Aravis grows to adulthood in the court of Anvard, as the ward of King Lune of Archenland.
She takes lessons with Prince Cor – history and heraldry, politeness and politics, and even some swordwork with a faun who comes up from Narnia to look at the Calormene swords gained from Rabadash’s ill-conceived attack. The faun, Lyndark, consents to start Cor in the rudiments of swordwork. When Aravis comes to the first lesson, he regards her with a little surprise and a shrug but says nothing else apart from setting them exercises.
“But it’s just exercises,” Cor says, disappointed.
Aravis rolls her eyes. “My brother used to do exercises from dawn until breakfast. If you don’t have the muscles for swinging a sword, you can’t fight, silly!”
“I’m not silly!” Cor glares at her. “I just...thought it would be a bit more exciting.”
The faun watches this exchange with some bemusement. “Your highness, they tell me you were in the fight outside the walls of Anvard last year. Would you say it was exciting?”
He looks reluctant to admit it. “No.”
“Good swordsmanship has a...joy to it. A beauty. But the situations that require the exercise of such force are never exciting or glorious.” The faun shrugs. “We, here in Narnia and Archenland, do not go to war for pleasure or pride, or for the conquering of lands or the taking of spoils. We lift our swords and draw our bows only when a threat arises, or when injustice requires redress. The shedding of blood is never glorious, and pleasure should never be taken in it. Now.” He looks from one to the other. “Exercises!”
When Lyndark returns to Narnia, however, the Archenland swordsmaster won’t have girls wielding blades in his classes and Aravis is consigned to the schoolroom.
“It’s not fair,” she growls that evening in the royal chambers.
“It’s not ladylike, my child,” Lune says.
“But I’m not a lady of Archenland anyway, so I don’t know what difference it makes.”
“You wouldn’t be learning swordwork in Calormen, either,” Cor points out mildly across the table. “You’d be married off to Ahoshta Tarkaan and bearing his children.”
“I’m not in Calormen,” she reminds him, pushing at him with her bare foot beneath the drape of the tablecloth, irritated by the way he’s absorbing all this when she feels like a river overflooding its banks. “And I don’t know what that has to do with my learning swords-work here!”
Lune sets his palms on the table with a firm and definitive thump. “Aravis, child, listen to me.”
He is not a man of temper, but Aravis can tell that she has sorely tried his this evening. She sits back in her chair and swallows her anger, even as the injustice of it brims within her and tears tremble in her eyes.
King Lune lets out a long sigh, and with it soughs away his ire. “Aravis, you are the daughter of my house, and I love you dearly – yes, even in a temper. But you must understand this. You are not in Calormen, but you are still visibly Calormene. I have adopted you into my house as my own child, but in the eyes of many in the court and broader Archenland, I’ve taken a serpent to my breast.”
“Hush, Cor. Needs must know what is being spread about, else how to fight it?” He looks back at Aravis and his hand covers her. “What they say is not what I believe, of course. Your heart is courageous and your spirit strong. You have brought grace and charm and lightness to this court – and the Lion knows we were in need of it. You renounced your family, your people, your country, your god, and came to live among a people whose ways are strange to you. But you see our hands, eh?”
He stretches his hand out beside Aravis’ hand, the fingers long and pale and with the faint softness of skin at the backs that shows increasing age. And she looks at her own hand, the fingers slender and small, and perhaps a little knobbly at the joints.
“Here in Archenland, many will still see a Calormene first, and a woman of Archenland second – if they see that at all.” His eyes, green-fringed blue, fix on her face, looking for her understanding. “I would have you give them no cause to argue that you are anything other than Archenland, either in court or in commons, my child. Do you understand?”
Aravis wishes she didn’t. “I can’t do anything a woman of Archenland wouldn’t.”
“And what you do must be done better than any Archenland woman does.” King Lune brushes a tender hand over her hair in a way that reminds her of her father’s old secretary, kindly and gentle. “We are changing things, my dear – and they’ll change more once you and the boys go on the tour through Archenland and the people get to see you and know who you are.”
“It’s not fair.”
“I know it’s not. But we are not given a fair life, but are given to make life fair – or, at least, as much as we may this side of Aslan’s Country.” He presses a kiss to her forehead. “Now dry your tears, Aravis, and we shall see if the cook has any sweets for us.”
The tour through Archenland helps a little. People get to see her, the Calormene Tarkheena who accompanied Prince Cor out of Calormen.
Why she’s just like an ordinary girl!
I suppose, although that skin, and the accent is a little odd.
Well, I guess occasionally something good comes out of Calormen after all!
They accept Cor wholeheartedly, though – their Prince, someday to be their King. Of course, Aravis is acceptable, too, for the part she played in his return, for her presence with the Princes, for her manners which are impeccable, if a little peculiar.
Aravis sits up straight and sets her feet on the floor instead of lounging or sitting cross-legged. She doesn’t kick at her skirts as she walks though they hamper her legs. She doesn’t unnerve the people who speak to her by giving them her full and devoted attention.
It helps that some of the behaviours she learned in Calormen are shared by Cor. But he had fewer polite manners to unlearn, and so the Archenland courtesies come more easily to him. And, too, people are more willing to forgive the foibles of a Prince than those of a Calormene, mere girl or not.
It stings. She was born Aravis Tarkheena, daughter of Kidrash Tarkaan, who was descended from a line of Tisrocs that claimed its right of ruling from the great god Tash...
