TITLE: In a Strange Land

AUTHOR: Elizabeth


DISCLAIMER: I own nothing Narnia. I get no money from this.

SUMMARY: She ought to like Corin best, because right now all she wanted to do was fight, bareknuckled, like he did. She could imagine striking, being struck, pain spicing her fingers, the tang of blood in her mouth.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is my 'Aravis rocks!' story. I think Aravis is my favourite female character in the Narnia-verse, so…This is also the story where I take a canon relationship, and make it seem implausible. Anyway, any mistakes are my own - does anyone know where to find a beta for Narnia fic? - and apologies for same.

FEEDBACK: Would be lovely. Criticisms and suggestions are most welcome. [email protected]


Aravis couldn't help feeling that she ought to like Corin best. Corin was excitable and proud and recklessly brave, and rather easier to understand than Cor. So, really, all this considered, Aravis ought to have liked Corin best. Of course, because people - including sometimes, oneself - are complicated creatures, Aravis found that she had gotten things precisely the wrong way round, and it was Cor who was her favourite.

Which meant that at the moment, the castle was dreadfully dull, because Cor was in Narnia, learning diplomacy. King Lune had sent him to negotiate a trade agreement, which was a mere formality really - Narnia and Archenland had been allies for years. Still, as King Lune said, it was good practice for Cor, "Hast to know the business of kings, when to speak, and when tis wiser to give way."

So, all this meant that, in Cor's absence, Corin rode out most days, getting into twice as many fights and scrapes as he would have if Cor were there, while Aravis and King Lune stayed mostly in the castle, even though Narnia was within easy distance. "I don't understand why Cor won't even see us," Aravis had said, tossing her head. She was rather annoyed, even though she had been pleased at first. Cor at a safe distance was different to Cor unreachable, as she found to her chagrin.

"Tis fitting that he stand on his own feet, speak with his own voice, 'thout fear of others," the King said, with a proud look on his face.

It was after four somewhat lonely days that the Calormene came.

He was a Tarkaan of no small importance, for he rode to the castle, and asked a night's shelter. And even though he was perfectly polite, and used the most beautiful language and bowed graciously, more than once, still, the way he asked showed that he was used to being welcomed and made much of.

It was rather a shock for Aravis and Corin to find him in the castle when they came back from horse-riding. Corin whispered angrily with his father, while Aravis stared at him around King Lune's back. She barely attended to what Corin was saying, too caught up in looking.

" don't trust them. He could have been sent by the Tisroc, to spy on us."

"Or a man in need of a night's shelter," his father returned.

"What is he doing here? Has he explained himself? He doesn't look the sort to be wandering the country for no reason."

"Is't for us to judge?" the King said, and there was warning in his voice. "He has done nothing to damn himself in our eyes as yet. It is for us to shelter the stranger, to share with him our fortune. There has been peace since the time of Rabadash's attack, and I will not be the one who breaks it."

Later, at dinner, in response to Corin's pointed questions, the Calormene said, "There is a saying in my country, that it is a foolish man who never steps outside of his own garden." He gave an elegant shrug. "And I have heard many tales of your country, and the land of Narnia, your fair neighbour. I wished to satisfy my curiosity."

Aravis hardly touched her food, just stared, drank him in like iced sherbet. He was exotic and out of place in the castle, next to Corin and King Lune, yet he seemed to her the only familiar thing in an alien landscape. And although he wore the fashions of Tashbaan in Archenland, it was she who felt outlandish, in her unexceptionable court dress.

After the wine and stilted conversation, he told a story, at the King's polite urging. "Would be most welcome - Aravis has given us a taste for the Calormene tales, and the manner of their narration is of course widely known and admired."

The Tarkaan bowed, and it was easy to see he was pleased. His eyes turned to Aravis for the first time since the introductions had been made, and she felt rather hot and uncomfortable. She held herself still and met his eyes without flinching, though.

So he told a story, and Aravis did not remember the words, did not even listen to the story, but instead drifted away on the familiar rhythm of his speech. She could remember being tutored in the art of story-telling. She had been good at it, and she could remember the irritation she used to feel (would still feel) with pupils who were slow and clumsy in their execution.

After this a silence fell on the company (whatever may or may not be whispered about Calormen, it is true that they have a rare talent for storytelling), and no-one wanted to break the spell of his words. Aravis could smell them in the air, heavy with rich perfume, drifting like smoke around their heads.

That night, she dreamed of Tashbaan, its glittering, rotting magnificence. The Valley of a Thousand Perfumes, the river gardens, the streets and domes and spires of the city whirled together confusedly, and her head ached when she woke. She lay awake a while but finally, she threw off the covers and dressed in the cold morning light.

