Disclaimer: I don't own Narnia or any characters you may recognize from the books or the movies, I wish I did but I don't...
Summary: Aravis' freedom was found in more than the act of fleeing to Narnia and the North.
A/N: This story was requested and fulfills two story suggestions/requests regarding Aravis, her first meeting with Kat (by multiple people) and something involving Aravis, sword training, and Squirrels (by quarterhorseranch), and is part of my A Light in the Darkness universe. Enjoy!
The Freeing of Aravis
Narnia was not the land of ice and demons her countrymen had claimed nor was it very similar to Archenland. There the only true differences were of appearance and clothing and customs. But in Narnia… Even Hwin's stories and traveling in the company of the younger King and Queen had not prepared her for being in Cair Paravel. So many creatures and she knew they would have had their reasons for shunning her as she was Calormene and Tarkheena but the Narnians remained welcoming and kind.
Prince Corin had dragged Shasta off to seek out Shane and Thane, whoever they were, and Aravis had been let to her own devices. She gazed around the busy courtyard where Narnians of all size and species ebbed and flowed like the waves that fanned the beach below. Her fingers sought the handle of her brother's scimitar as a source of familiarity.
"Oh my, that is an impressive sword. Quite big, actually. Are you looking for a place to practice, child?"
Aravis looked around but no one had stopped to speak to her. Then she heard a chitter of laughter rise from the ground near her feet. "Down here, Daughter of Eve."
A large grey Squirrel was looking up at her. He bobbed his head in greeting. Aravis quickly bowed her head. "Pray pardon my insolence, O Master, for I did not think to look more carefully."
"She talks funny!" A small grey head peeped out from behind the Squirrel's bushy tail. "Papa, why's she talkin' so funny?"
"Hush, kit. Have you forgotten your manners already?" The elder Squirrel looked back at her and bowed gravely. "Now I must ask your pardon. Nutsprig is still a very young kit, though, and easily forgets his manners. I am Leaftail, by the way."
Aravis couldn't help smiling at the surprising gravity of the elder Squirrel's mannerisms. "I am most honored to meet you, Master Leaftail and young Master Nutsprig."
Nutsprig peeked around his father's tail again then whispered loudly, "Does that mean hi?"
Aravis giggled. "Yes, Master Nutsprig." The Squirrel kit immediately ducked behind his father's tail again. Aravis turned back to Leaftail. "Is there a place where I might practice? Where I will not trouble anyone?"
The Squirrel bobbed his grey head. "Yes, yes! This way, please, this way! Nutsprig, come along!"
As the Squirrels dashed off, Aravis had to weave through the crowds in order to follow. She lost sight of them twice until Master Leaftail climbed up on a wall and a stack of barrels. Finally, the Squirrels stopped in front of an archway. The clash of weapons echoed from the other side and Aravis hesitated. She had not wanted to gain the disapproval of the army or her honored hosts by fighting openly beside men when it was not in defense of her own life and others. Surely the Queen Lucy was only permitted by her brothers to fight because she had taken a vow as a warrior maiden, wed not to any mortal but to her sword and battle.
Leaftail pointed toward the archway. "Through here is one of the training yards. The soldiers can help you further. Good day to you, Lady Aravis."
Young Nutsprig peeped out from where he had taken shelter behind his father's wide tail again. "Bye, funny lady."
Aravis looked again at the archway and swallowed hard. For a moment she wished she were facing the demon man-wolf from the pass last week. Her thumb traced the hilt of her brother's scimitar. What would Rishti say? He who had taught her in secret how to fight and who had warned her to never be caught at this practice. She did not know for to imagine Rishti's advice in this situation would be like asking the sun how to shine with the pale silvery light of the moon or asking the dog how to meow like a cat.
Still she never felt quite as close with Rishti as she did when practicing with his sword. Squaring her shoulders and raising her chin as though she were about to enter into the presence of many Tarkaans and Tarkheenas, Aravis tightened her grip on the scimitar and entered the training yard. There were a number of soldiers sparring with each other ranging from Tigers and Wolves to the fierce Centaurs. But none took notice of Aravis' presence. She stared like a beggar who had been invited to a sumptuous feast at these most noble of warriors then she caught sight of an astonishing battle. A man (Lord Peridan if she recalled correctly) and a dappled grey Centaur were locked in fierce combat but not with each other, no, they fought together against a woman who would have made the goddess Ishara envious for her skill in battle.
The woman's sword caught Lord Peridan's and she shoved up then hooked her foot behind his ankle, tripping him. Lord Peridan conceded with a nod as the woman tapped his armor with the point of her sword. The woman turned to the Centaur and they began to parry back and forth until the Centaur's attack caused the woman's sword to clatter to the stones. Aravis expected the woman to yield but she only laughed and drew two knives before leaping over the Centaur's next swipe. The battle was short after that but not for the reason Aravis would have imagined were she not witnessing it unfold. The woman brought her knives up, catching the Centaur's blade betwixt them and then shoving up as she darted to the left and then they stopped moving. The Centaur moved his sword to the side with a chuckle, revealing that the woman had placed one knife against his side and the other against his neck. "Yield."
The woman stepped back and sheathed her knives. "Not bad at all. Thank you, Firemoon, Peridan." She glanced at Aravis then approached her, pausing only to pick up her sword. "Seems we have a visitor." Blue eyes flicked to Aravis' scimitar then back to her. "Have you come to train?"
Aravis started. "You are allowed to train with the men?"
The woman smiled. "I train them too. You must be Lady Aravis. I am, well at the moment, I am Dame Sepphora. If you wish to train with your sword, I can arrange for lessons or I can train you myself."