But, no, she cannot say that – not any more. Aravis Tarkheena is gone, and the god Tash is a lie.
She must remake herself anew if she is to live in Archenland.
Only Aravis of Anvard may remain.
As she grows older, Aravis becomes advisor to both King and Heir on matters of Calormen, understanding their mindset and perspectives better, although the details she knows become hazier as the years go by. Still, she comprehends the nuances in the documents that come from Tashbaan which Archenlanders miss – Cor, included.
“Your advice on the trade route was brilliant,” Cor tells Aravis in his father’s study after negotiations in Tehishbaan. “You read the governor exactly right. Once he was in the bidding, his pride wouldn’t let him back out.”
Aravis arches her brow at Cor from her chair. “And you, of course, gave him no leeway to wriggle out.”
“I didn’t need to,” he says honestly. “Your advice had him hooked like a trout.” He sighs as he leans back in the seat and stretches out his legs, still in his riding gear, having only just returned from the Calormene outpost. “Father?”
Lune is looking over the agreements. “You’ve done well, Cor, armed with Aravis’ excellent advice.”
“My lord is too kind.” Aravis uses the silky smooth tone that she saves for courtiers, and smirks when Cor rolls his eyes.
“None of that, child,” Lune sits back in his chair and regards his son and heir. “Now, you’d better get cleaned. There’s a feast and festival on tonight – the equinox – and now that the news will have travelled that you’re back, there’ll be expectation that you’ll come.”
Cor winces. “I’d hoped that, sir, since I just arrived back...”
“You’ve six hours ‘til sunset. Time more than enough to be presentable.”
“I suppose there’s dancing.”
Aravis laughs at the expression upon Cor’s face. As the heir, he’s beleaguered by partners. “If I must dance, Cor, then so must you.”
“So long as you save me the one?”
“I could hardly avoid it,” she says with a smiling and casual wave of dismissal. “Now, go!”
He bows to them both, and takes himself from his father’s study in long strides, leaving a faint swirl of desert dust in the air behind him.
Lune sighs and closes his hand around Aravis’ in a gentle squeeze. “Art glad that you are with us, child.”
“As am I.” A lump rises in Aravis’ throat, and she drops her gaze, blinking the sudden well of tears away. Her voice is steady as she asks, “So, now that’s done, what else today?”
“Naught but preparation for tonight’s feast. Go and see to what needs seeing, then take time for yourself. You’ve been too busy these last weeks, Aravis, and I’d swear your cheek’s more hollow than before Cor left. Go and rest.”
She kisses Lune on his cheek, the soft warm brush of his beard against her lips, and betakes herself out of the royal study. Only once she’s out in the corridors does she allow her smile to fall and permit the fullness in her heart to find escape.
So Lune has noted her busyness these last few weeks? Aravis had thought she’d escaped attention – no difficult thing with the Anvard Council in residence for the spring, Corin deeply involved in his pursuits, and Cor gone.
And that’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it – both figuratively and poetically?
Cor, Prince of Archenland, holds the foolish heart of Aravis of Anvard.
And by the grace of the Lion, he will never know it.
Aravis attends to the last organisational matters of the party. Her manner is known and trusted among the servants of the castle after so many years, and they respect her capabilities and she, in turn, respects theirs. The preparations for food are well on their way, the final decorations in the hall complete, the musicians and entertainments being attended to so they may play with only short breaks through the night. Anvard doesn’t often see such festivities – the Archenlanders are not a people given to regular excesses– but when they feast, it is no small thing.
Everything is in place, so Aravis retreats to her apartments for some reflection time and her own preparations for tonight. In the quiet of her boudoir, she kicks off her slippers and stockings, and curls her bare feet beneath her on the lounge. The book of Telmarine philosophy she’s been reading stays closed on the cushions beside her, and she stares up and out at the sky.
So long as you save me the one?
She would save him them all, were he willing, were it allowed.
A swift, sharp rap at the door of her apartment brings her out of her thoughts. She pads across the carpets barefoot to answer it.
Cor’s changed from the riding gear into light breeches and a shirt, his fair hair still dark and damp from his ablutions, but his smile as easy as ever as he sees her. “I hoped you’d not yet prepared for tonight. May I come in?”
Aravis waves him in, and doesn’t breathe too deeply of the mingled scent of his soap and his skin. “We planned the party without you. Father wasn’t sure you’d make it.”
“It’s no hardship, although I won’t be too congenial.”
“I’ll be sure not to require repartee from you.” Aravis flutters her lashes at him in imitation of the more coquettish girls. “Will give you time to prepare for the chatter the rest of the night.”
Laughter breathes out of him, and he hesitates a moment, then holds a package out to her.
“I...I found this, and thought you might like it.”
When she takes it, a waft of an odd yet distantly familiar scent—
The memory strikes her, a mighty blow of astonishment. Her eyes are wide as she stares up at him, before hastening to the table to lay the package down there and unwrap it with deft fingers.
A master’s workmanship is revealed beneath silk wrappings – a filigree box carved of ironwood, delicately inlaid with patterns of polished stone in the sinuous patterns of Calormene art. The clasp is gold, faintly engraved, and when she flips up the lid, eight small glass vials nestle in padded compartments with a tiny moon-round dish in the centre. When Aravis pulls one out, pale gold liquid gleams through the clear glass on which is inscribed the word ‘oudh’. The oil in the vial trembles with her hand. She puts the vial hastily back into its slot lest she drop it in the throes of her emotion, and pulls another one out halfway – dark gold, inscribed with the word ‘amber’, then slides it back.
