A/N: Before I begin, a word on timelines and ages. I've said before that anything C.S. Lewis made as a commentary outside the Chronicles of Narnia is not canon in the strictest sense, therefore the classic ages of the characters in The Horse and His Boy need not necessarily apply. Here I imagine that the whole Rabadash incident took place about 10 years after their coronation which would make Lucy about 19. Figuring that Cor and Aravis were about 15 during HHB, that makes them (and Corin) 3 1/2 - 4 years younger than Lucy. That said, enjoy and review away!
The Delight of My Eyes
"Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I'm afraid, even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again: so that years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarrelling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently." – The Horse and His Boy
She was homesick. At least, that was the nearest description Aravis could think of to describe her feeling. She had lived in Archenland very happily for three years, but suddenly she found herself thinking about Calormen all the time.
Perhaps it had something to do with the birthdays. Once they had gotten settled at Anvard and sat down and done the math converting the Calormene calendar, it turned out that her birthday was only a week before Cor's. That hadn't really mattered much before as Calormene girls don't celebrate any birthdays but their twelfth and their eighteenth, but Aravis would be eighteen in three days.
She had talked about this so often with her brother, the one whose armor she had worn across the desert, whose armor she still kept in her bedchamber at Anvard. He had promised to take her sailing on the lake at Ilkeen, under the moon. He had said they would drift by on the quiet water and smell the ripe fruit of late summer in all the pleasure gardens there. Even though he was gone, she had always thought to do that anyway when she turned eighteen. To remember him.
To be perfectly honest, that wasn't the only thing she missed. She was also thinking about what a fuss everyone would make over her, what fine clothes she would have, what delightful things to eat. Maybe Calormene girls didn't get feted every year, but when they turned eighteen they were queens in their own right, just for that one day. They could command and demand and everyone had to do their bidding. Yes, for all the days before and after they would always have to listen to the men and live out the wills of their fathers and brothers and husbands. That may be why that one day was so special.
Aravis was no fool. She recognized that her life was far better at Anvard. Here she was a free woman. She had lovely apartments and could come and go as she pleased. She would not get whipped for disagreeing with Cor or chided for laughing at Corin's antics. She could even ride to wars if she pleased, thanks to Queen Lucy. She knew that if she had stayed in Calormen she would be celebrating her third wedding anniversary with that awful, sniveling Ahoshta and like as not Queen Susan would be Rabadash's slave.
Still, she couldn't help but wish that someone would make the teeniest fuss over her. Eighteen was apparently a big year for boys in Archenland, and the whole kingdom was working itself up into a frenzy to celebrate the twin princes. She felt very small and forgotten in comparison.
She was sitting in her room trying not to miss the scent of oranges and orchids and to appreciate the crisp green smell of the Archenland forest when she heard the boys in the hall.
"Come on," Corin was saying—she could tell it was Corin because though the pitch of their voices was very much the same, Corin always spoke far louder. "We need a woman's opinion." With this he burst into the room in his new state and festival clothes, tailored especially for his birthday. Cor followed in similar attire but looking sulkier.
"Now Aravis," Corin announced, "We need your honest opinion. Cor thinks he ought to have the blue and yellow, but clearly it goes better with my coloring, don't you think?"
Aravis laughed as she took in both the boys. Corin stood with his hands on his hips and a wide smile gracing his face, sure that Aravis would praise his get-up and, by extension, his fair haired good looks. Cor skulked a little behind his brash brother, picking at the embroidery of his tunic and looking very out of place. "Don't pick at that, Cor," she told him, "You'll pull it all out."
Abashed, Cor desisted and kept his eyes on the floor, shuffling his feet. He always looked miserable in court clothes and would run around in hunting attire if he could. Aravis didn't think much of this.
"Come on, tell us how handsome we look," Corin coaxed, walking to and fro so his cape fluttered behind him.
"You're only prancing like that because you want to look good for Queen Lucy," Cor said sullenly.
Corin turned on his brother. "Say that again and I'll knock you down."
Aravis was not in the mood to watch a boxing match in her bedchamber, so she cut the argument short. "Yes, Corin. The color suits you." She wouldn't have lied: the truth was that he did look quite dashing, and she thought Lucy would probably agree if he stopped the whirling dervish act and stood like a man. Aravis sighed as Corin sashayed from the room with his ego satisfied.
Cor looked at her. "What's up with you?"
The fact that he didn't automatically know annoyed Aravis. He should have understood. She turned her nose up in the air.
