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After the Battle

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What came next surprised Shasta as much as anything that had ever happened to him in his life. He found himself suddenly embraced in a bear-like hug by King Lune and kissed on both cheeks. Then the King set him down again and said, "Stand here together, boys, and let all the court see you. Hold up your heads. Now, gentlemen, look on them both. Has any man any doubts?"

And still Shasta could not understand why everyone stared at him and at Corin nor what all the cheering was about.

~~The Fight at Anvard, The Horse and His Boy, CS Lewis


 

The cheering went on for quite some time. Corin, who was a prince and used to being the center of everyone's attention, grinned and even waved, though he had no more idea what was happening than Shasta. Shasta, though, had never in his life had so many people watching him at once (especially fully armed northern people, as well as quite a few Talking animals and some other creatures that he couldn't even name), and quickly began to feel awkward and even a little frightened. He shoved his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders, and although this gesture did nothing to hide him from the crowd, it did serve to alert King Lune of his discomfort. The King spoke quickly to two men beside him. One nodded and hurried off, but the other stayed as the King approached the boys and laid one hand on each golden head.

"We will speak of this in a while, boys, when I am able to get away from this sorry mess. In the meantime, go with Lord Ker and do as he says." Lord Ker nodded kindly at Shasta, while Corin sent up a protest.

"Father, no! I want to stay! I—"

"Go with Lord Ker!" the King insisted, looking suddenly very stern, and Corin subsided, though he did not look very happy to do it. King Lune ruffled both heads, then stepped back. "He will take you inside and be certain neither of you have taken much damage from your adventures," and here he gave Corin a hard look, which affected the prince not at all, "then you will go and clean up. Stay in your rooms, Corin, until I arrive, or wilt be in greater disgrace than thou art already!"

The prince seemed unconcerned by this dire warning, but he did follow Lord Ker without any further protest, dragging Shasta along with him. Shasta was happy to be away from the crowd, and at any rate thought that he would like to sit down for a while. The events of the day were beginning to catch up to him, and his legs felt rather as if they might collapse beneath him at any moment. Lord Ker led them through and around the remains of the battle, the milling soldiers and the fallen ones and those who were only wounded but still waiting to receive treatment for their injuries. They went through the courtyard and through a large door into the castle, and Shasta found himself quite suddenly inside the largest building he had ever seen.

The castle at Anvard (and indeed most northern buildings) was nothing like the buildings of Calormen, and especially not like the huts and other rural village structures which were all Shasta had known until very recently. The palace in Tashbaan, which he had seen only from a distance, may have matched it for size, but the similarity ended there. The smooth, polished marble of Tashbaan served both for beauty (and the city of Tashbaan was very beautiful) and to keep the occupants within its walls as cool as possible in the desert heat. The builders at Anvard had not been so much concerned with beauty, and although the solid granite was not unlovely, exactly, it did not draw the eye. Tapestries and carpets lined the grey hallways, however, adding color and warmth and describing tales of Archenland's past people and victories. Shasta was in awe of the huge castle, and spent most of their walk to the infirmary with his mouth hanging open. It was not very polite, perhaps, but Lord Ker was too intent on delivering his charges to notice, and Corin didn't care. The young prince kept up a running monologue throughout the halls, telling a combination of stories about the tapestries and the castle itself and his own exploits in it, none of which he finished before starting on the next, so that when they finally reached their destination Shasta knew very little more than when they had started.

Lord Ker delivered them into the care of a bustling matron in the infirmary, then disappeared back into the halls of the castle. The matron found an empty spot in the busy rooms and sat them both down there before hurrying away again. She returned shortly, bearing water, salve, and bandages (as anyone could see that neither of the boys was seriously wounded and required nothing more), and tended to the various bruises and scrapes sustained during the battle. She spent a great deal of time staring at Shasta as she did so, and Shasta spent a great deal of time looking anywhere else. Corin, who seemed possessed of an endless capacity for speech without any accompanying need to breathe, continued his chatter throughout the process. Shasta was glad of this because it gave him a focus beside his own exhaustion and confusion (although he found afterward that he didn't remember a thing the other boy had said). The matron finished in short order, and with a final stare at Shasta, left them in the care of two men who appeared just at that moment.

