy and she would be all the greeting party Narnia's senior ambassador needed, or wanted.
He was especially looking forward to seeing Lucy again. He had not seen her since Yule when he'd been detailed to Calormen. And just as he disembarked from the Splendour Hyaline at the Cair Paravel dock, Chervy burst in with news of the attack on Anvard and Lucy was racing to the Armory and was off to war.
Tumnus was, therefore, surprised and disappointed that King Edmund was in the castle courtyard to meet him, and not Lucy.
Horace slowed to an elegant stop; Tumnus slid like a sack of dung to the ground, very grateful for King Edmund's steadying hand.
"Thank you, and good afternoon, King Edmund. Congratulations on your victory. All Narnia celebrates and Queen Susan most especially."
King Edmund nodded. They did not need hand signals to communicate that further, intimate discussion would occur in a place more private than the Anvard courtyard. "A better end than I'd dared hope," the King replied. "And complex issues still to resolve, so my thanks in coming so quickly, Tumnus."
Perhaps that was why Lucy was not here. King Edmund knew the two of them would dally and he wanted to get right to work.
"Hello, Jalur," Tumnus said to King Edmund's Tiger Guard. Jalur, of course, said nothing in reply. Even by the standards of Great Cats, Jalur was taciturn, and would be aggressively over-protective of his charge given that King Edmund had left him behind when they made the disastrous trip to Tashbaan.
It had been, Tumnus now realized, a deliberate scheme by Rabadash. The firm but polite request that the Monarchs' large, and very sensitive, carnivore Guards remain in Narnia had been expressed in diplomatic terms of mutual trust and courteous reciprocity. But Rabadash had surely known that Queen Susan's Wolf Guard, Lambert, disliked him, and had sought to separate the Queen from her trusted, astute, and lethal advisor.
King Edmund inclined his head to Horace. "And you have my thanks, Horace, for bearing our valued ambassador so quickly."
"Didn't want to miss this ruckus." Horace raised his head and turned it about, searching the courtyard. "Is it true, what we heard, your Majesty? The Lion turned Rabadash into an ass?"
"It is. He is in the stables now, he has lost the gift of speech, though he comprehends it, and no, you may not go see for yourself."
"I'd surely not want company if I'd been turned to a dumb ass." Horace stomped a hoof. "I've got a wager with the Crows, though. Can't wait to collect it from the Donkeys back home."
He turned, and offered his near side. "If you wouldn't mind, your Majesty?"
"Of course." King Edmund made quick work of loosening the girth on the saddle. "Eirene is in the Narnian barracks; she's set aside your favorite berth and will get you a nice rub down and something to eat."
Narnians traveled frequently enough to Anvard that Lune set aside special, and separate, quarters for them. In truth, the Narnians preferred being with their own kind as much as the humans of Anvard preferred to not share their castle with Rats, Crows, Talking Bears, Great Cats, and Centaurs.
"Also, Horace, there are two Narnian Horses with us now, both refugees from Calormen. Our victory over Rabadash and his 200 horse cavalry is due in no small part to their valour. They are both nervous about their return to Narnia, the Stallion especially."
"I'll be sure to talk to them, your Majesty. Going from slave to free can be hard for a Horse and you're always worrying about fitting in with the Herd." Tumnus got a hard nudge in the arm. "Don't forget those saddlebags; didn't bounce them all the way from Cair Paravel for you to leave 'em strapped to my back."
"Quite right, and thank you again." Tumnus took his saddlebags and looped them over his arms; Horace trotted off in the direction of the Barracks. Tumnus wished he was joining the other Narnians himself. Lucy frequently found Anvard's stuffy court ladies unpleasantly judgmental and would spend as much time in the Narnian quarters as courtesy permitted. But for this visit, Tumnus knew all his business would be in the castle.
"So Prince Cor did return with a Narnian Talking Horse? Corin got that right?"
"He did. The Stallion, Bree, was in the Army. We have ninety-three members of the Calormene cavalry, alive, all of whom need to be ransomed and repatriated. We have one-hundred and six dead, who must be identified, survivors contacted, and arrangements made for the return or disposition of the remains. And, one ass."