"I've had enough of all of this!" Cor declared, knitting his brows together. "First I've got to deal with Corin mooning over Queen Lucy every five minutes as though he really thinks he has half a chance, and now you're mad at me for no reason! You're only upset because you're not getting as much attention. As far as I'm concerned you're welcome to it!"
"Nothing's ever good enough for you, is it?" Aravis returned, staring at him sharply. "Honestly, you're a Prince of Archenland! What have you got to complain about?"
"What have you got to complain about?" Cor demanded. "We treat you like family, you're one of the court. You've landed on your feet just as much as me. We've gone through lots together, Aravis, and you have yet to act as though we're really equals." He turned on his heel and left the room. It was only after Aravis was gone that she realized how well the red tunic suited him. Even better than Corin's, though the younger prince wore his clothes more proudly.
Aravis crossed her arms and scowled after him. She certainly hadn't been treating him like an inferior—at least not on purpose. She had realized since he tried to save her from the Lion that he had a brave heart, even if it was hidden under common bearing. Still, she was wise enough to know that truly noble people are far harder to come by than well-born people, and she recognized this trait in Cor. If he wanted to sulk and pretend he wasn't good enough, why that was his fault.
They made up around teatime, when the news came that Hwin and Bree would be arriving the next day. That was usually how it was—they fought until someone distracted them. That evening she promised to give the boys a lesson in storytelling, for at the banquet they would be called upon to share their exploits, and Cor had wanted to do it as handsomely as possible. Corin had begged to be included when his father made a chance remark about how Queen Lucy loved a good story. Aravis nearly rolled her eyes at his transparency, but she consented all the same.
As it chanced, she and Corin had some time alone together before Cor joined them. "He's preparing his lessons for tomorrow," Corin said, flopping down on the pillows Aravis had laid on the floor, Calormene style. "I don't understand why he always has to work so hard. It's making me look bad!"
Aravis laughed at Corin's mock despair. In truth, she liked Corin very much. He was easier to be around than Cor. He was very sure of himself, which was something that she could understand well, and yet there was an ease and friendliness to his manner that made her feel quite comfortable. But most of all, he could make her laugh. She had never had much of a sense of humor, but Corin was so funny she couldn't help laughing.
"Look at this!" Corin cried, collapsing into a heap. "A Lady mocking me in my darkest hour! My brother has chiseled me out of my kingdom, and now he will show me up in all my lessons."
She snorted "As if you cared two figs for either of those things." She thought a moment and dared to tease him. "You'd only be bothered about them if Lucy showed an interest."
"I ought to knock you down," he said, but he winked.
Aravis found herself curious. "Why Lucy? I mean, she's your senior in age as well as rank, and you know she'd never leave Narnia."
Corin began to laugh so hard he rolled around on the pillows, clutching his stomach. "Those are your tests for falling in love? Convenience and possibility? Oh, Aravis, really! You may teach storytelling well, but I'll have to show you a thing or two about love. It isn't like that at all."
Aravis colored, realizing that she was very ignorant after all. The problem was that since Corin was so nice she couldn't really put together her high and mighty air and pretend as though not knowing didn't matter to her. She smiled a little bashfully at Corin just as Cor appeared in the doorway. He looked between the two of them and didn't say anything.
"There you are, brother," Corin said cheerfully, pushing himself up on his elbows. "Have you finally finished grooming yourself into teacher's pet?"
"Hush and sit up, Corin, as I taught you," Aravis said. She looked at Cor. "Aren't you here to join us? Sit down." She patted the cushion next to her. Cor came over without saying a word, looking at her and Corin hard. Aravis shook her head, a little nonplussed, and began the lesson.
"First, I'll tell you the basic story, because you can't begin to tell a story properly unless you know the beginning, middle, and end, and who all the characters are. Otherwise you'll get confused and your listeners won't focus and you'll introduce everything in the wrong place. So you have to focus, Corin." She emphasized his name because he was already toying with the fringe on one of the pillows. "Today we shall practice with the story of the Lady Lilana and her lover Ashdaloo. It is an old folktale from the south of Calormen—she was a fine young lady, the only woman in her father's household, and he was brought to their house as a slave after his family lost a great battle."