“A Calormene perfumerie.”
“My mother had one. She mixed her own scents in the dish... Musk and amber, mostly, but occasionally sandalwood and ylang...” The memories rush back, so old their edges are fragile, more feeling than recollection, like an ancient parchment handled too often. “I don’t...I don’t know what happened to it after she died. I suppose my stepmother took it...”
“Well, now you have one of your own. I saw it and thought of you.” Cor’s smile falters as he sees her expression. “You don’t like it?”
Aravis makes herself smile. “No, it’s lovely. Thoughtful. I— Thank you.”
She steps in to hug him, and Cor’s arms come around her – so easy, so warm, so safe. His childhood gangliness has settled into adult muscle, and his youthful petulance has given way to the nobility and courage that was never encouraged in a fisherman’s son. Aravis allows her head to rest on his shoulder like she belongs there – just for a moment, only a moment. Then she sets her shoulders and steps back, refusing to cling.
“Tell me you didn’t pay a prince’s ransom for this.”
Cor laughs. “Perhaps only half a prince.”
“So, half Corin’s ransom, or half your own?”
“That would depend on which you value more.”
“I could not value either of you less,” she says as her fingers drift over the vials. The lump in her throat stings her eyes, and she swallows it and looks up at him. “Thank you, Cor. It was... I have never received a gift like this.”
“I thought you might wear it tonight at the feast.” He sees the expression she cannot keep from her face and hastily adds, “But it is yours to do with as you please.” He leans in and his lips brush past her cheekbone in a brotherly kiss. “I’ll see you later.”
She sees him out, closes the door behind him, and rests against it. Her gaze is drawn to the perfumerie on the table, a gift of incalculable price to her, above and beyond what Cor paid for it. Aravis would give every jewel she owned, every dress in her wardrobe to be able to wear this perfume tonight, but she cannot.
This perfumerie is a personal gift – Cor cannot know how personal else he’d never have bought it. For this blending of oils and scents, a Tarkheena does not employ servants or slaves, but makes up her own private scent. And whether she wears it in a crowd or in her own chambers, she wears it for her lover – the man who claims her body.
It’s not spoken of outside Calormene noble households, and as it is, it’s hardly known of within them. For Cor, of all men, to have bought this for her, given it to her is terrible irony. If she still believed in the gods of Calormen, she would say that they her mock tonight.
Aravis Tarkheena might have worn the gift of perfume from the man she loved; Aravis of Anvard cannot.
Aravis attends the feast in her usual clothing, her usual jewels, her usual scents, just one more lady of Archenland. She keeps an eye on the food, on the musicians, on the guests, as is her responsibility as hostess. She dances with the knights and nobles, and laughs with the other daughters of the court, and no-one knows how her heart weeps.
“And aren’t you fine feathers and a hollow smile, tonight?” Corin says when she partners him for a dance. He dances well enough – all those lessons – but it’s not his comfort. But he comports himself creditably enough. “Hast caught a man in your eye with no taste for your charm? Tell me his name and I’ll box his ears ‘til they ring!”
She laughs at his offer, serious and teasing both. To do anything otherwise would betray what she strives to hide. “Just weariness. This festival has worn me to a fray.”
“A fray, you say?” Corin smirks. “I’m all up for fists and a fray!”
“You’re all up for a fool,” she retorts.
“Nothing new there,” says a new voice. Cor taps his brother on the shoulder. “Leave off hassling Aravis with your fighting footwork.”
“And put her in your hands?” Corin glances at Aravis. “What say you, little sister?”
Aravis hesitates. Cor is frowning slightly at his twin. She shrugs. “He dances better than you and teases less. I’ll change the one for the other.”
“Hah! Such high praise and yet such low standards!” He bows mockingly to his brother, and transfers Aravis’ hand to Cor’s before slapping Cor on the shoulder and stepping away.
They move back into the pattern of the dancers again.
Aravis feigns attention to the moves of the dance. Although the brothers are built much the same, Aravis is achingly aware of the breadth of Cor’s shoulder, the warmth of his hands, the jaw by her temple, in a way that she was oblivious to in Corin’s arms. She is flame and ashes at his touch, hot and cold, burned through to her bones.
“You’ve been popular tonight,” he says. “Never a dance I could cut in until Corin.”
“I promised you one,” she reminds him. “And you’ve been busy too.”
Plenty of young women have clamoured to catch his eye, pretty and clever and charming and cunning, and more than one would make a fitting wife for the future King of Archenland.
It is a simple truth, but a bitter one. She has renounced all else, but she cannot renounce the blood running in her veins. She is born out of the line of Tisrocs and Tarkaans, blood of Calormene rulers who have laid siege to Archenland by means both foul and fair through the ages, and she may not lay claim to Archenland’s heir.
Cor laughs, a swift huff of exasperation. “Hunted, belike.”
“With all of them?”
“No.” He sighs a little. “Not all.”
Aravis looks up at him and steels her heart against what must be said. “You know your responsibilities, Cor. You can’t escape them. At least find a woman who will carry your burdens and whose burdens you can carry in return.”
