DISCLAIMER: The Narnia stories were written by CS Lewis, and the bit of poem I nicked near the end was written by Lord Byron.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is what comes of a four hour drive with nothing but the audiobook of The Horse and His Boy for company. If you don't know the text, the novel is set in the Golden Age of Narnia, when the Pevensie children are all grown up.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The day her brother rode off to war Aravis Tarkheena chased after him, sobbing, begging and pleading to be taken with him. "Hush, daughter," her father chided her. "The battlefield is no place for a woman. Be content. Your life will be free of violence and hardship. I will make you an advantageous match, and before I die you will have a husband and scores of children. For as the poet says: The wealth of a husband lies in the mother of his children, and a woman's value is in the sons she bears." Aravis could make no reply.
When word came of her brother's death she wept long and bitterly. Since her mother had been taken by the gods her brother had been her only refuge. It was often whispered on the streets of the city that Aravis was a strange girl - abnormal, wrong. It was no secret that she preferred to dress in the loose, cool clothing of a boy rather than the stifling dresses her father bought for her which seemed to have layer upon layer of unnecessary fabric. Was it wrong to desire comfort over attractiveness, she wondered. Her brother was the only one who took her side. He even allowed her to borrow his clothes when she felt like escaping from their father's palace.
An end was put to that not a week after her brother's funeral. She would not soon forget the beating she received, nor the shame and scorn in her father's eyes when she came back from what would be her last ride through the streets of her father's city. Not long afterwards she was promised to Ahoshta and she felt such crushing despair and hopelessness that she resolved to take her own life.
And yet she did not kill herself. Instead she made a desperate escape across the length of Calormen, through Tashbaan and across the desert to Archenland, in the company of two talking Narnian horses and a peasant boy named Shasta.
The first time Aravis saw Queen Lucy she was gazing into the Hermit's enchanted pool, spying on the progress of the battle for Anvard. Lucy was dressed in armour and mail, armed with bow and arrow and riding a snow white horse. Momentarily, she found herself transfixed. Was it really possible? A woman riding into battle? Her father had told her that she was perverse and unnatural, that the clothes she wore were not fitting for her station and the dreams she harboured were impossible for her sex. Was it possible that she was not, after all, the only girl in the world who did not go weak in the knees at the sight of the latest Tashbaan fashions and had ambitions which extended beyond attending parties and having babies?
She could not dwell on this line of thought for long, however, as her attention was soon swallowed up by the battle and by worry for Shasta. And between the jubilation of Archenland's victory, the solemnity of Aslan's visit, and the shock of Shasta's revelation that his true identity was Cor, the King's son of Archenland, she almost forgot about the mysterious woman on horseback altogether.
All her thoughts came back to her in a rush when she was introduced to the object of her previous fascination in the castle at Anvard. A thrill of shocked pleasure rushed through her body as Lucy cupped her face and kissed her chastely on the lips in a customary Narnian greeting. Aravis had been kissed by a girl before, of course, but always in darkness and in secret, with the fear of being caught turning the sweetness of the moment slightly bitter. She had never before imagined that such things were done in the sunlight.
"You'd like to see your apartments, wouldn't you?" Lucy asked in a voice like tinkling bells. Aravis could not help but smile as she nodded and followed the Queen away. Lucy grasped her hand as they walked. "How does Archenland compare to your home, my dear?" she asked with a smile.
Aravis raised her free hand and caressed her lips which were still tingling from Lucy's kiss. "Very well, oh my queen," she replied.
The apartments were luxurious and beautiful in the Archenlandish fashion, which was all the more exciting to Aravis for its novelty. The bed was a large four poster made with silk and goose feathers, and it dominated the room. Lucy breezed through, showing Aravis all the little touches she had taken great pains to arrange, such as the golden box of spiced Calormene dates by the bed, and the scented Calormene oils in the bathroom. "I wanted you to feel at home here," she explained.
"I already feel more at home here than I ever did in the house of my father," Aravis replied, quite truthfully.
Lucy turned to face her and smiled slowly. "I am very glad of that," she said after a moment. There was a pause of indeterminate length in which Aravis gazed into Lucy's face and felt her heart start to pound. Then the moment was gone as Lucy laughed and swept herself up onto the bed. She patted the spot beside her. "Do come and join me, my dear," she trilled. "I do so want to hear your tale."
Aravis dipped her head and climbed awkwardly onto the bed. She had never before been in a bed so high off the ground. As soon as she was comfortable she crossed her legs in the Calormene fashion and began to tell the tale of her betrothal and escape from her father's house. But before she had spoken a dozen words Lucy placed a finger over her lips, hushing her.
"That is the story of what happened to you," the Queen said. "I wish to hear the story of you."
No-one had ever asked Aravis anything like this before and she was momentarily taken aback. "No one is told any story but their own," she replied eventually.
Lucy paused, and then nodded, folding her hands into her lap. "Yes," she sighed. "You're right of course, my dear."
Aravis felt her heart break at the sudden sadness in the queen's voice and before she knew what she was doing she had begun to speak. She spoke of things which she had never mentioned to another living soul. She told Lucy about her early life, about the difference in how she and her brother were treated even as babies. She told her of her rebelliousness and her dreams for a different future, a different life. She spoke of her mother's death and her father's hardening heart. She told her of adolescent summers at the lake of Mezreel, of Lasaraleen's awkward, secret kisses, of the shock of discovery, the pain of her punishment beatings, and the different, sharper pain of her friend's rejection of her afterwards. She spoke of her despair and hopelessness after her brother's death, and of her disgust for the man she had been promised to in marriage. And as she spoke she realised that all these secret things had been pressing in on her for as long as she could remember and that every word which passed her lips was making her lighter and freer, as if a load were being taken from her shoulders piece by piece. Until finally she was so happy that she laughed out loud and told Lucy of the sheer joy she felt now at being in Archenland, where fathers loved their children and did not beat them, and where women could ride into battle with men, and where Lucy could kiss her in broad daylight and without fear.
When she was finished Lucy took her in her arms and held her close. Aravis pressed her face into the Queen's milky neck and inhaled deeply, allowing the scent to enter her and fill up all the places where shame and fear had used to live. And then Lucy took her face in her hands and kissed her for a second time, just as sweetly but much less chastely.
"You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," Aravis murmured when it was over, leaning her forehead against Lucy's. Lucy laughed.
"I will ask you to repeat that after you have seen my royal sister," she replied. Aravis shook her head.
"There is no more beautiful woman in this world than you," she insisted.
Lucy pushed Aravis's chin up so their eyes met. "I know of one," she said softly.
"Who, my queen?"
Lucy smiled. "You, my love." With that she enveloped Aravis once again in the circle of her arms and placed a tender kiss on the shell of her ear. "She walks in beauty, like the night," she whispered. "Of cloudless climes and starry skies, and all that's best of dark and bright meets in her aspect and her eyes; thus mellow'd to that tender light which Heaven to gaudy day denies."
Aravis shivered. "What is that?" she asked.
"Something from my world," Lucy replied. "Something which reminds me of you."
Aravis frowned. "From your world, my queen?"
Lucy moved so that she could see Aravis's face. "A long tale, my love, one which you will know better this evening. And once you know my tale as I know yours then we will understand each other to the full and we can begin making new stories together. If that is what you want?"
Aravis could think of nothing she wanted more.
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