Cor looked at the floor and Corin pulled a face. Aravis rolled her eyes. "Honestly. You're not going to tell it in public, it's just something to practice with. I'm not saying slavery is right or anything like that. For heaven's sake! Anyway, Ashdaloo rescues Lilana when her horse gets caught up in the river current and they fall in love. But of course she cannot marry him because he's a slave and she is promised to another. So he decides he will go to war and follows her father the Tarkaan. He drags the wounded Tarkaan from the field of battle and he is grateful and promises Ashdaloo his daughter as a bride, but dies there, before he can make good on the promise. And so he goes to Lilana to tell her but just as she hears the news her betrothed comes to claim her. In the end, Lilana and Ashdaloo make a solemn vow that they will either live together or die together, and so together they go to the river and put stones in their pockets and jump in, embracing each other even in death."
"Ugh!" cried Corin. "I like the bit about him winning her father's favor, but why didn't that Ashdaloo fellow just run the betrothed through and stand up for his lady?"
A smile played on the corner of Cor's lips "And why didn't the slave and the Tarkheena just run away together? It's been done before."
Aravis looked at him carefully, and simultaneously experienced two very strange things. First, for the second time that day she realized how attractive Cor was with his fair face and his quiet ways, and second, that realization made her heart start to pound in her throat and the color rise to her cheeks. When he raised his eyes to meet hers she quickly looked away at Corin, who was lolling on the pillows looking as silly as ever.
"I say," he declared, "When we tell stories, do the characters have to talk in that odd way that Calormenes do? 'The sun appeared dark in my eyes' and 'Oh my love and the delight of my eyes'—what is all that supposed to mean, anyway?"
"It means exactly what it sounds like," Aravis explained. She was glad to look at him and not Cor, for her cheeks were still hot and she certainly didn't want Cor to see that. "Watch when I say Lucy's name. Your whole face lights up, as if there's nothing more beautiful in the world, no sight you'd rather see."
Corin grinned, but his eyes were soft and very pensive. He tucked his hands behind his head and looked at Aravis, the smile still playing on his lips. In that moment she saw that this wasn't some extravagant crush, that he might really love the young Queen. He looked town after a moment and pulled on the tassel of a pillow. "Calormenes are funny," he declared. "Their poetry is the dullest thing in creation and their daily speech is full of grand, romantic sentiment. Maybe I'll start talking like that." He sat up and looked at Cor. "O my brother, the sun appears dark in my eyes when you wallop me in the tiltyard."
Aravis tried to maintain her composure, but Corin's face was so grave and his eyes so twinkling that the giggles bubbled to her lips. Cor looked between them, and he seemed less than amused. He got up. "I don't know why you even wanted this lesson in the first place, Corin," he said coldly. "You're not serious about it, and now Aravis would rather play around with you than teach, and I'll be a laughingstock at the feast." He turned and stalked out of the room before either of them could say anything. They stared at each other with slightly open mouths.
Finally Corin summed up the situation. "Someone has got to loosen his collars. That boy is entirely too uptight for his own good." He snorted. "Something's making the sun appear dark in his eyes."
Aravis responded to this by hitting him with a pillow.
Cor's irritation didn't last, for the next morning Bree and Hwin arrived and there were a lot of horse kisses and affectionate greetings. Everyone was so happy that it was impossible to be mad. They went out for a walk all together, just the four of them, and when they got far enough afield the horses insisted that the humans ride, for old time's sake. Cor put up a very princely protested which Aravis had to admit she admired, but in the end the horses won out. It almost felt like old times, except instead of riding in her brother's armor, Aravis felt the skirts of her Narnian dress fluttering around her ankles as she mounted Hwin. She was a little vain about that dress; it had been a Christmas present from the Queens of Narnia, and Susan had chosen the colors to compliment her skin while Lucy herself had designed the motif on the embroidery.
Hwin took notice. "If I do say, Aravis, you're more like a princess now than you ever were in Calormen."
"Sometimes I feel like one," Aravis conceded. "But then sometimes I don't, really."
Hwin trotted placidly. "No?"
"Sometimes, no. I'm reminded that I'm not really anyone special here, just a regular girl."
Hwin gave a horsey chuckle. "Aravis! You sound like Bree when he first came to Narnia. Actually, you sound like Bree now. It's not your title who makes you who you are, it's what you do. Look at Cor. We all knew he was a prince at heart even when he was just Shasta to us."
Aravis patted Hwin's neck and looked at Cor, riding straight and proud on Bree's back. He was in his hunting clothes now, and in the open air of his kingdom he seemed comfortable and happy. Though he was a bit quiet and grave, Aravis thought that suited him. This manner made him far more like the Kings of Narnia than his brother, and she privately thought that becoming like the High King was the best any man could hope for. He bent and said something lowly to Bree, and Aravis was startled by a shiver as she watched his lips move. Even more disturbing was the picture in her mind of him whispering like that to her.
