There had been no lady in the court of Anvard since King Lune's wife had died. When Aravis heard it, she thought it sounded jolly: she had come to like Shasta rather a lot (though she had to call him Prince Cor now, which took getting used to) and Corin was an absolute brick, and he promised to teach her how to fight. She had always wanted to and never learned, because girls do not fight in Calormen, even at the utmost extremity of need.
Then, too, Anvard was hardly civilized, from Aravis' perspective. For Archenland and Narnia it was a great fortress, with enough cottages clustering around the curtain wall that it might almost be called a town; but it did not support a community of poets, or musicians, or painters, or sculptors, because in the North nearly every artisan is actually a very ordinary sort of person who pursues their art in their free time. This means that more people get to enjoy Culture, but the overall quality of the Culture produced might seem cut-rate to a Tarkheena. Of course Aravis knew this. Unlike Cor she had planned for her escape to the North, and unlike Cor she had been educated, and knew how to look up things in books. So she had snuck into her father's library and read a fair amount about the way things were in Narnia, and she knew that Archenland was much the same. She had always lived in the country and she had always liked doing country things. As a result Aravis imagined Anvard as a sort of ideal wilderness retreat. If she had come from our world she would have imagined it as a perpetual Girl Guide camping trip.
Her imaginings were wrong. It was nothing like camping. There were just as many courtesies necessary as in Calormen, but they were different courtesies and Aravis had not been trained to them from a child. King Lune was correct in saying that there had no lady in the court since his wife had died, but it did not follow that there were no women. There were many, and she did not know what to make of them. She knew that she could not order them around like a slave at home, but they were also not her equals: she was supposed to be polite to them, in an Archenlandish way, by giving orders couched always as requests. She was very bad at this. It was all right when Queen Lucy was there, who reminded her of Lasaraleen, only much more sensible. When Lucy left, she was at sea.
It was true that Aravis was permitted to learn to fight, or anyway to learn to use a little knife and a bow and to learn how to stomp on a person's tender parts if they tried to grab her. But she had to do it wearing a dress (and a heavy Archenlandish dress at that, nothing like the soft silent silks of Calormen), and when Lord Darrin caught Corin trying to teach her how to punch without breaking her thumb, they were in for a scold. She expected to be beaten, but she was not. Corin certainly was sent to his room without supper. She was told that punching was not how girls should fight, and to "run along now."
Cor found her a half-hour later on the battlements, staring moodily out towards the desert, which she could almost but not quite see through the haze. "Lord Darrin's in a huff," he said.
"I am not ladylike enough for him," Aravis said.
"I thought I knew," she said. "In Calormen I was not ladylike enough either. Surely, I thought, the noble Northerners would rate me by a different measure."
Cor pretended to look out at the hazy greenness of Archenland but snuck a sidewise look at Aravis instead. She was solemn-faced. "It's not just the same here, though," he said. "Nobody wants to marry you off to some old ass of a Tarkaan. And everybody says you're the best thing that's happened to Anvard in ages. Your stories—"
Aravis suddenly laughed at Cor, not unkindly. "Do you think that you need to convince me to stay here? To not go back to O-my-father-and-O-the-light-of-my-life?" She laughed again, this time at herself. "The way I used to talk sounds so stupid now."
"I don't think so," Cor said, feeling that he had to prove his loyalty to her somehow. "I think it sounds nice. Archenlanders just come out and say things, but you pretty them up."
Aravis sneered. "Why would you say something like that? You had it worse than I did in Calormen, and you aren't even Calormene, there's no reason you should feel like you had to defend Calormene things—"
That was the moment, Aravis later said, that she knew for sure that Cor loved her, and that someday they would get married. For nobody else would he ever speak well of Calormen. But at the time all she saw was that he was being stupid, and coddling her in her homesickness, and she was being even more stupid in actually being homesick or anyway in feeling like Archenland had let her down. So they had a fight about it, and then they made up after a few short hours, and Aravis never spoke about being disappointed in Archenland again.
It would be wrong to imply that Aravis did not like living in Anvard, once she got used to it. She did. She found that she was always allowed to ride to the hunt, and she did, and liked it, and was a famous huntress in time. She and Cor fought constantly and happily and she and Corin lorded it over the hold with genial ruthlessness. King Lune might rule Cor and Corin, but no one told her what to do; they suggested things, and she chose whether to follow their suggestions or not. She found that when she was not ordered around, she was much less interested in ordering other people around, or manipulating them into doing just what she liked. It was very pleasant.