King Edmund flexed his fingers – they were even more ink-stained than usual. "Come. We have work and much to discuss."
"Is Lucy not here?" Tumnus finally asked as he followed his King through the castle to the second, private floor given over for Narnian use. He could not recall a time when they had not especially sought one another out after a long time apart. "Is she well?"
"She is fine but otherwise engaged on court business for the moment," King Edmund said vaguely. The Anvard servants they encountered were undoubtedly listening though they all scurried away with one grumpy glare from Jalur.
After one girl turned a corner too quickly and yelped in surprise at the Tiger's snarl, King Edmund intervened. "Jalur, must you terrify everyone we encounter?"
"Yes," the Tiger said.
"Might I bargain for your less alarming countenance for the duration of our stay in exchange for a visit with the Otters at the Glasswater on our return to the Cair?"
It was a measure of Jalur's discontent that even the prospect of harassing his longtime foes was not a sufficient inducement to better behavior.
Two Hounds, Dusmia and Conall, guarded the passage to the Narnian suite of rooms. "Tumnus and I will be in the office and require privacy; only Narnians may enter until I say otherwise," King Edmund ordered. "We will work until the dinner summons."
With so many questions, and the privacy to finally hear the tale in full, Tumnus quickly deposited his personal kit in his rooms, washed the dirt of the road from his hands and horns, brushed his fur, and collected his secretary's supplies. Jalur allowed him to enter the office, then nudged the door shut with his nose and stretched out in a patch of sunlight in front of the door. The Tiger was a formidable barrier to anyone trying to get in, or if King Edmund attempted to get out.
King Edmund glanced at the Tiger doorstop and shook his head. Jalur growled. "I heard that."
"I didn't say anything!" King Edmund protested.
"You didn't have to." With a satisfied sigh, Jalur flexed his claws and scraped them with a long, piercing scriiiitch over the stone floor. He rested his enormous head between his paws and fixed his yellow eyes on King Edmund.
A clinging, needy Tiger was a fearsome thing, indeed.
On the long table dominating the office space there were crisp stacks of parchment, inks and fresh quills, sand, wax, and a brace of candles, with a whole crate of extra supplies. Tumnus was glad to see someone had anticipated his aging haunches and provided a well-padded chair – probably the mysteriously still absent Lucy.
King Edmund held up a stack of already penned and sealed letters. "Bree served in the Calormene cavalry for several years. He has been invaluable in helping us identify the deceased. He knows all the survivors as well and enjoyed drafting the letter demanding ransom for his former owner."
The King tossed them aside and slumped into a chair. Tumnus gratefully took the cushioned seat.
"I'd suggest wine, Tumnus, but I, at least, need a clear head. First, tell me, how is Susan? Lucy and I were both very uneasy leaving her behind."
"She is well, King Edmund, and as angry as I have ever seen her." With her brother, Tumnus could be blunt. "I have not seen any of the brooding which we know the Gentle Queen can fall prey to when she feels she has erred."
"That is good to hear," King Edmund said, visibly relieved. "Though, once she has more time to dwell on this miserable escapade, I fear bitter self-reproach will follow."
"Perhaps, but she knows there is no time for such things now when Narnia greatly needs her steady leadership. She wanted to come herself, of course, but deemed it necessary to remain at the Cair with your lady consort, given that you and Lucy are here, and the High King still at the Northern border…"
"And what news from my brother?" Here, alone, King Edmund would let his worry show. "Peter is still hopeless at Rat and Crow, and given the situation he wouldn't send me any message unless it is in code, so my news is through Morgan and three days old."
"Better," Tumnus said. "I do not know the details because, as you say, King Peter is not adept with the cipher. But Trice flew from their camp and found me on the road so that I might make your brother's report to you. The Ettins finally retreated back across the border yesterday and disappeared into their caves. The High King will conduct final sweeps of the area. I believe he will be returning to the Palace before we do, which is welcome given the state of its current defences."
The tension in King Edmund's face softened and he nodded. "Excellent. Though that will be a sad return. We have days of grief and farewells ahead."