"I suppose it's not easy to miss out on your eighteenth birthday, though," Hwin said sensibly.
"Y-yes," Aravis stammered. She never stammered, and she forced herself to focus. Why was she wasting time on such strange daydreams when Hwin was giving her the sympathy she has longed for? "I had been thinking about that, yes." She began to tell Hwin about the plans she and her brother had made, and Hwin, who had known and loved her brother too, was very kind and sympathetic. By the time they returned to the castle and had their lunch outside with the horses, Aravis was feeling a good deal more cheerful.
The next morning, the morning of her eighteenth birthday, Aravis woke with dawn. She did so naturally but was pleased that she had, since that was all part of the tradition. She washed and dressed quietly and went for a walk in the cool air. The grass was deliciously soft under her feet, and she took off her shoes and let the dew tickle her toes. She peeked in on the horses (naturally putting her shoes back on before she entered the stable) but found that they were still sleeping, so she went and sat on a low branch in the big oak tree she loved and gazed south. She felt a little homesick, but she also murmured quite sincerely "I'm glad I'm here."
"I'm glad too," another voice said, and she jumped a little. She looked down to find Cor smiling up at her, holding a box in his hands. "Come down here, Aravis, I've got something for you."
Aravis jumped down obligingly, and found that she was smiling herself. "Good morning, Cor," she said.
"Good morning. And happy birthday," he said, and extended the box to her. "It's not quite the party you were expecting, but at least it's something. Bree told me all about the customs for girls in Calormen and—well, I thought you might like to remember them a bit."
Aravis took the box and looked up at him. His face was very kind and his eyes were very warm, and she found herself speechless. She looked at him a moment longer and began to unwrap the present. The bow was clumsily tied, which told Aravis that Cor had wrapped it himself, a fact which pleased her immensely.
She opened the box and found a necklace inside, three delicate strands of gold and precious pearls. Though Cor didn't know it, pearls were the traditional gift for young lovers, and his innocence of this knowledge touched her as much as the fact that he had remembered the traditional gift of a necklace for the eighteenth birthday.
"Bree told me that girls usually get necklaces for their eighteenth," he explained bashfully, "So I asked Father if I could give you one that we had, and he gave me this. It belonged to my mother—he said he gave it to her long ago, when they started courting."
Aravis looked up at him quickly, wondering if he was saying what she thought he might be. He looked back at her but said nothing, only chewed his lip uncertainly. After a minute, he took the necklace from the box and fastened it around her neck. He stood close enough that Aravis could breathe in the scent of him, and the thrill that ran through her was absolutely terrifying. He fumbled with the clasp, prolonging the moment, and Aravis closed her eyes, starting to feel dizzy. After a second he drew back and looked at her appraisingly. "It looks pretty on you," he pronounced, and though the compliment had none of the Calormene flourish of words, Aravis thought it was the nicest thing anyone had said to her. She touched the necklace and looked up at him. "Thank you."
"Corin and I got you a new saddle too, but I—I wanted to give you something just from me," he said, his voice faltering a little.
Now Aravis followed the Archenland custom and reached up to kiss his cheek. She drew away slowly, trying to think of something to say. Before she could, Corin shouted across the lawn. When she saw him she let out her breath—which she only just then realized she had been holding—and her body relaxed.
He came trotting up to them. "It's breakfast time for the birthday girl," he announced, kissing Aravis' cheek with a smack. "We're eating early because we've got to make preparations for the Narnians all today. And then of course there's the party tonight." Cor gave him a severe look and he clapped his hands over his mouth. "That was meant to be a surprise. I'm sorry, Aravis."
He looked so truly upset at spoiling the surprise that Aravis swallowed her laugh at his comical expression. She laid her hand on his arm. "All the better, Corin. I'm not much of a one for surprises. I'd rather have something to look forward to."
"Didn't you say breakfast was ready?" Cor asked, sounding just a little sour. He didn't wait for Corin's nod before starting inside.
Cor remained rather brusque all during the day as the members of Lune's court scrambled to make all the preparations to receive the Narnian monarchs. The banners were hung and flowers put everywhere, and a new purple carpet ran the length of the throne room. But Corin winked at Aravis, and she understood that these preparations were really for her. She was beginning to wonder how she ever missed Calormen.