Corin was, apparently, familiar with one of them at least. This turned out to be Tyren, the young prince's long-suffering valet. Tyren hustled Corin into the hall before him, scolding over everything from the prince's participation in battle to the state of his clothing to the missing tooth and remains of the black eye from Corin's adventures in the streets of Tashbaan. Shasta watched nervously, not sure whether Corin was truly in trouble and definitely not wishing to be so himself, then glanced back to Tyren's companion, who smiled gently.

"I am Brelin, young master," said the man, offering a shallow little bow. No one had ever bowed to Shasta, but Brelin obviously considered this a necessary part of their introduction, so Shasta supposed it was all right. There was something about the man's face that he liked almost immediately, and he offered Brelin a shy smile as he slid off of his seat. Brelin's own smile broadened, and he motioned after Corin and Tyren. "I am sent to look after you this evening."

This surprised Shasta—no one, not even the fisherman who had raised him and who he had thought until recently was his father—had ever 'looked after' him. He wasn't sure what this might entail, though it sounded faintly ominous. Corin had already disappeared, however, and Shasta didn't want to be left behind. The prince was the only person he really knew in Anvard, after all. Hoping they might follow, he nodded. "I'm Shasta."

"I am most pleased to meet you, Shasta."

And the man seemed to really mean it, though Shasta wasn't sure why.

Brelin steered him into the hall, and Shasta was glad to see that they did appear to be following Corin and Tyren, though the two had gotten somewhat ahead of them. They eventually came to a set of rooms which Brelin informed him were the prince's own. Shasta hoped that Corin wouldn't mind, as this seemed to be their destination as well, but the prince was already stripped and settled into a hot bath in a low side room, fighting Tyren's attempts to scrub him and therefore not paying any attention at all to Shasta's arrival. A second tub of hot water sat off to the side, and it took Shasta a moment to realize that it was another bath, and it was meant for him.

Shasta had never had such a bath in his entire life. Washing had, for him, always meant scrubbing with water from the donkey's bucket, or even in water from the sea—though that was salty, of course, and didn't always work out very well. Even in Tashbaan, in the company of the Narnian lords and ladies, he hadn't been properly bathed, as there had been too much else afoot for anyone to take much notice of his state of cleanliness—or lack thereof. He had washed his face and hands there with scented water, but that was all. Here, though, was an entire tub of water, steaming and full of soap bubbles and big enough for him to sit in it.

Fortunately, baths never having been an option for him, Shasta didn't realize that many young boys do not enjoy them (even with Corin complaining next to him - Corin had not stopped speaking since they had entered the castle and Shasta was already learning to tune him out). He removed his clothes, which Brelin took with a grimace, assuring Shasta that he would 'see to' them. The man's eyes moved over Shasta's prominent collarbone and ribs as he spoke, and Shasta thought that there was something like sadness in Brelin's gaze, though he couldn't be certain and didn't spend too much time thinking about it. Instead he climbed over the side of the tub and sank into the hot, soapy water.

It was heaven. Shasta had never even imagined that washing could be so wonderful, and would have fallen asleep there and then had not Brelin suddenly attacked him with a scrub brush. That was not very pleasant, and Shasta voiced a few protests of his own before the man was satisfied that all the dirt (and possibly several layers of skin) had been removed. Then Brelin started on his hair, and scrubbed it with soap four times before he was finally done. By this time, Shasta had begun to form a different opinion about baths, one not so very different from Prince Corin's. Before letting him out of the tub, Brelin cut his hair as well, then scrubbed one final time. Shasta had never been more glad in his life to be out of the water, and thought that it must by now be almost midnight. In fact, the bath had lasted nowhere near so long, and Tyren was still struggling to scrub Corin's neck while Brelin was briskly drying Shasta with the thickest, most comfortable towel that Shasta had ever seen. Then the man brought loose, comfortable clothes that were soft and warm against his newly-cleaned skin. Shasta guessed that these must have belonged to Prince Corin and knew a moment of anxiety, but as there seemed to be no choice in the matter he decided that there was no point in worrying. This was, in fact, the correct decision, as Corin was a generous boy and would have happily offered his new friend the use of any of his things, had anyone thought to ask his permission ahead of time. As it was, Shasta was dressed before the prince emerged from his own bath and Corin never even thought to wonder about the source of Shasta's night clothes.