The past ten-day had been dire. Even as they had plotted to flee Tashbaan or die there, the High King had called up the Narnian army to defend their northern border from an unexpected, aggressive Ettin incursion. The timing had been so inconvenient as to suggest possible collaboration between the Tisroc and the Giant Queen, but their Rat and Crow spies had found no evidence of it.
Upon learning of the attack upon Anvard, King Edmund and Lucy marched out in defence of their ally with what reserves could be called up and collected along the way, leaving Cair Paravel undefended. Narnia was not equipped to fight on two fronts and if either force had fallen, it would have gone very ill.
The actions had been costly. In the intense northern action, Sir Leszi, their swordmaster, had fallen. Two Gryphons, including Liluye, the General's own daughter, died recovering Leszi's body.
Even alone, still Tumnus spoke in a low voice. "And your news? Aslan really turned Rabadash into a donkey?"
King Edmund nodded. In an even quieter undertone, he added, "Rabadash must return to Tashbaan. He will regain his human form if he presents himself at the Temple of Tash at the Autumn Feast."
The transformation was horrifying enough but this very public humiliation was even worse. "Thousands will be on hand," Tumnus said. "Everyone will know, everyone will see it."
"And once he becomes man again, if he ever travels more than ten miles from the Temple, he will return to an ass, permanently."
Tumnus digested the news, cataloging how it would be received by other foreign courts, beginning with "frosty and unsettled" and ending with "severing all diplomatic ties with Narnia," "throwing the Narnian ambassador in gaol," and "setting all Narnian ships on fire before a hoof or paw could come ashore."
In other company, Tumnus would voice stronger criticism of Aslan's seemingly cruel and very provocative retaliation. The excuse devout Narnians so often gave that Aslan wasn't "a Tame Lion" didn't begin to explain the Lion's often inexplicable actions. Rather than this harrowing danger and needless loss of life, wouldn't it have been easier if Aslan had simply reinforced Lambert's warnings that Rabadash was not an appropriate suitor and consort for Queen Susan? A single word of caution would have prevented all this bloodshed, grief, and a grotesque and gaudy vengeance that now endangered Narnia's credibility in the wider world.
With Narnia's Monarchs, however, and most especially Lucy and King Edmund, Tumnus only very, very carefully expressed his doubts about Aslan's arbitrariness that he and other, older Narnians had nursed through the long, dark cold of one hundred years of winter.
"Rabadash's transformation gains us an advantageous peace with Calormen, your Majesty, but it is likely very short-lived and at a cost."
King Edmund tapped a nervous finger on the table. "I recognize that Rabadash is significantly weakened by this, which is unfortunate as we have long assumed he is the least objectionable of the Tisroc's heirs. The other sons are surely worse. We know that Namavar has actively plotted against us."
"Calormene court politics being what they are, I would not be surprised if we learn that Namavar or other heirs and their agents had urged Rabadash to this rash act by playing to his pride and manipulating his fears. We will need to increase our covert presence in Calormen."
"A measure to raise at council on our return, to be sure," King Edmund replied.
Tumnus was relieved that devotion to Aslan was not blinding King Edmund to the difficult ramifications of the Lion's retribution. In Tumnus' opinion, justice would have been better served if the Just King had administered it. King Edmund could achieve deterrence, protection, and rehabilitation without this troubling humiliation.
"Further, your Majesty, I regret to say that this will complicate our diplomacy in other quarters. You and Queen Susan will likely both need to personally assure our trading partners that we do not have any intention of turning foreign heads of state into livestock."
Though King Edmund's look sharpened at even this mild criticism, he did nod thoughtfully. "Yes, Peridan intimated as much. And speaking of, Peridan is not here because he is with King Lune, and Lord Hur, and Hwin."
Peridan was Narnia's roving ambassador-at-large, comedic actor, and sometimes undercover human spy. At this time of day, he was also surely pretending to be, and might actually be, drunk. His knowledge of flowery Calormene verse was, however, extensive. Lord Hur was Lune's adroit ambassador to Calormen and also related by marriage to King Edmund's Lady Consort and bondmate, Banker Morgan of the House of Linch. Or something of that ilk. Tumnus always got lost in Archenland family trees.
"Who is Hwin?"