“If she will let me.” His lashes drop like a surrender. “Wouldst see me married off as much as father’s council, Aravis?”
“Yes.” She allows herself no hesitation, no demurral. “And happy with it. The one need not obstruct the other.”
“I could not ask you to choose for me?”
He is teasing, but the horror of such a task nearly steals her voice. “No,” she says, struggling to be anything more than flat and hard in that moment. “Not for all the perfume in Calormen.”
“Ah.” Cor winces. “A sorry man I am to have added to your burdens. A brother as unkind as Corin, to plague you with my troubles and to lay them upon you.”
Tenderness curls tight tendrils about her heart. This is what she loves about him – his willingness to be wrong, his ability to see her pain, the thoughtfulness that permeates their interactions.
“Your troubles are no burden, Cor. But the woman who shares your life must be your choice.”
Aravis looks up at those soft words. She thought she heard despair in his voice, but he is looking out across the room, his gaze distant before he seems to draw himself together and his eyes meet hers. After a moment, Cor nods, a rueful half-smile stealing across his lips.
“You are right, of course, Aravis. I shall take your advice, starting tonight.”
Tonight is sooner than she wanted, but if needs must happen, then her heart must grow hardened to him.
“And you?” He looks down at her, intent and kind. “Is there here tonight a man who might carry your burdens?”
There is one such here, in my arms. But that she cannot and will not say. “Is it conspiracy that you and Corin have both so inquired tonight?”
“Say, rather, concern for you. We...we would see you loved by one worthy to carry your heart, Aravis. That’s all.”
“Your concerns are so noted.” Aravis laughs a little and hopes he does not hear the tremble beneath it. The dance is ending, the musicians slowing the measure, and when they walk from this floor, nothing will be as it was. “If there is one such, he has not yet revealed himself.”
“I hope there is one,” Cor says, his voice gentle. “For your sake, I would have it so.”
The music ends. Cor bows to her, and she curtsies to him. And Aravis thinks of the boy who stood at the gates of the Hermit’s garden, awkward in his finery and his movements as he bowed in the Archenland style, while she curtsied in the obesiance of the Calormenes. They were children then, with little understanding of the world.
They are children no longer.
He leads her from the dance floor, to the friends she indicates, and every step they take divides them further from each other and those long ago children.
When Cor brushes his mouth across her knuckles, she holds herself still and smiles her thanks, and turns away so she doesn’t have to watch him go.
Hwin comes to visit in late spring, bringing her mate and her foals with her.
“To show them what lies beyond Narnia,” she says. “And warn them of what may happen should they stray too far.”
They watch the foals gambol in the meadows just beyond sight of Anvard, playing games with Hwin’s mate, Trew while Hwin and Aravis sit with the oats and apples and the repast packed for them by the castle.
The horse looks at her sideways, a tilt of the great head expressive enough. “And you’ve yet no mate of your own?”
“They say Prince Cor will take a bride before the summer’s end.”
Aravis focuses on the flowers she’s been braiding together in her lap. In the last weeks, Cor has been moving through the court, speaking with the young women there, seeking out a wife. The nobles are delighted with his interest, and the politicking, while hardly cut-throat, has become excessive. “It is his father’s hope.”
“But not yours.” Hwin nudges her shoulder. “You’ve always been close, Aravis.”
“Close like siblings.”
“Close like people who’ve lived in a different world for a time.” Hwin shakes her mane. “The way Bree and I share the experience of slavery in Calormen that others in Narnia don’t. But you've always been...closer, you two young ones.”
“That was a long time ago. And...” Aravis feels her throat close. “He’s a prince and an Archenlander here. He’s important.”
“You’re the king’s ward.”
“I’m a Calormene,” she says, and hot tears splash her hands. She dashes the sign of weakness away. “Daughter of Tisrocs, one of them. ”
“Do you believe Cor thinks that? King Lune?”
“Sometimes I think it would be easier if they did.”
Hwin nudges her shoulder again, then slides her jaw along Aravis’ neck in a horsey caress that accepts, understands, soothes. Aravis swallows her tears and leans against Hwin’s neck.
After a while, Hwin says, “I think you should come back with us to Narnia for the summer – maybe even into the fall. Somewhere where you’re not Calormene or Archenlander, just human. And it would get you away from the court.”
Aravis runs a hand along Hwin’s jaw, rubbing the length of it. “You would let me come back to Narnia with you?”
“Of course.” Hwin sounds surprised, then makes a noise like a laugh. “You’re my human, after all – what could be more normal? There’s an old dwarf hut a little way away – that's shelter for you, and there’s the dryads and a naiad down by the stream. Only it wouldn’t be very fancy...”
“I can survive without fancy,” Aravis says, thoughtfully. “I could even camp if needed...”
“Aravis! Aravis!” A young foal trots up, a dapple with dark stars across his withers. “Have you finished the wreath! You have! Oh, it’s pretty!”
She holds up the garland. “Come here and bow your head so I can put it around your neck, then, Hruu.”
“Oh,” says the foal, dancing sideways. “It’s not for me. I wanted you to put it in your mane, because I think your hair is like the rivers of night, and the flowers would look like stars floating in it!”
Aravis stares, touched by the child’s words.
Hwin laughs, a great whinny of delight. “Stars in the river, indeed! Well done, Hruu!”