Still, it would be wrong to imply that because Aravis did not speak of Calormen after the day she didn't learn to punch, she had forgotten it. Every night for years after she and Cor and Hwin and Bree fled the South, she spent her last waking moments thinking about the way she had parted from Lasaraleen.
Strictly speaking it was not the way they had parted. That had been too madcap and too frankly dangerous to be touching. She relived their last supper together, her last proper Calormene supper, when they had sat in a beautiful airy pillared room in Lasaraleen's husband's house and filled their plates from a shared dish that seemed simple to her but which she knew Corin or King Lune would have considered decadent—chicken baked with onions, sumac, allspice, saffron and pine nuts, over soft flat bread, with mutabbal and labaneh wa za'atar and a tomato salad and kanafeh for afters.
When they were absolutely stuffed Lasaraleen called for a argilah and a silent slave on silent feet had brought it, and they had quietly smoked together for awhile. Aravis thought that they were getting on splendidly when, out of nowhere, Lasaraleen said, "I still think it's a shame for you to throw yourself away on that peasant boy."
"I thought it was a shame for you to throw yourself away on your husband," Aravis snapped back without thinking.
Lasaraleen pursed her lips. "You are the one who is leaving. You are the one who is saying good-bye for ever."
"I think I should go get dressed," Aravis said.
"I think you'd better," Lasaraleen said.
That was all. By the time they were sneaking into the Tisroc's garden Lasaraleen had clearly decided to pretend the exchange had never happened. Aravis knew she hadn't forgotten it, though. She was too giggly, nearly manic. When they parted it was almost a relief. Almost.
This is what Aravis relived each night: imagining what it would have been like to part from her best Calormene friend in a nicer way. Rabadash had cut communication with Archenland and Narnia. There could be no letters, no second chances.
When she became a mother Aravis felt her loneliness more deeply than before. It was not that Cor was inattentive; it was not that she had not made friends in Archenland, or that she had not come to an easy familiarity with her fortress home and her subjects, or that she was not subject to frequent visits from Hwin, the closest thing she had to a countrywoman. It was merely that she missed her own long-dead mother, and she wondered how her brother fared (surely he was grown by now, if he had not died), and she imagined how her many aunts would have fussed over their first great-nephew, and she wondered whether her son Ram would feel strange or special because his skin was darker than his fellows'.
Then too she wanted Ram to have a Calormene education—not only to learn how to sing heroic lays of old Narnia and the death of the White Witch but also to learn how to tell the glorious stories she had grown up on. She knew that if he ever went to Calormen, if Rabadash the Peaceful (now the Tisroc, may-he-live-no-longer) ever died and his heirs opened the path to Archenland, then he would be expected to know the courtesies, to understand how to bow in the Calormene fashion, to not be ashamed to address people in the old courtly styles. No matter that Ram was the Prince of Archenland: one only had to look at him to see that he was Calormene as well.
But Cor's education had begun when he ran away from his adoptive father, and he knew very little of the social arts a Tarkheena learned. Hwin was a horse and had no knowledge of the finer points. And Rabadash still ruled, and there was no trade with Calormen.
Aravis did not think about how much Lasaraleen would have liked Ram, who was well-mannered and understood fully that adults prefer children to be seen and not heard. Lasaraleen had always liked children like that.
She also did not think about whether or not it was disloyal to Aslan, who had gone to so much work to bring her to Anvard, that she wanted to preserve anything from Calormen.
She made a point not to think about these things.
When Lasaraleen was about to be married Aravis came to stay at her house in preparation for her wedding. Together they went alone to the woods for three days and performed the secret sacrifices to Zardeenah, Lady of the Night.
It does not take three full days to perform even the most serious of sacrifices. The Rites of Zardeenah, which are explained to every girl when she reaches womanhood, take fifteen minutes. When the sun set each day, Lasaraleen and Aravis held hands together, and Lasaraleen intoned "farewell, my maiden friend, friend of my childhood; farewell, Zardeenah, Lady of the Night; this will be the third-to-last time I see you," although that was not strictly true. At least, perhaps Zardeenah would never again look in on Lasaraleen: but the wedding was not for another two weeks, and Aravis knew very well that she would see Lasaraleen every day until she was wed, and then at house parties thereafter until they were both grandmothers.
