this is my first fic. Aravis is one of my favorite characters of The Chronicles of Narnia since i first read The Horse His Boy i've been bouncing around ideas of what it must have been like for Aravis on a daily basis. that's kind of what happens here. it's set on the day that Aravis attempts to kill herself, though it never quite gets there, focuses a lot on the younger brother mentioned in The Horse His Boy. i named his Ilsombreh, after one of his ancestors. anyway, it's a short piece. okaygo.
oh, right, disclaimer stuff. um, C.S. Lewis', not mine, don't hurt me.
ps: to my awesome first reviwer, ice73, anyone else wondering, Aravis does attempt to kill herself in The Horse His Boy. when she is telling Shasta Bree her story, she tells them that killing herself was her original plan to escape marrying Ahoshta. Hwin stops her from killing herself reveals that she can speak, i think most of you know how that story goes from there.
The sun has yet to rise over the fields surrounding a Calormen farm. A brown mare raises her dripping mouth from the stream that winds for miles from the outskirts of Calavar to connect to the great river that surrounds Tashbaan. The mare shakes her head, ruffling her mane, and looks back over her shoulder toward the open field. In the grey light that precedes dawn, a slender figure in Calormene armor slashes a scimitar at an unseen enemy. The warrior charges and dodges an invisible attack, exercising expert footwork on the uneven soil of the field.
The early morning is silent but for the harsh breathing of the warrior and the gentle rush of the stream. The birds and workers have yet to awaken, but their arrival draws nearer as the day brightens around the mare and her master. The mare whinnies in a gentle sort of way and the soldier stops with the scimitar raised overhead, ready to deliver a deathblow. The warrior glances up at the pale sky into which the pink of sunrise is beginning to seep. The scimitar slides noiselessly into its sheath as the warrior approaches the mare, unfastening the pointed helmet that completes the soldier's ensemble.
"Good timing, Hwin," the warrior says to her mare. She fastens the helmet to the side of Hwin's saddle and unties her hair from the knot on top of her head. Her hair falls in long dark curls to her elbows. The curls float on the surface of the water as she kneels by the stream, dipping her hands in to bring water to her face. Splashing her face, she opens her mouth and catches the water as it runs down from her forehead, tasting the salt of her sweat. She plunges her face into the stream, gulping the cool, sweet water, until the mare nips lightly at her shoulder. Reluctantly, she rises and takes off the armor that was clearly designed for a larger shape than her own. Stripped down to the simple dress of a peasant girl, the slender warrior packs the armor into bundles and secures them to the mare's back. In a fluid motion, she mounts the mare and urges her into an easy gallop away from the fields. As they reach the dirt road that leads to the heart of Calavar, the first bird of the morning sings a clear, welcoming note.
The gates of the large house in the center of Calavar are just opening as Hwin and the warrior approach. Lesser nobles watch from their windows as the girl streaks past them, her hair strewn out on the wind like a comet's tail. The mare gallops through the open gates of the house of Kidrash Tarkaan, the lord of Calavar. The warrior barely waits for the mare to stop before dismounting. A groom catches the reins of the mare and steadies her while the warrior collects her bundled armor.
"Good morning, Tarkheena," the groom says, bowing his head. The Tarkheena strokes Hwin's neck affectionately and walks wordlessly from the groom to the doors of the great house.
It is a tall, sprawling house of white stone, surrounded on all sides by a high white wall. The house appears to be a structure carved from a single block of stone, the seams of joined walls cleverly hidden by Calormen's best architects. The Tarkheena walks swiftly up the steps of the house and through the doors without a glance at the house or the guards who bow from the threshold. She moves quickly and quietly down the cool, dark hallway, her soft shoes making little noise on the marble floor.
"Aren't you up early today?" a voice from behind asks, startling the Tarkheena. She turns slowly and smiles in relief when she sees the speaker.
The secretary is one of her favorites, like a second father to her. She rushes forward as he begins to bow and stops him, smiling up at him.
"O my uncle and O the delight of my eyes," she begins warmly. "How many times must I tell you that there need be no unnecessary formalities between us?"
This secretary had been a part of the Tarkheena's life since she was born. He had been a source of continual comfort throughout her years. Even the term "uncle" seems too distant for the closeness she feels to him. The secretary smiles at the Tarkheena and instead nods in greeting.