And nothing will do for the foal but that Aravis crown herself with the daisies in the meadow, “Like one of the dryads,” says Hruu’s sister, Sina, as she kicks up her heels. And both foals are thrilled when they hear Aravis might come to stay with them – a delight that surrounds her as much as Hwin’s offer and Trew’s affirmation.
“So you’ll come back with us to Narnia?” Hwin asks as they walk back.
“Yes, I’ll come,” Aravis says. “If you don’t change your mind.”
Hwin puts her face right up in Aravis’, the way she did the day she revealed what she was – the day she changed Aravis’ life. “You are welcome with us at any time, Aravis. Any time.”
She flings her arms around Hwin’s neck and is grateful for the acceptance and the certainty.
Trew and the foals have moved on ahead, and Hwin and Aravis follow after, shoulder to shoulder as they take the curve of the path. The castle rises up before them, warm and solid above the lawns verdant in bright spring bloom. Behind it, forest rustles in the winds coming down off the hills at its back. Aravis looks at it with an ache. It’s been her home these last seven years and she’s never been away longer than half a moon cycle. Now, she’ll be gone for moons and moons, away from King Lune, and Corin, and Cor...
Hwin nudges her shoulder. “Someone’s on the lookout to see that you made it back.”
Aravis shades her eyes against the midday glare, and sees the bright glint of sunlight off a fair, bare head, high upon the gatehouse, looking down along the road.
She lifts a hand, and sees him wave back in reply, and now the thought of leaving Anvard darkens the skies. But Aravis knows she must learn to live with the ache while she’s away, and maybe when she comes back, she’ll have made peace with loving Cor.
The rising wind catches her hair then, sifting through the loose mass of it in a floating cloud of strands which she hastily captures before they tangle. She left her hair tie in the field, and the pins she used to hold her hair up are in the small bag which Sina is even now carrying up to the gates of the castle. Instead, she coils it around in a rope, pulling it over her shoulder for the walk up to the castle gate where Cor is come down to the courtyard, the castle dogs yapping as Hruu and Sina frisk among them.
Aravis’ face heats as his gaze flickers over her hair. Loosing one’s hair in Narnia is commonplace, but Archenland women confine their hair, whether pinned and piled, or beneath coif, wimple, or veil. Yet when he meets her gaze, he smiles, and his eyes rest on the circlet of daisies. “The crown suits you.”
“It was my idea!” Hruu says proudly, prancing around before his sister sidles him nearly into the water trough.
The siblings skirmish, until they have to separated by their father. And King Lune comes to see what all the noise is about, then laughs heartily as Hruu takes refuge behind Aravis, pushing his head into her back like a sulky child, while Cor asks about the state of the hill pastures with an eye to letting the sheep crop there before discussing the state of the passes between Archenland and Narnia with them.
“We saw nothing that required clearing on our way through,” Hwin is saying. “Even on the highest passages there was no trouble for the children.”
“It was so easy a human could easily do it!” Hruu noses his head under Aravis’ elbow. “So Aravis will have no trouble when she comes back with us!”
The silence that falls is sharp and immediate. Cor stands up from rubbing down one of the dogs, and King Lune turns to her.
“What’s that?” A concerned frown furrows his brow. “Art leaving us, child?”
Aravis pushes her hair back over her shoulder. “Hwin has invited me to stay with her for the summer. With the business in Tehishbaan completed, there’s not really any need for me here in Anvard, and it’s been years since I visited Narnia...”
“By yourself?” The furrow in Cor’s brow is the match for his father’s, and Aravis meets his gaze squarely.
“I’ll be with Hwin and Trew and their herd.”
"There are also a few dryads in the area, a naiad and a river-god down by the creek," Hwin offers kindly. “She won’t lack for people around.”
“She will be as safe as any of our foals, your Majesty, your Highnesses,” Trew assures them.
Aravis looks to her foster father. His expression is...worried, and perhaps a little sad. “Aye,” he says after a moment. “Of late, it’s nagged me that we’ve asked too much of you, my dear. You’re growing thin and weary, and my heart is sore at the sight. 'Twill be sorer when you’re gone, but... Aye. You’ll go and come back to us with a glow in your cheeks, and a spring in your step.”
She hugs him, grateful for the grace, relieved takes the press of his lips to her forehead as benediction and doesn’t look at Cor.
In deference to the Narnians who accompanied Hwin and Trew to Anvard – the centaurs, fauns, and talking beasts, this evening’s party is held out on the lawns around the castle, with torches flaming high on the walls, and small gleaming candles and lamps hanging from the boughs of the trees.
There is wine and laughter and gossip and society, and Aravis moves among both human and Narnian, seeing to the comfort of the guests and pausing to speak with friends and acquaintances alike. The news of her trip to Narnia has spread through the court, with most people expressing disappointment that she won’t be in Archenland for the summer, and a few managing to imply that she’s being sent away or banished – although for what, Aravis can’t imagine.
“I’d hoped you might come to visit us out west.” Jens of Westreach offers Aravis a glass of wine in a quiet moment. “You were amenable when we talked of it last winter. Although,” he admits, “everything is amenable in the winter, so long as one isn’t cooped up in one place.”
Aravis laughs. “It’s only a summer, Lord Jens. I’ll be back in the autumn.”
“Perhaps you might visit then?” The young man’s eagerness lingers in his voice, in the way he looks at Aravis. “I should like to show you the Westreaches sometime, my lady. We’re not as elegant as Anvard, but there’s a…a fierceness of spirit that I think you’d enjoy.”