During the day they spent their time playing games they would otherwise have dismissed as childish. They climbed trees (Lasaraleen would no longer admit to anyone but Aravis that she liked to climb trees, but she had always been very good at it) and they wove flowers into crowns for their hair, and they swam in a deep little pool in a glade. On the second day they ate the last of the cooked food they had brought with them from Lasaraleen's house, and they knew they would have to make a fire and cook the next day, but that was exciting, too. When the sun set Lasaraleen and Aravis held hands together, and Lasaraleen said, "farewell, my maiden friend, friend of my childhood; farewell, Zardeenah, Lady of the Night; this will be the second-to-last time I see you."
The third day was different, because they had to gather wood for the fire, and they had to plan things with enough time for the food to cook. This was part of the tradition as well: Lasaraleen was supposed to ceremonially cook for Aravis to practice cooking for her new husband. But Lasaraleen was hopeless at even finding dry enough wood and eventually Aravis had to take over. Lasaraleen focused on arranging herself attractively, making sure her hair spilled over her shoulders just so, arranging the folds of silk around her breasts to make them look like small ripe peaches.
Aravis had built the fire and cooked the meat and was wondering whether the rice had cooked long enough when she realized what Lasaraleen was doing: beguiling her. She had seen her do it many times before. Lasaraleen would act with calculated helplessness, with weaponized stupidity, and bat her eyelashes, and wring her hands, and occasioanlly burst into tears when things seemed to be too, too hard.
The people she usually attempted this trick on were men, and they generally fell for it. But I'm not a man, Aravis thought. I know better than them what she needs.
"I wish I could marry you," Aravis said. "I'd be a better husband than the old goat you're betrothed to."
This was not very fair. Lasaraleen's betrothed was young, as these things went, and a hero who had helped to put down the rebellion in the far west, and by no means ill-favored. But Lasaraleen hardly blinked.
"Darling!" she said, twitching the folds of her dress so they lay as attractively as possible across her slim legs. "Why would you want to do that? Then we would have to be boring, and have babies, and never love each other again."
Aravis was dumbstruck.
"Oh don't look at me like that," Lasaraleen said, and got up from where she had been reclining (they had selected the spot for their campfire largely because it featured a convenient outcrop of rock upon which Lasaraleen could lounge). "You know marriage isn't all that wonderful, or you wouldn't be forever trying to convince your stepmother to give up betrothing you to someone or other."
"I was looking at you like that because you didn't say 'Aravis, you're a girl, you foolish thing, you can't marry me," Aravis said.
"Well you can't, but it doesn't follow that you can't love me, does it?"
And Lasaraleen turned the full force of her sweet smile on Aravis. Aravis melted.
"No," Aravis said. "You know I do."
"Well, then," Lasaraleen said, "come here and kiss me, you lump, stop fussing with the fire, I'll get absolutely fat if we eat like we have, forget about tradition for once."
Aravis came and kissed her.
They did not complete the Rites of Zardeenah that night—unless the Rites of Zardeenah were supposed to be more intimate than Aravis had ever supposed, and more loving, and more sad. Lasaraleen accepted Aravis' worship as though it was her due—and it was, it was, it was. And, surprising, she gave kisses and caresses in return, more and again than what she had received. Aravis had always thought Lasaraleen to be a selfish thing, ornamental and demanding. She knew now that that was not true—not when it mattered.
"Oh lovely," Lasaraleen whispered as she fell asleep, "oh lovely."
But Aravis was awake, and Aravis knew what Lasaraleen refused to see. The next day they would return to the house, and then there would be the wedding, and Aravis would go to the country and Lasaraleen would go to Tashbaan, where she had long wanted to live: they would never again be girls together alone in a wood, not until they were old and had to perform other, sadder rites, at the death of a baby, at the death of a husband. And even that she was beginning to doubt. Lying with Lasaraleen, touching Lasaraleen, bringing her to joy—Aravis had begun to feel herself as a maker, a doer, a mover in the world, even in just a small way. Confidence, that was what she felt: not the false confidence of being a Tarkheena and ordering a slave out of the way, but the true confidence in her own abilities, her own strengths and powers. She had begun to feel that she would never be an old Tarkaan's wife, not at her father's orders, not even were her betrothed the richest man in Tashbaan.
And that meant that she and Lasaraleen were doomed to part sooner rather than later.
"Farewell, my maiden friend," Aravis had whispered into the embers of the fire. "Farewell, friend of my childhood. Farewell, Zardeenah, Lady of the Night. This will be the last time I see you."
Of course it was not. Only Aslan can tell the future—Aslan and, perhaps, Tash the Great and Terrible.