"Your stepmother is awake, Aravis." The secretary speaks in a soft voice and his eyes twinkle conspiratorially. "May I recommend the back staircase?"
Aravis smiles gratefully and squeezes the secretary's arm. "Thank you, uncle." She takes off quickly through the doorway behind them and rushes to the back stairs.
Aravis is safely engaged in her bath when her stepmother comes to call on her. Aravis' handmaidens say nothing of her early morning ride. Though Aravis has never been particularly kind to her servants, the stepmother has been particularly cruel and the servants rarely find just cause to be loyal to the stepmother. Aravis can hear her stepmother's voice at the door. It is high and cold, full of forced politeness as she asks about her stepdaughter's whereabouts.
"O my mistress, the Tarkheena is having her morning bath and does not wish to entertain anyone during its progress," one of the handmaiden's tells the stepmother.
Aravis slides down in the basin as the door closes . Submerged up to her neck in warm, perfumed water, Aravis can picture her stepmother's face as she walks down the hallway. It will have retained its cool composure, the only indications of her outrage found in the flare of her nostrils and the widening of her usually half-hooded eyes. Aravis' stepmother has an almost impressive ability to suppress all emotion from ever manifesting on her face. She maintains a catlike disinterest on the exterior that rarely betrays any inner feelings, but Aravis knows of the quick, calculating mind that works behind the calm facade. Already the woman has ensnared her father and plots to steal her younger brother's love for his true mother. Aravis draws her knees into her chest and glowers at the water of her bath. She is tired of waiting for her stepmother's malice to be enacted upon her as well.
"Treacherous witch," Aravis mutters, sitting up to lather her long hair.
Aravis draws the shawl of her dress over her damp, braided hair. The fragrant soap's scent lingers on her from the bath and presses against her face, trapped by the shawl. She sits on the floor of her older brother's quarters before a tall wooden cabinet. Before her is the bundled armor that she wore in the field this morning. The spiked helmet rests in her lap and she bows her head to look at her hands, clasped over the helmet.
"O my brother and O the delight of my eyes, one year has passed since you left this mortal world to dwell alongside the great god Tash, with whom you belong. O my brother, how fortunate that you were rejoined with your great lord before the fiend that is my stepmother ensnared our father and began to poison our brother's mind. I know well that I should feel only joy that you have embarked on a great journey to another world, but there is sadness inside of me that I cannot join you, nor can I seek your help to fight for our family. Fight with me, brother, though you be far from your earthly home."
Aravis raises the helmet to her lips and kisses the crown before standing to replace the armor in its cabinet.
The door rattles in its frame as Aravis slams it open, startling the maids that have been cleaning the bed.
The maids rush from Aravis' quarters, bowing hastily to the Tarkheena as they leave. Aravis ignores them, pacing restlessly the length of her room. She crosses the shadowy archway that leads to her bedroom again and again as she stalks back and forth, muttering angry, incoherent complaints about her stepmother.
"Like a disease," she says, suddenly stopping before the archway and gazing absently into the bedroom. "Like a disease she is rotting my family from the inside out. First my father, then Ilsombreh. When will she infect me? Tash, curse her."
There is a noise from the doorway to her quarters and Aravis whirls wildly, full of rage. Her snarling face softens when she sees the intruder peeking around the doorframe.
"Ilsombreh," she says softly, crouching and opening her arms to her younger brother. The boy steps out from behind the wall, coming forward. His sister's agitated movements had unnerved him, but now he saw her familiar smile and welcoming arms. He rushed forward and dove into her embrace, knocking her onto her backside. Feeling her laughing silently against him, he giggles and clings tightly to her neck. After a moment, she pulls back to look up into his face, smiling.
At six, his face is still round with the softness of childhood. His dark eyes are like her own, shaped like large almonds, but framed with the thick, long lashes of their mother. He is very similar to herself, except his skin is much fairer. Spending most of her childhood tagging after her older brother, Aravis had been exposed to more sunlight than was usual for upper class Calormene women. She has never objected to her tan, though her mother boasted a complexion so fair that Aravis' memories are suffused with a soft glow from her mother's cheek.
Aravis searches his face for a trace of their older brother, who so resembled their father, but she sees only herself and their mother in him. Good, she thinks, smiling. He will remember her. Ilsombreh shifts uncomfortably under her scrutiny, forcing a small smile when he sees her own.
"What have you been skulking around for?" Aravis asks, trying to put him at ease.