"A Mare, the other Narnian refugee, and I think even more adept at Calormene social niceties than Peridan. She traveled with Prince Cor and Bree, and a young Tarkheena runaway, who herself poses a unique set of diplomatic problems that, fortunately, are not ours."
So if a Tarkheena, she was not an escaped slave, like Prince Cor. "She was fleeing a forced marriage?" It happened, occasionally, though, in Tumnus' opinion, Archenland marital customs were not a huge improvement over Calormene ones. At least in Calormen, veneration of Mother Azaroth Many-Faced encouraged women to engage in a wider variety of occupations than Archenland's gentry and aristocracy typically permitted.
"She fled with Hwin," King Edmund said, "to escape marriage to the Grand Vizier."
Tumnus stared at his King, aghast. "You mean Kidrash Tarkaan's daughter?! She's here!?"
"Just so." King Edmund pinched his nose between his fingertips, a sure sign of stress. "As mentioned, I am relieved that that is one diplomatic crisis that is not ours."
All of Tashbaan had been afire with gossip of the highly advantageous marriage and that Tarkheena Aravis had abruptly disappeared, with foul play suspected.
"Lune has granted her asylum but her father has undoubtedly forfeited a substantial bride price to Ahoshta Tarkaan, and so some of the ransom Lune collects from his Tarkaan guests will have to be returned back, and…" King Edmund waved his hands. "Numbers and finance. I've become thoroughly spoiled with my Lady Banker handling such things. Lune's Exchequer sent a message today asking for her assistance."
"A summons she will surely respond to with enthusiasm," Tumnus said dryly. Banker Morgan had been the financial advisor to Archenland for many years before her bonding to King Edmund; the prospect of managing the ransoms of ninety-three Tarkaans and negotiating a complex settlement with Kidrash Tarkaan would, for Banker Morgan, be as Hummingbirds to red flowers (though without as much belligerent swearing) and Crows to shinys.
King Edmund drew a long checklist toward them. "One last thing before we begin – a very welcome development." The King pitched his voice louder. "Lady, are you here and merely waiting for your dramatic entrance?"
"She's alive!?" Tumnus cried, overjoyed at the news, and looking about for the beloved graying nose and hairless tail.
"Willa's not here," Jalur said sleepily. "She said she was going to listen in on anything the Tarkaan prisoners might say."
"How did she make it out of Tashbaan?" The most wrenching moment of their escape from Calormen was when Sallowpad the Raven flew to the Splendour Hyaline to report that Lady Willa had managed to infiltrate the Tisroc's Palace, was certain retribution would follow in the wake of their flight, and was determined to uncover any threats to Narnia. She'd told them to sail without her and, though Willa was wily and clever, a Narnian Talking Rat alone in Tashbaan was in terrible danger.
"Our good Lady Rat stowed away in Rabadash's own saddlebag. She said she had help; you'll need to hear the story from her." The King's voice turned disapprovingly sharp. "Willa shouldn't be running about the Calormene prison encampment. Lucy told her to rest."
With the mention, her absence became even more noticeable. Tumnus could not imagine any Archenland court entertainment so engaging as to keep Lucy from greeting her oldest friend.
"Where is Lucy, by the way? You said she was engaged in court matters, yet she detests such things. Is anything wrong?"
King Edmund's mouth twitched up to a smile. "I must choose my words carefully lest I irritate my Guard."
"During the siege, Lucy shot a Calormene off the back of one of Lune's foot soldiers. Both she and the soldier are, it has transpired, very grateful for her quick action that spared his life."
King Edmund turned back to Jalur. "Does my bland description satisfy you?"
Jalur's tail thumped on the ground.
"Yes, though if you show any excess of spirit to Queen Lucy, I shall make it known at court that you are seeking a lover whilst apart from Banker Morgan."
"No one would believe that! They know Morgan would financially ruin them!"
"The exceptionally stupid and silly ones would not be deterred," Jalur replied.
This sounded appalling and, judging from King Edmund's expression, he agreed. Tumnus, though, was back at the first disclosure, trying to digest the apparent implication and rejecting it utterly. Surely not. It was preposterous. "I'm sorry, King Edmund, but I do not understand. You said that Lucy and this person are grateful. What do you mean?"