Brelin tutted over the fit of the clothing, folding over the waistline of the pants and measuring the amount of extra fabric before finally pulling the drawstring tight so that they did not slide off of Shasta's hips, which were far bonier than Corin's. Shasta paid no attention to this, as he had caught side of a feast laid out on the table in Corin's sleeping chamber. Actually, it was nothing close to a feast, merely a hearty evening meal fit for boys who had spent the day in physical exertion and would be sleeping soon after supping, but Shasta was not used to seeing so much food in one place. To him, it seemed that all the edibles of Anvard must be laid out before them. Brelin guided him out of the bath chamber and sat him down at the table, and Shasta was deep into his meal by the time Corin finally emerged, cleaned and dried, to join him.

The prince fell to as well, and for once both boys were silent as they ate and servants came to remove the bath water and set the bathing room to rights. Just as Shasta had finally decided that he might explode if he ate a bite more, and wondering where he might curl up to sleep off his exhaustion and fine meal, the door opened and King Lune entered.

"Father!"

Corin jumped up from the table, and flung himself into Lune's embrace. The King patted his son's back and asked after his health, although the infirmary had sent Lune a report several hours before to reassure him that neither boy had sustained any serious injuries. Corin shrugged off the question and immediately launched into a detailed account of the day's exploits, following as the King moved to join them at the table. Lune sat, listening as the prince's words tumbled over one another, but his eyes found Shasta and remained there. Shasta, for his part, didn't understand why the King of Archenland should be so interested in him, and found the kind gaze disconcerting. He spent several minutes studying the rich carpeting beneath his bare feet, until finally King Lune gently broke into Corin's monologue.

"I am most glad you are well, my son, though we will speak further in the next days about your disobedience to King Edmund and your participation in the battle. Wilt have consequences, do not doubt." Corin sighed, and might have protested had Lune not continued on without giving him any opportunity. The King, it seemed, knew his son as well as any other. Lune leaned back then, and took both boys into his gaze. "Wonder you not, boys, what is the meaning of this—that the two of you are so alike in appearance, and that the sight of young Shasta brings such joy to my heart and to the hearts of all our people?"

Lune's embrace and the cheering army had indeed been much on Shasta's mind in the past hours, and understanding that the King finally intended to offer some explanation for these events, Shasta looked up from the carpet. He found his gaze locked with that of the King, and looked quickly away again. Beside him, Corin shrugged.

"It is quite uncanny, isn't it? I couldn't believe it, when I saw him in Tashbaan. I wanted him to stay, it would have been great fun, but he couldn't, of course, not with everything happening. I still don't know how King Edmund could have truly mistaken us, because Shasta's skin is far more tanned than mine, and his hair was longer before Brelin cut it, but—"

"Corin," King Lune interrupted gently, and something in his voice caused the prince to fall silent, obedient for once. Shasta felt the weight of the King's eyes on him again, and then the man sighed. "You were born not alone, my son, but as a pair. Brothers—twins." A frown furrowed Corin's brow at these words, yet even so his eyes began to sparkle as they darted toward Shasta, who sat silent beside him. "When you were still very young, however, one child—Cor, the eldest—was abducted from this castle and spirited away. We gave chase, but were unable to recover the child … until now." Shasta's head jerked up at these words, and he stared at the King, uncaring that Lune would surely find him rude. In fact, the King did not find him rude in the slightest, but caught and held his gaze so that Shasta could not look away. Buried in the depths of those eyes was joy and sorrow and merriment and a deep, aching sort of longing, and Shasta knew that his understanding was not wrong. King Lune believed him—Shasta, the poor fisherman's son—to be his own lost flesh and blood.

The son of a king. Him. It was ridiculous, unbelievable—and yet looking at Corin, so like him, Shasta found that he could not say a word against it.