Ilsombreh's eyes widen indignantly. "I was not skulking! I thought you would be upset after your argument with Mother so I –"
"What?" Aravis asks sharply, tightening her hold of Ilsombreh's arm.
"I – I'm sorry –"
"That...That beast is not your mother, Ilsombreh! Your mother was never such a cruel monster as that poisonous worm disguised as a woman! Your mother died to give you life, so great was her love for you. Do you dare disgrace her memory by calling that abomination 'Mother'?"
Aravis trembles with anger. Ilsombreh's arms ache under her fierce grasp and his stomach churns with fear when he sees her pale face. Her eyes glitter with unshed tears, looking inhumanly bright. As she stares into her brother's face, the anger begins to seep out of her. A heavy sadness replaces her fury as her hands relax their grip. Releasing Ilsombreh's arms, she draws him into an embrace. He sags against her, pressing his face into her neck, where his tears burn against her skin.
"I'm sorry," he sobs.
"No," she whispers, smoothing his hair with her hand. "O my brother and O the delight of my eyes, I am sorry. You never knew your mother. I cannot expect you to remember her. I am sorry I frightened you, O my brother." Her words fade into soft, soothing sounds that she murmurs against his hair, quieting his crying while she contains her own. Her tears run silently and unchecked down her cheeks as Ilsombreh chokes on his sobs at her neck.
O my mother and O the delight of my eyes, Aravis says to herself while Ilsombreh sleeps in her arms. I am fighting to keep your memory alive even as you walk beside the great god Tash, with whom you belong. I have tried to raise Ilsombreh with your memory within him, but I fear that I myself am forgetting you. More and more you seem dreamlike in my mind, as if you were only a wonderful fantasy I created to escape the awful reality of my father's wicked wife. But no, no, you are my mother, not that fiend. Perhaps this is her evil working on me and my family. She has already affected the minds of my father and brother. Perhaps this is her plot, to rid me of even your memory. O my mother, she will not succeed. I will remember you as I remember my brother. Be beside me, O my mother, though you are far from me. Be beside your children.
Aravis kisses the top of Ilsombreh's head, pressing her lips against his silky hair, and tightens her arms around him. He stirs in his sleep, rubbing his soft cheek against her neck.
"Mother," he mumbles. "Sing to me."
Fresh tears pool in Aravis' eyes as she croons the lullaby her mother taught her.
Aravis sends her servants away early, assuring the maids that she can prepare herself for bed. She closes the door to her quarters behind the servants and listens to their whispers fade down the hall. How strange that I will never hear their voices again, Aravis thinks, leaning against the door. Moonlight spills across the floor, unusually bright. The world feels like a dream as Aravis wanders to the window and looks out at peaceful Calavar.
"Marry me off?" she whispers to the night. "No. I would sooner be dead than have that fiend's plan triumph."
With quiet determination, Aravis walks swiftly out of her chambers and down the hall to her older brother's quarters. The household is still and silent. A wave of revulsion washes over Aravis as she passes her father and stepmother's door. Aravis thinks of the malicious woman rejoicing in her plot and smiles wryly, knowing that it will never succeed.
The door of her brother's chambers makes no sound as she slips inside. She curtsies before the cabinet of armor and eases it open, carefully removing the sheathed scimitar. Securing it by her side, she leaves silently and closes the door, murmuring thanks to her brother.
Ilsombreh's chamber is between Aravis and the back stairs. She hesitates at his door, trying to force herself to walk past it and leave quickly. After a moment of struggling with herself, she opens the door quietly and creeps to Ilsombreh's bed. Kneeling beside him, she takes in his moonlit face for the last time.
"O my child and O the delight of my eyes," Aravis finds herself whispering. "Remember me."
Aravis stands, pressing a hand over her brother's heart, and turns quickly away. As she pulls the door closed behind her, Ilsombreh's voice cries hoarsely from the bed, "Mother?"
Aravis closes the door quietly and rushes down the staircase, heading for the stables to find Hwin. As she leads the mare stealthily out of the gates into the streets of Calavar, her stepmother opens the door of Ilsombreh's quarters. She approaches his bed, the lamp in her hand falling on the boy's open eyes. Confused, he squints at the light and looks up at his stepmother.
"Did you call for me, O my child?"
Ilsombreh stares up at the woman's calm face, frowning. After a moment, he closes his eyes. "No," he says, turning away from her into the moonlight from his window.