"The Queen has taken a Knight, Tumnus. Lucy has gone courting."
Tumnus managed to ignore the dull ache in his horns to concentrate on the work that had to be done. It did not help that everyone was so irrepressibly cheerful at Lucy's suitor-conquest-lover-affair-he-had-no-idea-what-to-call-it.
When he had queried whether King Edmund had rigorously vetted this new friend of his younger sister, Jalur had growled at his presumption and the King had laughed.
"Tumnus, Lucy would never allow me to question her judgment, nor is it my place. More to the point, when has my sister's heart ever led her astray?"
"Surely Briony has concerns with the very rapid course of this development?" Briony, Lucy's she-Wolf guard, was an excellent judge of character. Briony's mate, Lambert, was Guard to Queen Susan and had not trusted Rabadash. The whole debacle might have been avoided if Queen Susan, and everyone else, had heeded Lambert's warnings.
"Briony's tail has not stopped wagging," King Edmund said. "It takes a more foolishly stubborn person than I to question her and Lucy's collective judgment. And if I did, Briony would surely bite me."
Seeing defeat in this quarter, Tumnus pursued a different tack with the more suspicious Tiger. "Jalur, what is your opinion?"
Jalur growled again, though it was unclear whether he was unhappy with the question or that he was being spoken to at all. Jalur hated communicating and especially disliked questions that could not be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." "I do not object to Aidan Gunarr. He smells fine. He and Queen Lucy are not being stupid about their courtship."
"I recognize that as criticism of your liege, Jalur," King Edmund warned.
Granted King Edmund and Banker Morgan's own courtship had spanned years, but wasn't that better than being so hasty? "What do you mean that they have not been stupid?" Tumnus asked.
Jalur flicked his tail and, with a pointed glare at his King, said, "Aidan Gunarr and Queen Lucy talk. They say what they mean. Humans never do that."
Tumnus wished Jalur had stopped there, but the Tiger continued, "And they like to mate."
"Yes, thank you, Jalur! That is quite enough!" King Edmund said, with another laugh. "Not that it matters, for my sister is her own judge, but I am satisfied with Aidan Gunarr, Tumnus."
Tumnus was grateful King Edmund did not add, "And you should be satisfied as well."
As he worked through the next reparation and ransom letter, Tumnus tried to sort through why he was so flummoxed by Lucy courting a human lover. All it did was turn his horn-ache from dull to full-on throbbing.
He stared at the blank page, trying to order the words into a courteous demand to Vashti Tarkheena for reparations necessitated by her hotheaded son riding after Rabadash into disaster.
This all seemed so out of character for Lucy. The little girl he had first met so long ago had grown into a woman who disdained games of political courtship – and for a queen, it was always political.
That aspect, he could understand. There were no political repercussions for Lucy in romancing a common peasant soldier. While this would be scandalous in some courts, Narnia had no such repressive taboos and her own family did not object. Though, surely being lover to a Narnian Queen was far beyond his station and had personal and pecuniary advantage for Aidan Gunarr.
Tumnus was certainly not the least bit prudish – he was a Faun, after all, and had, in his youth, dipped his horns and hooves into those heady waters. By the light of blazing bonfires he had guzzled the herb-laced wine that enflamed the body and twined with Dryads and rutted with the Satyrs beneath hazy stars. He had enjoyed exquisitely refined sensual pleasures with his own kind. Once the Long Winter departed, he had reveled in the lusty annual romps with the Wood folk in the Western Wilds. Eventually, he had introduced Lucy to those yearly festivals. And once she began participating, he withdrew. What she did, and with whom, she never revealed and he never asked. He felt concernedly parental over Lucy and was happier not knowing any details, assuming there were any to know.
Lucy had never seemed to have a gap in her life that needed to be filled with a human lover. She had always been so grounded and joyously fulfilled with Aslan, her family, her country, her subjects, and her calling as a Queen. She had her many friends, of which he always been the first and most special.
With a sigh, he carefully blotted out another error on the clean parchment and began again the fifteenth ransom letter, this one to the father of Behrouz Tarkaan, who was currently enjoying Anvard hospitality as a prisoner of war.