There’s an appreciation in his eyes, and a hopefulness in his mien, and Aravis is not immune to it. Someone to know her and to bear her burdens, Cor said, unaware of her personal pain, and yet providing a solution all the same.
“Perhaps when autumn comes,” she says to Jens, open to the idea, but making no promises.
The young lord accepts her reluctance to commit and doesn’t try to convince her, but instead discusses the happenings on the edge of the western wastelands, a topic that's become of interest to her.
For the last two years, Aravis has been watching the shift and drift of tribal politics and movements in the western wastes, seeing small and subtle maneuvrings in their decisions. She has expressed her suspicions to both King Lune and Cor that the Tisroc has been encouraging the predations of the grasslands tribespeople on Archenland's western borders, and with their approval spoke to Jens about her concerns. Thus far, he has been willing to give credence to her thoughts, even as he encouraged her to come and witness the situation for herself.
In Jens there is a calm acceptance of Aravis' knowledge of politics, and his respect gives weight to the admiration he seems to hold for her. A few years older than her, he's already experienced at his duties after his father suffered a falling-down and has been slow in recovery. Under all circumstances, it might be an admirable match.
If the young lord of Westreach is interested in more than just her concern over the tribes of the wastes, there is no reason Aravis would not consider his suit, apart from that he isn't Cor – and there is no help for that.
Eventually they are joined by others, Lord Jens is drawn elsewhere, and the conversational currents shift – further discussion of Aravis' impending trip to Narnia, the matter of the missing rulers, and the question of governance of Narnia now that the land sits fair and unruled. A few voices, however, speak less of alliance or governance and more of conquest.
"We've more mouths to feed than ever these last few years, and there's land for the farming right there--"
"Land which belongs to Narnia and the Narnians," Cor says, coming up alongside Aravis. "Not to Archenland."
"With all due respect, your highness, the Pevensie rulers have been missing these last six years and show no likelihood of return..."
"Then let the Narnians themselves cast lots for a ruler. Archenland will not provide them one." His voice doesn’t waver, and a wave of pride washes over Aravis. It’s one thing to declare intent, it’s quite another to defend it.
"Does Archenland have no desire to maintain its borders, your highness? With every year that passes, the Ettinsmore giants grow more restless. Should they or the witches of the north start into Narnia, where might it stop? The bandits of the Westreaches have grown bold in the last few years – raiding up even into the mountain passes, and there is always the Calormen Empire waiting. What then, if Calormen should sail to Narnia and take it by sea? We should be crushed like a bug between two palms!"
“As to Calormen, Archenland still holds the agreement with the Tisroc and Prince Rabadash.”
“And yet it is through Rabadash that we know the word of Calormenes is not to be trusted.” The speaker glances hastily at Aravis. “Excepting my Lady Aravis here.”
Her throat is closed, her flush high, even if it doesn’t show on her skin. She can make neither protest nor counter-argument – nothing but nod stiffly in acknowledgement of his exception that is no exception, but merely the modification of a slur.
Cor's gaze narrows and he reaches out and closes his hand over Aravis’. Her treacherous heart leaps, but if her fingers flex against his, he gives no sign he’s noticed as he addresses the elderly lord. “If you’ll recall, I also was brought up in Calormen. If Prince Rabadash’s word is untrustworthy, then so, too, is mine. Either way, Archenland will hold true. We do not aspire to become empire – my father and I are agreed on this.”
There is but a little protest after that, and it is swiftly headed off by others who change the topic, or excuse themselves, leaving Cor and Aravis alone. She frees her hand gently from his.
“Stupidity,” she mutters. “He would defend Archenland’s acquisition of Narnia by making Calormen the exemplar.”
“There are always warmongers among us.” Cor reminds her. “They need no excuse to act.”
“So long as they don’t act as Rabadash did – against honour and treaty.” Aravis still remembers the proud and angry man she saw but twice – once by torchlight in the Tisroc’s palace, and the second time here at Anvard. Neither time showed him to advantage, and she trusts not his promise of peace one inch.
“They know Father’s thoughts on the breaking of honour. And mine also, now.” He looks at her. “How are you doing now, Aravis? I saw your discomfort, even if I dared not address it.”
Aravis touches her palms to her cheeks, no longer hot with shame and frustrated anger. “It is a foolish thing to feel so strongly. I do not think of myself as Calormene anymore, and yet…”
“And yet,” Cor agrees, and she is reminded of Hwin’s comment earlier: like people who’ve lived in a different world for a time. He regards her a little more soberly. “Lord Jens—He was not bothering you before?”
“No. We spoke mostly of the Westreaches. He was disappointed I would not be coming this summer to see the tribespeople myself – you recall that Father wished me to confirm my suspicions.”
“Yes, I recall.”
“Jens has some thoughts on the tribesmen and their movements,” Aravis offers, looking for the young lordling in the crowds, feeling Cor’s gaze upon her, thoughtful and unnerving. “You should speak with him tonight.”
“Aravis,” his voice is intent. “Whence came this decision to go…?”
“Aravis!” Hruu pulls up alongside her with a whicker and a flick of his tail. “Mama says we have to go to bed now, and you said you’d tell us the story of Caszhi of the Shinar!”