Beside him, Corin gave a great shout and clapped Shasta's shoulder. "I say! Isn't this a fine lark? How did we not guess it, there in Tashbaan?" Of course, there was no real reason that they should have guessed it, during their one short meeting. After all, no one expects to find that they have a missing twin somewhere in the world, and so they don't tend to watch for that kind of thing. Corin, however, did not wait for any sort of answer from Shasta, but instead turned a puzzled glance on his father—their father. "Why did you never tell me of this, Father?"

Shasta, for his part, was finding it somewhat difficult to breathe. Remembering Arsheesh, remembering the fisherman's temper and harsh expectations, Shasta was not sure what this news might mean, or whether he should be glad of it. He was determined, though, that somehow things would be better with this father than with the last. Clutching at the formal respect of his childhood, for lack of a better plan, Shasta scrambled to his feet and bowed at the waist. "O my father …"

"Cor." Lune's fingers on his chin startled him, and Shasta jerked away. The King pulled his own hand back, and Shasta looked up into his … his father's distressed eyes. "Need not bow, nor speak so formally to me. Thou'rt my son, must call me simply 'father' … if indeed thou wishest to address me so."

From King Lune's expression, Shasta saw that his new father very much wished this, and he was surprised to find an answering desire rise in his own heart. Slowly he nodded, and the King smiled.

"Very good." The merry eyes twinkled, then Lune's forehead creased yet again. "I suppose, though, that you are not used to answering to your true name." The King eyed Shasta. "Wish you to remain Shasta, my son? It is not a name of Archenland, but we will understand and honor your choice, if you do not wish to use your given name, after so many years."

It was obvious to Shasta that Lune preferred 'Cor'—as of course the King would, having himself chosen the name—and Shasta, for his part, didn't mind. He had never been particularly fond of his name. In truth, it had always seemed to him more like the name of a fizzy drink than that of a boy. He assured King Lune (his father, he reminded himself again) that he did not mind the new—or rather, the old—name, and in less than five minutes, Cor was even thinking of himself as such, happily leaving 'Shasta' behind. That settled, Lune turned himself to Corin's question, and to the tale of all that had happened after Cor and Corin's birth and the Centaur's prophecy, through Cor's kidnapping. (This, however, is all told in The Horse and His Boy, and so I will not tell it here.) Both boys were amazed by all that had occurred, and keenly disappointed that they had not been given the opportunity to grow up together. (What fun we might have had!, Corin exclaimed, and though he truly meant, What trouble we might have caused!, not even the King himself wished it otherwise.)

After that tale had been told, King Lune turned his own questions to Cor's life—to his growing up and to the adventures that had brought him eventually to Anvard. Cor tried very hard not to say too much of Arsheesh or of his life with the fisherman. It seemed best to leave it all behind him. It is certain, though, that his father understood far more than Cor said aloud, and it is also certain that it is just as well Lune of Archenland never had cause to meet Arsheesh the fisherman. The King did not comment on this, however, and Cor spoke on, none the wiser. After hearing and discussing Cor's adventures across Calormen, through Narnia and Archenland, and to the present time, and after further discussing what would come for Cor over the next several days, Lune finally declared that the hour was late and that it was far past time for children to be in their beds.

"Not yet, Father!"

Corin protested, but the King hushed him immediately, hinting that complaints now might very well affect whatever consequences were already awaiting the prince—the youngerprince, we must now say—from his actions of earlier in the day. Corin fell mostly silent, grumbled only slightly, and allowed Lune to kiss him before crawling under the covers of his fine, large bed. Cor hovered uncertainly, not sure where he was meant to sleep, but Corin's head popped back out from under his blankets.

"Can he sleep here tonight, Father? Until he has his own bed?"

As this was just what Lune had planned, the King agreed immediately, and Cor—somewhat bemusedly—allowed himself to be tucked into the other side of Corin's bed. The King wished to embrace his newfound son yet again before departing, but Lune was also wise enough to understand that Cor would not yet be comfortable with such a show of affection. He limited himself, therefore, to ruffling the boy's hair and placing a gentle kiss on Cor's forehead before dousing the lamp and leaving his sons to their rest.

