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The Gift

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The Tale of a Prince and an Officer [excerpt]

Know, O Listeners, that fate may seem clear as spring water when one looks back upon one's life, but it is not so at the time of its event. Now only the youngest of babes knoweth not that the first meeting between Prince Tirian, the son of King Erlian of Narnia, and Emeth, the seventh son of Harpa Tarkaan, surely was foreordained, recorded in letters of flame on the Stone of Tales in a brilliant flash as the world was made. But at that very moment of destiny, neither knew it as the first step upon a path that would link and transform both the men and their lands.

On that day of fate unknown, I was discharged from my day's guard duty as the sun sank behind the palace of the Tisroc (may he live forever), setting the golden dome aglow like a rose of fire. When the noble Narnian fell into step beside me, my mind held no thoughts of destiny. My heart held another hope entirely, which was that he meant to challenge me to a sparring match. It would only be to first blood, for Prince Tirian had come as part of a diplomatic visit. But he had the look of a warrior, and I had heard much of the Narnian straight-sword style. By the way he moved, Prince Tirian would be a strong and skilled fighter. Excitement blossomed within my soul at the hope of matching swords with him.

But Prince Tirian issued no challenge. Instead, he spoke idly of small matters, asking me if the clouds predicted rain and whether there was good hunting in the forest outside Tashbaan. It did not occur to me that he had been watching me ever since he had arrived, just as I had been watching him, until I realized that we had made a full circle around the palace and were beginning a second one. Though no challenge seemed to be forthcoming, this was clearly no chance encounter.

I was no courtier accustomed to swimming through the muddy waters of intrigue, but I knew enough to not call awkward attention to this unsubtle excuse to converse. And even if there would be no chance to test my swordplay and mettle against that of the prince, I was not disappointed to simply walk with him. I had heard much of Narnians’ courage and ferocity, and had always hoped to some day meet them in battle. But as we walked around the palace a third time, and then a fourth, I found myself contemplating a poet's words about noble enemies and noble friends.

It would be a fool indeed who throws away the best gift in the hope of receiving the next best, I thought as we began our fifth trip around what was now beginning to be a well-worn path indeed.

“I hear that Calormen is a land of many wonders,” said Prince Tirian. “I have seen the Tisroc’s palace, and it is full of great riches. Yet we have such in Narnia as well. Were you to come to Narnia, I would not take you to the treasury of Cair Paravel, but to the deep forests where the Dryads dance among the leaves of spring. Might you show me that part of Tashbaan which you yourself love best?”

I had oft been told that an officer of the Tisroc (may he live forever) must keep a grave face, and indeed solemnity came easily to me. But at those words of Prince Tirian’s, I felt my lips part in an unaccustomed smile, and my mind go wandering in a manner which it had not done since I had first come to Tashbaan. What did I love best among the wonders of the city?

“Such would be my deepest pleasure and honor,” I replied. “But I cannot say what that place would be. I have lived in Tashbaan as an officer and have observed it through the eyes of a warrior sworn to defend it, not as a traveler who searches out marvels.”

Prince Tirian smiled as well, and I could see that no one had ever admonished him to make his face a mask. His visage seemed molded for openness, shifting like soft clay with every passing feeling.

“Then we shall both become explorers. Let us search together.” As Prince Tirian spoke, his blue eyes brightened, not burning as an alchemical flame, but warm as the southern seas of my childhood.

I took Prince Tirian’s hand in mine. Only after I had done so did I wonder how he would interpret the gesture. I then knew little of Narnian customs, but I was well aware that they were not the same as my own. He was of the highest royal birth, and yet the way in which he addressed me, which would have been informal even by the standards of a Calormene merchant relaxing at home, seemed to be his natural manner of speech.

I knew not if Prince Tirian would think our handclasp an offer of brotherly friendship, an acknowledgment of our kinship as warriors and men of honor, a lover’s vow of eternal devotion, or something else entirely. And as I realized that, I also understood that it was because I myself was uncertain. My heart was full to the brim with the desire to be with him, and yet I could not yet identify the exact nature of that desire. To name it too soon, perhaps, would be to pluck an unfurling lily and watch it wither in one's hand.

Prince Tirian spoke not, but his hand closed over mine. And I knew then that like the reflection of the lily in the pond, whatever mystery was in my own heart was mirrored in that of the Narnian prince.

The hilts of Calormene scimitars are not shaped quite like those of Narnian straight swords, and so the calluses formed by our years of training were in slightly different places. The thickened ridges of skin on my palm rested against those of Prince Tirian’s, not atop them, like two ruby seeds nestled together within a pomegranate.

“Shall we go now to discover what we love best?” asked Prince Tirian.

“Yes, let us go forth,” I replied. “But I believe that it has already been found.”


A Brief History of a Peaceful Reign [excerpt]

Though many theories have been put forth regarding the conspiracy behind the attack on Narnia in the second year of my reign, none have ever been proven. I myself can only account for the discovery of the invasion and the battle that followed, as I have described in these pages to the best of my knowledge and ability. The exact plans of Rishda Tarkaan and the nature of the strange involvement of a group of Dwarfs, the Cat Ginger, and the Ape Shift will probably never be known, for all perished in the battle.

Emeth, who even now is glancing over my shoulder, has just told me not to trouble my noble heart with musings on the treacherous plots of dishonorable cowards. I have replied that I merely wish to ensure that it will never happen again. But it never has happened again, so when I complete this history and set my pen aside, perhaps I can finally take his wise advice.

After Emeth and I discovered the Calormene soldiers disguised as merchants, and after what I hope will forever remain the last battle to occur on Narnian soil, he was bestowed with the titles of the Knighthood of the Order of the Table and the Knighthood of the Order of the Lion. But he did not stay to receive them.

For the first but not the last time, we were parted by honor. I remained in Narnia to investigate what had occurred and defend my land from any further attacks. Emeth took command of the remains of the Calormene army and marched them back to Tashbaan, where he publicly demanded an explanation from the Tisroc himself. I have since heard many accounts of how tall and proud and brave he stood before the throne, while the Tisroc stammered in fear and the courtiers murmured.

Emeth had no intention of claiming the throne himself. He meant only to restore peace between our lands and uphold the honor of Calormen, which he felt had been betrayed. But the courtiers were doubtful of the Tisroc’s attempt to blame the attack on the independent action of Rishda Tarkaan. Nor did they fail to take note of the weakness he displayed under Emeth's stern questioning. Soon thereafter, the Tisroc's own courtiers forced him into abdication and exile, and begged Emeth to take his place. Emeth accepted the crown to avoid chaos and bloodshed, but he kept it by acclaim.

I confess, I often wish that Emeth and I could rule Narnia side by side. But whenever I voice that desire to Emeth, he replies, “And wouldst thou rule Calormen as another Tisroc by my side?”

He speaks the truth. I have a duty to Narnia and he to Calormen, and neither of us could love the other so had either of us chosen to abandon our honor.

But with Emeth as Tisroc, there is amity between our lands. Travel is quick when there are no bandits, hostile giants, or armies to bar the way. And, in a happier irony than most, it is both in times of constant war and lasting peace that kings may often be absent from their thrones, leaving the rule to their most trusted courtiers while they attend to affairs elsewhere.

We do not sit on thrones side by side. But side by side, we hunt and ride, feast and dance, roam the forests of Narnia and explore the cities of Calormen.

In both Calormen and Narnia, Emeth is called “Tisroc Emeth the Peacemaker,” and I “King Tirian the Traveler.” But we call each other Beloved.