Because she was clever, and brave and much improved from the girl she had been, she knew that. But she was not patient, and she could not still herself and untangle her thoughts. She hurried to the stables, eager to be riding, impatient for the pure glad rush of doing, that no words, no stillness could equal.

The Calormene's horse was stabled with the others, a handsome white stallion. His belly quivered under her touch and she murmured soothing words to him. He nuzzled oats from her hands, rough tongue tickling her palms. She was startled by the sound of his owner's voice.

"I see my companion pleases you, lady," he said, and made a little bow. "Apologies for my intrusion."

"That's all right," Aravis said brusquely. She dropped her hands and stood with galling uncertainty.

"He is indeed a worthy beast," the Tarkaan continued, and reached out a hand to stroke the animal's nose. "And has borne me patiently on many a journey. He suits me well, though he be not one of your fantastic beasts which have the gift, or affliction, of speech." His smile was curved and sharp as a scimitar.

"They're not fantastical," Aravis said hotly. "They're as real as you or me."

"On your word lady, I doubt it not." She could feel the salt sting of his mockery, and she held her chin up. She was a Tarkeena, and pride, hot and fortifying, rushed through her veins.

"Though it grieves me sadly, I must hasten away and return to my road, cheered by the remembrance of your household's welcome," he said, bowing first, then stepping past Aravis to saddle his horse.

"You're leaving? Without saying anything to King Lune?" Aravis asked sharply.

"My gracious host was already aware of my intentions. Sincerely though I regret the brevity of my stay, pleasure must wait upon past design. As a wise poet once said, 'The man whose mind cannot be swayed is more valuable than a sharp knife.'"

"Well then, I hope you enjoy your journey," Aravis said stiffly and stood aside. Before he mounted his horse, he spared her a quick look.

After the Tarkaan's departure, a restless feeling overtook her. She decided that she was missing Cor. Even though this irritated her, it was nothing to the irritation she felt when Cor returned, and the restlessness persisted. As soon as Cor had been welcomed, and the feast was beginning, she slipped away. She sat in the stables and breathed in the warm, dark smell.

Of course, because Cor was patient, and observant and a good person, he came looking for her.

"Aravis? I wondered where you'd gone to."

She said curtly "Well, you can stop wondering," because she was impatient, and not as good a person as Cor, and because, in spite of her years in Archenland, she still found it easier to understand the irrational anger of Tash than the stern kindness of Aslan, sometimes.

"Father says a Calormene stayed here while I was away," Cor said.

"For a night. How did you fare in Narnia?" Aravis asked.

He made a face. "I felt the most dreadful, ignorant fool. But the High King and King Edmund were awfully nice to me. Queen Susan kept saying I was too young, and not to be too hard on me." He smiled ruefully.

"You'll learn it eventually," Aravis said, but she didn't look at him.

"What was he like? The Calormene," Cor asked, very carefully.

Aravis shrugged. "He was a Calormene. You ought to know - you lived among us long enough." She kept her voice toneless, because the old Aravis was tossing her head, trying to shake off the reins.

"Father said you've been acting strangely since he left," Cor said. "He's worried."

She finally looked at Cor, who met her eyes for a moment before looking away quickly, a flush on his cheeks. She hunched her shoulders bad-temperedly. Why couldn't Cor act as usual around her - why couldn't they be comrades, as of old? Instead, there was this awkwardness, these gliding glances. She had hoped his time in Narnia would settle him.

"I don't know," she said finally. "It was strange, to see one of my people here."

"Your people?" Cor asked.

She raised her eyes to him, daring him.

"You weren't so keen to call them your people when you were trying to escape from them," he said. He sounded annoyed.

"That doesn't mean that I'm not one of them!" she said, turning to face him, more at ease now they were quarrelling. "You're an Archenlander. You always were, even when you lived in Calormen. I'm a Tarkeena, even if I live in Archenland. Even if I never go back."

"Do you want to go back?" Cor asked. His voice was incredulous.

"No, of course not, but "

"Then what does it matter?" Cor asked, in a tone of voice that made it clear he didn't think it mattered at all.

Aravis tried to think of the words. Cor shouldn't need it explained, but then again, he was very different to her. She ought to like Corin best, because right now all she wanted to do was fight, bareknuckled, like he did. She could imagine striking, being struck, pain spicing her fingers, the tang of blood in her mouth. That would be easier than trying to put words on these feelings.