On any other night Corin might have chattered until dawn. It is likely, in fact, that he had intended to do just that when he offered to share his bed. The day's activities caught up to the younger prince quickly, however, so that he was asleep even before the King left the room. Cor was left to himself in the darkness and silence, and it became soon apparent that he was not to find sleep so easily. In fact, recent events and all the day's startling revelations swirled fiercely in his head, giving him a headache and making him slightly panicked and leaving him wide awake although he wanted nothing better than to sleep for the next week. After lying quietly beside Corin and staring into the dark for who knows how long, Cor decided that he couldn't stay still for one more minute and wondered if exploring the castle might not be a good way to make the night move along. He slid out of bed, being careful not to wake Corin—although the younger prince would likely not have wakened had yet another battle been joined. He was, I am sorry to say, even drooling on his pillow as Cor slipped out of the room. Corin was not a boy to do anything halfway, and if he was going to sleep, he would do the job properly.

Cor had no place particular that he wanted to go, and didn't know where anything in the castle was even if he had. King Lune—his father—had told Cor where his own rooms might be found, just down the hall from Corin's, but Cor did not feel at all comfortable with the thought of disturbing the King's sleep. He went the other way instead, padding softly through the castle, turning corners and climbing stairs until he was quite lost. He ducked into shadows and doorways in order to avoid being spotted by the passing guards and any others who still hurried about the hallways, not wishing to be discovered and sent back to lay awake in bed for the rest of the night. Finally, though, when two groups seemed likely to meet right where he stood and discover him no matter how still he kept, he turned the handle of a large oaken door and slipped inside the room, closing the door softly again behind him.

The room was unoccupied, so of course no torches were lit. The moon shone bright through the large window, however—the heavy drapes had not been pulled that night, what with everything else that had been happening—and Cor could see that he was in a library of sorts. Right now, given his doubts and fears about all that was to happen to him now that he was a prince and not just a poor fisherman's son, this was exactly the wrong sort of room in which to find himself. The poor boy stared at the rows of books which he could not read and wasn't sure that he would ever be able to, feeling more overwhelmed than he had ever been in his short life. Then he climbed into the nearest large chair, curled around himself, and burst into exhausted tears of the sort which he had not cried since he was a very small boy.

He had not cried for very long, however, before something heavy landed on the cushion beside him. Cor jerked, startled, and was amazed to see the very cat which had kept him company in the tombs outside Tashbaan during that long, frightening night that now seemed to him many years ago. He was the Lion, too, Cor reminded himself, the Lion Who chased us and Who talked with me on the road and Who saved me when I was a baby and might have died. Right now, though, in the dark and in the middle of a good cry, Cor was too tired to care about these things, too drained to be afraid or curious or to wonder what it all might mean. He was just glad of the company.

"What are you doing here?" he murmured, stroking the cat's soft head. It purred, pushing its nose into his hand, and Cor pulled the cat into his arms so that he might continue his sobbing against its sleek fur. The cat, which really was a very large cat, wrapped itself around the boy, and purred deep in its chest until the vibrations worked their way into Cor's mind and heart, calming him so that he at last lay silent in the chair, his head pillowed on the cat's soft flank. He was even drifting toward sleep when the library door opened and a torch appeared, casting a warm, flickering light across the floor and his chair (which was very near the entrance).

It was King Lune, and his eyes widened at the sight before him. The cat looked upon Archenland's King, fixing him with dark, deep eyes, then rose and stretched, gently untangling itself from the half-sleeping boy. It leaped from the chair and wound its way through Lune's legs before vanishing into the shadows. The King watched, awed, for of course he recognized the great Lion, no matter his appearance. Then, he shook himself and turned back toward the miserable little figure in the chair. His heart moved with pity, Lune set the torch in a bracket and then knelt before his newly-found son.

Cor stirred with the movement, and saw through sleep-fuzzed and swollen eyes who approached. He struggled upright, wiping an arm across his tear-stained face, wondering if he would be in trouble and if he should apologize before he could be accused. "O my—"

"Cor."

Lune took the boy's head in both of his hands, and such was the gentleness in his touch that Cor closed his eyes, relaxing into his father's hands. Two fresh tears escaped.

"Father."