"I- I did not wish to be troublesome or to cause offense to my hosts because I have not sworn the vow of maiden warriors as you and the Queen Lucy have," Aravis said.
Dame Sepphora pushed back a strand of white hair. "We've made vows? That's the first I've heard of it. Lucy may qualify as a maiden warrior but I assure you I do not."
Aravis blinked. "You mean… Your husband permits you to fight as a warrior?"
Dame Sepphora threw her head back and laughed, not the cruel, mocking laugh that Aravis' stepmother had been so want to use when speaking to her, but the sincere amusement a parent might indulge in when a child asks a humorous question. "Oreius permit me!" She laughed again then smiled at her with a conspiratorial glint in her eyes. "Aravis, the only time my husband permits me to do something is when I permit him to permit me to do it."
Aravis could hardly comprehend this revelation. Without doubt it had been her longing for freedom that made Hwin's words about maidens never being forced into marriage in the north and Narnia sound so sweet but for wives to not need their husband's permission to entertain themselves or partake in a particular activity… It was so very different from Calormen. Any of the words she might wish to say were whisked away like leaves in a storm before they could reach her lips. Dame Sepphora smiled gently. "I've confused you terribly, haven't I? Come with me and we can talk."
The woman led her out of the training yard, still clad in her armor and wearing her sword on her hip. But no one looked askance at her. Indeed, most bowed and curtsied respectfully causing Aravis to wonder just who Dame Sepphora was when she was not with the army. In the gardens, surrounded by fragrant flowers, Dame Sepphora sat on a marble bench and motioned for Aravis to join her.
She watched this strange northern woman but found her tongue would not obey her commands to keep silent. "How is it you do things without your husband's permission? Is he not your master?"
"No! No, he is not my master in anything save the times when because he outranks me, he may command in military matters. However, I still only obey if I feel like it." Dame Sepphora tugged off her gloves, revealing two rings on her left hand, and then she shook her head. "There is only One I call Lord and Master and His Name is Aslan. My husband also calls Him Lord and Master. Oreius I may call my lord and husband out of respect and love but he does not own me. We have different roles but that does not make either of us weak or inferior to each other. You are accustomed to a land where the most fortunate woman is one who has been granted the indulgence of being allowed to amuse herself while her husband is busy with other affairs, yes?"
Aravis nodded slowly. Lasaraleen was one of the indulged wives but she knew her old friend would not dream of viewing her husband as less than Master. "In Calormen we are taught from birth that sons are better than daughters, if we are fortunate, daughters are petted and groomed for a fortuitous marriage. My father and older brother doted on me but I knew my place and my duty."
"Yet you fled."
The words were gentle and without sting but Aravis still looked away, feeling the bite of shame. "I do not regret fleeing the marriage to that ape of a man. But I am ashamed for the manner in which I fled and for the grief I caused my honorable father. If only that woman-" She cut herself off. "Hwin told me girls in the north could not be forced into marriages they did not want. Are all marriages like yours?"
"Probably not exactly like mine but no one in Narnia participates in arranged or forced marriages. In Archenland, arranged marriages do occur but if the bride objects to her intended (or the groom objects to her) after they've been granted time together, the wedding will not occur. And daughters are just as much a blessing as sons." Dame Sepphora considered her for a moment. "And you can't be more than twelve, which is far too young for marriage here and in Archenland."
"It is very pleasing to hear!" Aravis declared. She looked around the gardens. "It is often told of how the goddesses married young, save for the maiden goddess Adhara, and that Tash took many goddesses and mortal women into his harem as wives and concubines including his own sister, Zardeenah." She almost stopped but the conclusion she had reached after meeting the Great Lion, after reading about Him in the books Queen Lucy gave her, and after listening to the stories told about Him yearned to be given freedom, to be given the life that saying it aloud and freeing it from the cautious cage of her heart would bestow. "The gods of my childhood are so petty and querulous and it is far easier to gain their wrath than their favor. They have no power, no mercy. They are nothing like the Great Lion, Aslan, He who dispenses punishment but it too is tempered by mercy that is greater than deserved. They are cold, cruel statues unless they are demons for even demons can be worshipped. But they are not truth. I have learned that much since fleeing the land of my father." She lifted her chin so that she might meet Dame Sepphora's eyes, so that this northerner could see the truth in her own eyes. "I am thankful and blessed to have found the Truth that is the Great Lion. Calormene by birth and raised to worship the gods of my father, but by the grace of Aslan, the Great Lion, I have seen His truth and have chosen Him. I am humbled that He would accept me even as the lowliest of His servants for in Him I have already found the greatest freedom because I no longer worship at the feet of cold, capricious gods and never again will I return to them and their blood sacrifices. Why should my pleas fall on the deaf ears of Tash, Zardeenah, and all the rest when I have seen and heard the One who answers the pleas of all people, be they prince or beggar boy, Tarkheena or noble Beasts, who call on Him? Now even though I have neither land nor house, I am free because I, Aravis, now worship at the paws of the One who is Light embodied, who is Truth embodied."
A/N: Please Read and Review! So this actually turned out a little differently than I originally intended because after Aravis revealed her conclusion regarding Aslan and the gods of her childhood (specifically Tash and Zardeenah since they were important in her story prior to meeting Shasta/Cor), everything else that she and Kat talk about was so anticlimactic that it took away from the importance of her sharing this testimony. Eventually there will be more Aravis and Kat conversations/interactions but that is another story. :) Also, the name of Aravis' beloved older brother is never revealed in HHB but I noticed that Aravis' father, Kidrash Tarkaan, is named after his grandfather so I named Aravis' brother after their grandfather, Rishti Tarkaan. Leave a review and let me know what y'all thought about this one.