"I'm different to you," she said, and that was nothing at all like what she wanted to say, that didn't explain the feeling the Calormene had made her aware of - of being a burr in the soft coat of a dog, or sand bewildering feet used to grass.

"So? We're different. It doesn't really matter. It hasn't mattered to us - we're still friends."

That was when she gave up, because the words were too difficult. Instead, she said, "I suppose so," and smiled a very little.

Cor smiled back, drinking her in in sweet sticky mouthfuls. At least, Aravis felt, she could end that ridiculousness.

"Did I ever tell you about my grandfather?" she asked. Cor shook his head. She settled herself. "His name was Rishti Tarkaan, the son of Kidrash Tarkaan, the son of Ilsombreh Tisroc, the son of Ardeeb Tisroc who was descended in a right line from the god Tash." The words in her mouth were dusty from disuse. "My grandfather was the youngest of three brothers, and they lived in contentment and comfort until my grandfather reached the age of sixteen years. His eldest brother, a well-intentioned but foolish boy, made an unwise match. He fell in love with a common slave, and more than this - he secretly married her. His father, upon being told of his son's foolish passion, was made angry. The sun appeared dark in his eyes and he cast out his son, without his blessing and without money. My grandfather and his brother were compelled never to utter his name, for fear of rousing their father's anger. Now with the passage of the years, his father grew tired and worried. His fortune dwindled, until it was a mere shadow of what it had been. His father was grieved, and grew ill and died. The remains of his fortune were divided up between his two sons.

My grandfather, in whom the spring of kindness ran deep indeed, fell to thinking of his banished brother. He determined to seek him out and offer him some assistance, ill though he could afford it. But when he succeeded in finding him, his sadness was doubled, for ill-fortune had followed his unlucky brother, and he had followed his father to the resting place of the gods. He had left his wife (who was named Nureesh), and a son. Now, my grandfather, this most gracious of brothers, brought her to his home and welcomed her as he would have his brother - and her gratitude was sharp in her, as a knife. She fell to her knees before him and swore her unswerving loyalty, even unto death. My grandfather held these words in low regard, believing promises from women's lips to be lighter than bird feathers. Indeed, he had his own troubles, for his ventures met with failure, and his fortunes had declined still further. He would sit, late into the night, puzzling over his troubles, with no companion but his dark thoughts.

Now, Nureesh was of a different mind than my grandfather. She was clever and sharp-witted, and she set herself to help my grandfather. She bided her time, and she watched, for she had her own thoughts about matters, and she set her son to spying, for a boy of nine may go unnoticed and hear things that a man may not. Gradually, from what she heard, she came to believe that his steward was dishonest, and the cause of my grandfather's misfortunes. She feigned friendship with his wife, whose rich clothes told the story without words. When she felt secure in her knowledge, she told my grandfather all that she had learned. A dark cloud came over him, for he did not wish to believe what was said of his slave, but there was a truth to Nureesh's words, and he called his steward into his private rooms. Nureesh was worried, for she knew the steward's character. So she hid herself in my grandfather's closet, with a knife clutched to her chest. And indeed, the steward acted just as she had feared, for, when accused of treachery and deceit, he leapt at my grandfather, and would have choked him, but for Nureesh, who sprang from her hiding place and buried the knife in his belly." She stopped.

"And?" Cor asked, after a moment.

"My grandfather, may the sun shine bright on him wherever he may be, dropped to his knees in front of her, and thanked her from his heart. He swore, as she had, his eternal gratitude, even unto death. His fortunes increased from that day, and it was not long before he once again regained his former wealth. He shared his good fortune with Nureesh and her son, who he treated as his own. And he and Nureesh lived out their days in peace and prosperity, in true friendship."

There was silence for a few moments, before Cor said, "They married, of course?"

Aravis shook her head. She did not look at Cor. "No," she said. "Nureesh was said to be an ill-favoured woman. My grandfather married Alesha Tarkeena, the eldest daughter of Sajoshta Tarkaan, the son of Harasta Tarkaan, the son of Daresja Tisroc. They were a very well respected and wealthy family. Many songs were sung about Alesta's beauty."

"I still think your grandfather was a fool," Cor said softly.

He placed his hand on hers, and she knew that she had not said what she wanted to, that it had all become confused somewhere. But then again, she thought, looking at Cor, what did it matter? She was Aravis. She had always been Aravis first, before a Tarkeena. And she didn't care (well, not very much) what anyone else thought of her, especially not a mocking Tarkaan. She knew herself.

And because, (in spite of everything), Cor had always been her favourite, she leaned over, and kissed him. She had always found doing rather easier than saying.