When King Ram ruled over Archenland, his father having died peacefully in his sleep, Aravis had to admit that she had become old. In her mind she was as young as she had been when she set out from her father's house in her dead brother's armor. But now everyone she had grown up with was passing away and beyond. Anvard was full of ghosts.
As time had passed relations between Archenland and Calormen had thawed, especially after Ram took the throne; but as long as Rabadash ruled as Tisroc Aravis knew that she was not welcome in her childhood home. So when he died she was surprised to find that she was sorry—sorry, perhaps, because her last link to youth was severed.
Her last link but one: there was her brother.
He was a patriarch now, a Tarkaan in his own right, and when she received a letter from him she felt no kindred with him. But the letter smelled like attar of roses and told her of the fashions in Tashbaan (as though she cared for the fashions of Tashbaan, after living in the North so long) and spoke of her 'barbarian husband' and she could not read it without tears.
So she kissed her son the King and went back to Calormen.
There is much to say about Aravis' journey. She did not enjoy it. Nor did she find her home unchanged. But these things are not important to the story we are telling. What is important is this: she was welcomed not only into her brother's home but even into the Tisroc's palace as though she had never been banished. She was treated neither as a Calormene woman, nor as a barbarian Queen, and this was rather uncomfortable: no one knew how to address her. She did not mind. It was enough to be left alone to walk in the gardens and the city, to breathe the air she breathed as a youth, to remember what it was like when she was a silly young girl, to wear silk again instead of wool.
It was when she was beginning to wonder whether she should go return to Archenland, when she was walking in the Tisroc's garden and thinking of sneaking out the water gate with Bree and Hwin, that Aravis saw the ghost.
It was a slim girl, just at the age of marriage, with her hair curling out from the voluminous silk scarf that was in fashion in these late and decadent days. It was a slim girl who looked like the past. She sat arranged on a outcropping of rock, just so.
"Las?" Aravis breathed, suddenly feeling her age more than she ever had before. She could not move quickly enough to the girl's side—
It was not Lasaraleen. Of course it was not. It was someone quite different.
"Are you the barbarian Queen?" the girl asked, all earnest innocence.
"I suppose I am," Aravis said. "Or the Queen Mother, these days."
The girl's face lit. "Then I have something to show you—oh, Grandmother will be so delighted—! Oh drat. Manners." She stood and curtseyed, in the deepest and most respectful fashion, and then went on, "O honored Queen from the North, I am Redimeh Tarkheena, sent to bring you news of your dear and old friend, my wise grandmother, Lasaraleen Tarkheena, who even now awaits you, not far from here—"
"She lives?" Aravis could not help but ask.
"Yes!" Redimeh said. "She has spoken often and often to me of you, and told stories; for she thinks mainly of old times now. She has always said that you promised that you would grow old together, and live together as old women, and that you broke your promise, but now that your barbarian husband is dead, and now that your son is grown and a great king, I believe she hopes you might keep it again—"
The child did not know what she was saying, what her grandmother meant, but Aravis did. "I will," she said. "I will, by Aslan I will," and she found herself sitting down hard on the rock, and weeping like a useless old woman, and she did not know how to behave, here in the Tisroc's garden, no longer a Calormene, no longer an Archenlander, and now presented with a way forward. The girl, Lasaraleen's granddaughter, sat down next to her, and held her hands, and pressed them together, and did not seem upset at all that the Queen Mother of Archenland was hysterical as a child; but that did not make Aravis feel any more dignified.
Then there was a soft sound, like an enormous cat, behind them. Had invoking Aslan's name called him? It must have. But why? Aravis was only able to think, scatteredly, that she hoped Redimeh was made of stern stuff. She knew how frightened she had been when first she had encountered the Lion, and she was already on the path to Narnia and the North. What would a sheltered Calormene girl do? What would Lasaraleen's granddaughter think, of the talking Lion of Narnia?
But Redimeh only laughed with delight at seeing an old friend. "Aslan!" she said. "I would not have looked for You now!" Through her tears Aravis watched as Redimeh dared to throw her slim arms around Aslan's neck, twining them in his mane as though he were an overgrown housecat. Aravis had never dared to be so familiar herself—never could imagine daring—and yet—
"Aravis, my child," Aslan said, turning his great head, "did you not think that I came to visit other daughters of Calormen?"
Shame filled Aravis. But there was no lying to Aslan. "I did not," she said.
"Know better now," he said.
"I will," she promised.