The High King, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy arrived late in the afternoon. Corin was inspecting the decorations with Aravis when they heard the merry call of the Narnian trumpets. He turned to Aravis with sheer delight scrawled across his features. "That's them! They're here!" he cried, and tugged her arm.
In the courtyard the monarchs were dismounting. King Peter was helping Queen Susan, while Queen Lucy swung off her horse before King Edmund could even make a step towards her. She looked up and saw Corin and Aravis and grinned. "Corin!" she called warmly, stretching out her arms as she came to meet him.
He let go of Aravis' arm instantly and ran to meet her halfway. He wrapped his arms around Lucy and lifted her clear off the ground, twirling her around. She threw her head back and laughed with joy, unconscious of the look on Corin's face that clearly said she was the delight of his eyes.
Aravis was distracted from this picture by the High King, who bowed before her with a smile. "It's good to see you again, my Lady."
She felt herself color as she always did when King Peter spoke to her, but she remembered herself enough to drop into a curtsey. "The pleasure is always mine, your Majesty," she answered.
"I should also say happy birthday," he continued.
"Yes!" Lucy cried, joining them looking flushed and rumpled and very happy. "Happy birthday, dear." She kissed Aravis on the cheek. "Eighteen now! Are you ready to be terribly grown up?"
"She seems more ready than some," Peter commented, looking over to where Corin was kneeling extravagantly before Susan to offer her a flower. His eyes traveled to where Cor was shaking hands with Edmund and he gave a slight nod of approval. Aravis felt a glow of pride.
"Oh, hush, Peter. Just because you had to grow up so early doesn't mean everyone does," Lucy said. "We need someone to remind us to be young and enjoy life."
He chuckled a little and put his arm around Lucy's shoulders. "I suppose you've got me there."
Aravis didn't say anything, but as she looked between Corin, so young and silly with Susan and Cor, so straight and proud with Edmund she thought that being serious and grown up was no bad thing.
Though she knew it was coming, the party was still a surprise. She had thought it would be a small dinner of her favorite dishes, but Lune and his sons had really planned a small feast for the most intimate members of the court. There was all manner of things to eat and a pile of magnificent presents, and dancing.
Calormenes didn't dance except at weddings, and then the women danced with the women and the men with the men. It was a rather dull affair, just like everything else in Calormen that should have been fun. Since arriving in Archenland, however, Aravis had grown to love dancing. She wasn't quite as good a dancer as Susan who was smoothly graceful, or Lucy, who was so light and lively on her feet, but she could hold her own. She was very pleased to hear the music start.
Lucy started the dancing by standing and extending her hand to Corin. "Come, you young peacock. Let's see if your dancing has improved or if you are going to tread on my toes again."
Corin was on his feet at once. "Never, my Lady! I would die before I would cause you harm."
King Edmund snickered. "Then you'd better be prepared to commit suicide. I've seen you dance."
The entire table burst into laughter. Though at first Aravis laughed along with everyone else, she stopped when she caught the look on Corin's face. He so clearly wanted to look noble and heroic so he could impress Lucy, and the laughter that followed Edmund's comments cut him.
Lucy caught this look herself, and drew him forward by his hands. "Let's prove them wrong," she said warmly, looking into his eyes. Corin seemed much appeased by this, and he led her onto the dance floor with a bounce in his step.
Cor seemed about to speak, but he was interrupted by the sound of the High King's chair scraping as he pushed it back. King Peter rose and smiled at Aravis. "I hope it's not too presumptuous of me to ask for the first dance from the lady of the hour."
Then what was quite possibly the most curious thing so far happened to Aravis. She had always greatly admired the High King. Though many thought otherwise, she found him handsomer than King Edmund. His manners were always very genteel, but never cold. He was always kind and clearly noble—a born knight. She always got a little thrill when he paid her any small attention. Yet now she felt a stab of disappointment. Perhaps Cor had been on the verge of asking her to dance. But then did her disappointment mean she would rather dance with Cor than with the High King of Narnia?
As King Peter led her onto the dance floor, Aravis found that she was distracted by Corin as he danced with Lucy. She already knew that he had become a much better dancer since they last saw the Narnians because he had practiced with her. He guided Lucy across the floor with a certain boyish grace that could charm anyone. For her part, Lucy seemed to be enjoying herself at the very least. Her laughter floated over the sound of the music while Corin held Lucy close and watched her with such bright and tender eyes that Aravis was quite touched.