Aravis looks at Cor, both helpless in the face of the foal’s enthusiasm, and relieved not to have to answer his questions. He waves a hand. “Go. We’ll speak later.”
“Sorry, your highness! Come on, Aravis!”
She glances an apology at Cor and follows the foal through the crowds, wondering why Cor’s words sound like both a threat and a promise.
Hours later, long after the guests are seen to their beds or out to their tents, Aravis finds herself too restless to sleep.
She told the foals the story of Caszhi, a human girl, and a group of native Narnians who tried to steal the wand of the White Witch some fifty years ago. The girl and her companions failed and many Narnians gave their lives for the remnant to escape, whereafter the young woman vanished in the company of Aslan, leaving the remainder to spread the story of what happened. Aravis heard the story that first summer in Narnia, told her by the centaurs, one of whose ancestors witnessed Caszhi walk off with the Great Lion, never to return. It was told by the centaurs as a tale of valor and courage, and as a reminder that failure need not be the end, merely a pause before regrouping.
Afterwards, she returned to the party to complete her duties as hostess. She avoided Cor and his questioning looks and his questioning gaze, and turned aside the queries regarding her removal to Narnia in the summer with a light laugh.
But after she’s prepared for bed, an energy hums in her blood at odds with sleep.
She throws on a warm robe, takes a treatise from her desk, and pads through the silent and still halls of the castle to the oratory, the white stone cool and brilliant in the moonlight. There, she wraps herself in a fur throw, and sits cross-legged on the lounge by the window, the lantern hung overhead to cast warm light down on the papers so she can read them.
In spite of the party earlier tonight, it’s peaceful here, sitting by the window, looking out over the moonlit landscape. Aravis finds herself relaxing into the quiet of the night and the sounds of Anvard castle, the occasional creak, distant voices murmuring, and footsteps passing by the oratory. She tries not to think about how she’ll miss it when she’s gone to Narnia, to the Westreaches, to somewhere that she can let her heart heal.
The tap on the door is unexpected and she starts half-up, before she sees who it is.
“You weren’t in your rooms,” Cor says as he enters.
And he looked for her all the same. “I’m surprised you found me.”
“You are usually here or the library, and with the moon riding high, here seemed more likely.” He sits down beside her on the lounge, stretching out his legs on the footstool. “How long have you been planning to run away to Narnia?”
“Only since this morning. And it’s not running away.” Aravis feels the need to say that. She gathers the papers of the treatise together, lining up their edges so they sit neatly. “I have no marriage to run from this time.”
“So sure of that?” Cor is watching her. “Jens of Westreaches spoke well of you when I spoke with him. And he asked… He asked about the dispositions and agreements regarding you, should you choose marriage at any point.”
So she was right about Jens’ intentions.
Someday, Aravis supposes she will be glad of that. Right now, with Cor sitting by her, she only manages a shrug. “He is...kind. A good man. It would not be a terrible match.”
“And is that all you seek, Aravis? A husband that isn’t terrible?”
“What else should I hope for?” She says it lightly, but the bitterness rises in her like a tempest. “I am a Calormene woman in Archenland, Cor. Though I live here a thousand years, still I will be a Calormene woman in Archenland: untrustworthy in my skin, with only my interpretation of all things Calormen to bring value—”
“Not to me!” Cor sits up and turns to her, his mouth pinched at the corners, his expression stricken as he looks at her. “Nor to Father, I assure you. Aravis, you cannot believe—”
“I do not!” But it’s not just him and King Lune who matters – they’re not themselves but a country, too. “But what you see when you look at me is not how others see me. I am marked Calormene by my own flesh and bone, my body a treachery that can never be forgiven.”
“And I can be forgiven all of it, for being their Prince.”
“For being of Archenland.” Her mouth twists. “The guilt is not yours to bear, Cor. We are who and what we are – blood of Archenland kings and blood of Calormene tisrocs.” For a moment, she smiles in faint, sardonic amusement. “Do not the poets say, That which cannot be changed must be endured; for all things pass in time, and the rock today is the sand of tomorrow?”
He doesn’t flinch at her use of the Calormene idiom: “I know that the poets say, A woman of wisdom is beyond price, value her above jewels. And that it doesn’t say anything about her blood or the colour of her skin.”
Cor watches her steadily for a long moment, the moonlight falling athwart his face, silvering his hair and sharpening his features. And Aravis is silent because she can’t think of what to say – everything seems either flippant or inadequate to her feelings.
“When I came back from Tehishbaan, you said that you wouldn’t choose me a wife.” Cor bows his head and the Adam’s apple bobs in his throat. “And yet I would choose you a husband. Someone who would smile when you come barefoot to dinner. Who’d let you loose your hair, to bind it only with flowers. Who’d find you by moonlight and talk treatises and politics and Calormene poetry. A man for whom you’d wear the perfume I gave you.”
Aravis stares at him, her heart drumming in her flesh as Cor looks up at her, naked longing, bitter resignation, and a deep and terrible tenderness. “I’d choose for you a husband who could love you and cherish you, Aravis. Who’d carry your burdens as you’d carry his, and not add to them.”
She swallows her disbelief and denial to ask, “And is there such a man in Archenland?”
“At least one.” Cor doesn’t look away from her, although a faint darkness washes his cheeks. “Jens of Westreaches might make two. Either way, I’d choose for you a man whom you loved as he loved you – a man who was worthy of your love, not merely an ‘adequate’ husband.”