The King rested his forehead against Cor's, and for a long moment they were still and silent. Then Lune sighed. "May I join you?"

Cor hesitated, but found that he didn't really mind. In fact, he was strangely glad to see his father, even though he had intended his wanderings to go unnoticed. He nodded and Lune rose, settling beside Cor onto the large chair (it was really what we would have called a loveseat, though of course Cor didn't know that term, and there was more than enough room for them both). They were silent again for a while, while the King lightly stroked his son's fresh-cut hair and Cor sniffled the last of his tears into submission. Finally, Cor asked, "How did you know I was here?"

"I asked Brelin—he is to be your valet—to check on you throughout the night." The unexpected and somewhat ridiculous thought that he was to have a valet almost distracted Cor from the rest of his father's words. "Hast been a hard day, and I was not certain how you would sleep. When he found you gone, we began to check throughout the castle. Twasn't difficult to track you—many had caught glimpse of you, and in fact some were already on their way to alert us that they had seen you far from your brother's rooms."

It seemed that Cor had not remained as unnoticed as he had thought. "I am sorry."

Lune's eyebrows rose, and he rubbed Cor's shoulder. "Do not be. Hast done nothing wrong." The King took another long, deep breath that seemed to come from the very center of him, then added, "But if in future you find yourself disturbed, or frightened, or needful in the night, for whatever reason, you must come and wake me. It is why I told you where I sleep—would not have done so had I not meant you to make use of that knowledge." Lune leaned his head back against the chair. "Wilt be different here for you, and may be hard at first, but know that I will always be here to help you."

This father was so different than his last. Cor wasn't certain that he would be able to make himself wake Lune in the night, even if the King told him to—but he wanted to believe that he could. In any event, now was not the time to argue. His father's bulk beside him was warm and … and comforting, and the flickering torchlight lulled him, and Cor allowed himself to sag against Lune's broad arm.

"Don't know if I'm smart enough, not to learn everything you say I must."

The words were jumbled with heavy fatigue, but the King understood. He moved slowly, unwilling to startle the child, and put his arm about Cor's thin shoulders. "Art very smart, my son, and must not think otherwise. I have no doubts. After all you have done, this new challenge will be naught compared to what you have already accomplished." The King cupped Cor's head, and laid a kiss on the boy's hair. "I am very proud of you, my son, and I love you, and naught will change this—but I know that your fears are groundless."

"But what if they're not?"

Lune chuckled, the rumble soft and deep beneath Cor's ear. "Then wilt love you still."

"You won't box my ears?"

The King went very still beneath him, then shook his head slowly. "Nay, wilt not." His voice was deep, and tight with some emotion that Cor did not recognize. "Shalt never find my hand raised to you in anger—it is not something that you need ever again fear."

That was a nice thought.

Perhaps, he decided, closing his heavy eyelids, this was all really real—perhaps he had truly landed on his feet here, in this place with these people. It was not how his life usually went, but would it hurt to believe that this time things had changed for the better? Cor, who had spent his childhood wanting little more than an even mood from the fisherman and a dry place to sleep in the stable, suddenly wanted this fiercely - this new home and new family and new life. He didn't even care that he was suddenly a prince. He just no longer wanted to be alone. Cor relaxed further, and the King tightened his hold, and the boy welcomed it. After Aravis came - if she decided to come - everyone important to him would be here. For the first time in his life, he could be really be happy—even if he did have to learn how to read.

"Art safe here, my son, and well loved." The King's voice threaded through the last of his waking thoughts. "Sleep now."

Surely reading couldn't be that bad, anyway.

Cor had never before been held close by anyone. The quiet of the library was less intimidating, tight in the King his father's embrace. The exhaustion which had lurked so near all night closed about him, and somehow the lessons and fears of the past fled. Cor gave himself over to sleep, slumping bonelessly against the King's soft bulk. Lune took up once again his rhythmic smoothing of Cor's hair, and there is little doubt that he took as much comfort in the action as did his son. The day had been a trying one for more than Cor.

All was silent around them then, save for a soft rich voice at the very edge of Cor's hearing that breathed his name ... and though he was sure the cat had quite gone, its warm nose yet brushed his cheek.