Her thoughts are awhirl, such that the silence around them seems oppressive, in need of breaking. Aravis fixes on the thought that lands clearest in her mind.
“Why did you give me the perfumerie, Cor?”
Cor drops his gaze for a moment. “Because the box was beautiful, and I thought of you. And the seller said…” His eyes lift to hers. “The seller said it was an appropriate gift for a Tarkheena to whom one wished to show regard.”
“You couldn’t have perhaps used words to show your regard instead?”
“I should have. But you…you’ve always had to be careful, Aravis. I didn’t want you to feel obligated or trapped. I didn’t want you to feel you had to leave Anvard to avoid me.”
“I’m not going to Narnia because of—” Except she was. Is. Maybe. Aravis feels her cheeks and throat and nape heat as his expression changes – realisation and hope dawning bright and bold.
She looks him in the eye. “I wouldn’t choose your wife, Cor, because I’d sooner scratch out her eyes.”
“Then choose yourself,” he says softly. He shifts off the lounge and kneels on the floor before her section of the couch, his hands upturned on the edge of the seat cushion in supplication. “Don’t go to Narnia. Choose me, instead.”
“I can’t.” Aravis doesn’t move. “Cor, you’re the prince of Anvard, and I’m of Calormene blood.”
His visage darkens. “You’re no more Calormene than I. And I need a wife who knows what it is to live on the border of worlds – even as I do. A wife who knew me before I was a prince; who would see me happy married off to someone else.” His gaze is bright, even in the darkness. “Was that a lie?”
“You said you’d see me happy with another man,” she counters sharply. “Was that?”
“When I believed I was naught but a brother, a man who could only bring trouble for the woman he loved if he dared to reach beyond his grasp, yes. I would have given you into the keeping of someone who could carry your woes and bear your burdens, Aravis.” He reaches out and takes her hand, lacing their fingers together and not letting her go. “But turn to me and speak truth now. Do you love me?”
“Yes, or no. ‘Tis not a difficult question.”
“When the answer holds weight for Archenland, it is!”
“I love you, Aravis of Anvard. Do you love me – yes, or no?”
Looking into Cor’s eyes, Aravis realises that, in the end, the answer is simple.
“Yes,” she says quietly. “Yes, I love you, Cor of Archenland. And yes, if you will have me, I will take me a husband whom I love. One who was worthy of my love even when he was a fisherman’s boy who didn’t know he was a prince.”
Joy washes over his face, a vivid delight in her declaration.
He leans in towards her, his face angling up to hers, and she leans down to meet him halfway...
Mouth against mouth, the first touch is hesitant and questioning, learning how something as simple as a kiss works. Aravis opens her mouth a little, and their lips slide against each other – a soft delight that catches her breath – and his, for he breaks the kiss. Their gazes meet, startled and pleased, and this time when lips meet, they are both smiling.
Cor’s hand curls around her nape as he angles his mouth deeper into hers. Dizzied, Aravis brushes her fingertips along his jaw, across the light roughness of his cheek, and up into the light silk of his hair as their kisses grow deeper, more sure. When they break apart, Cor presses his forehead against hers and strokes his hand over her loose hair.
“I am yours, and you are mine.”
“Yes.” Aravis closes her eyes, listening to the sound of their mingled breaths, rough from arousal, but close and present, possessing and possessed.
“Tomorrow, we tell Father.” Cor murmurs against her cheek.
Aravis shivers, uncertainty creeping back in again. “Cor, what if he doesn’t like it?”
“Then we make for Narnia and the north?”
She laughs as he doubtless meant her to, but swiftly sobers. “Cor, I’m still going to go to Narnia with Hwin and Trew.”
He rears back. “Aravis—”
“I promised Hruu and Sina,” she tells him. “And I will keep my word.”
Slowly, the concern on his face eases. “Will you pledge your troth to me before you go?”
“If Father gives his blessing.”
“He will.” Cor buries his face in her throat. “I think Father guessed how I felt.”
“He knows.” The pained note in his voice suggests his twin has been vocal on the matter. “He's given me no rest about it – pointing out every man in the court who looked sideways at you, or the ones you spoke with, asking what I'd do when you left Anvard or worse - married someone in the court...”
Aravis thinks of Corin’s arch query at the party after Cor returned from Tehishbaan, and wonders if Corin guessed her own heart’s turmoil. He may play the younger son, but he’s more than sharp enough to see the shape of things.
“And you paid him no mind?”
“All I could think was that you’d consigned me to another woman; like I was a dress that wasn’t to your tastes.”
She trails her fingertips down his shirtfront. “It wasn’t a question of taste, Cor.”
“I know that now.” He brushes a thumb over her lower lip and watches her face. “You will come back to me from Narnia?”
Aravis presses her hand over his heart, warm and sure beneath the shirt he wears – a heart that beats for her. “I swear it.”
One afternoon in the autumn, after the summer’s harvests are gathered in, and before winter closes the passes through Archenland, Aravis of Anvard marries Cor of Archenland. The pledging is undertaken before a great gathering of witnesses both Archenland and Narnian, and although there are some mutterings that the prince has taken himself a Calormene bride, they are few and frowned upon.
And all through the evening, a subtle blend of jasmine, amber, and chypre wafts through the gathering, mixed from a small ceramic dish, worn by a woman for the man she loves.