"You are an admirer of Prince Corin this evening?" the High King remarked. Aravis looked at him quickly and saw that he had arched an eyebrow. Was one of the most feared men in all the world teasing her?
"Nay, my Lord," she said with a laugh. "I'm only noticing how happy your sister looks." She decided to test the waters and tease back. "Perhaps it is she who is enamoured of the Prince?"
He chuckled. "Can you imagine? What a suitor he would be to manage!"
But Aravis could imagine. She rather thought it might be nice to have someone look at her the way Corin looked at Lucy. She then remembered Cor when he gave her the necklace that morning and wondered if the expression on his face really had been the same thing. And if ti was, and she wanted it, then what did that mean?
When she took a turn acrosst he floor with Corin later, she began by teasing him. She didn't really know what made her so lighthearted—she was laughing and teasing far more than usual for her. Even so, she said to Corin "You know, you owe me for those storytelling lessons."
He looked nonplussed for a moment. He caught her smile, though, and he grinned. "Alright then. What are you charging?"
Aravis colored deeply. "I want you to tell me about love. You said it wasn't based on convenience and possibility."
He snickered, remembering. "Not at all. Even your friends Ashdaloo and Lilana figured that one out."
"Well then? What is it based on?"
Corin started to laugh again but stopped when he saw that Aravis was quite in earnest. "Oh—well, um—it's not based on anything, really."
Aravis raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips in an expression of skepticism. Corin rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. "Alright. Come outside and I'll try to explain it to you."
He led her toward the doors, but on the way off the dance floor Lucy broke away from Edmund to talk to them. "You're not leaving yet, are you?" she asked, looking between Aravis and Corin.
Corin bowed with mock gallantry. "Not if my Lady bids me stay."
Lucy laughed, but Aravis rolled her eyes at him. "We were just going for a breath of fresh air," she explained.
"That sounds lovely. May I join you?"
Aravis wanted to say no because she had hoped to hear what Corin would say about love, and she doubted he would say anything in front of Lucy. Corin had already offered his arm though, and Aravis liked Lucy so much she couldn't really begrudge her company.
Outside Lucy stepped out of the circle of light from the windows and turned her face up to the sky, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. Her face shone in the moonlight. "I love the smell of Archenland," she declared. "So fresh and green and woodsy."
Corin stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her. "Smell me," he implored. "Do I smell the same, Lu?"
Lucy pushed him off, laughing. "Impertinence!" she cried. "Only my brothers and sister call me that." She looked up at him and tweaked his nose. "Impertinence and vanity—you should be ashamed, fishing for compliments like that."
Corin hung his head, trying to look duly chastened despite the grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Oh, you ridiculous boy!" Lucy cried when she saw this. She grabbed his tunic and pulled him close and buried her face in it. Corin's arms twitched at his sides, and Aravis could see how much he wanted to wrap them around her. He let his smile grow, but it was very soft as he gazed at the top of her head.
After a moment she pulled away and said decidedly, but with playful eyes, "Yes, Corin. You too smell fresh and woodsy."
They laughed together, but Aravis saw the tenderness didn't quite leave his eyes. He forced himself to pull away a bit and glanced at Aravis before leaning against a pillar with his arms crossed. "So Lu—Queen Lu—we were talking about love. What do you know of it?"
Lucy cocked her head to the side. "What sort of love do you mean? There are lots of different kinds."
"We were talking about romantic love," Aravis supplied.
Lucy bit her lip. "Well, I don't know very much about that," she said softly. "You'd do better to ask Susan."
"You don't think you'll know when you fall in love then?" Corin asked.
"I might. At least, I hope I do." She bit her lip uncertainly and looked from Corin to Aravis, then down at her own hands. "I get the feeling love can take you by surprise. That maybe the person you'll love is someone you've known for years, and then one day you turn around and you realize that they've been there all along. Love can creep up on you like that, I think." She sighted. "I wish I knew what it felt like, but when I imagine it, I think a person must feel all trembly and nervous, but deliciously happy too. I don't know. It's only what I imagine."
She fingered the leaves of a potted plant as she spoke and her cheeks grew bright red. She didn't look at anyone, but Corin was watching her and Aravis was watching Corin. He pressed his lips together and said with a sort of choke in his voice, "I think you have a pretty keen imagination."
Lucy didn't lookat him, but she smiled as she pulled on the leaf. After a moment, Corin whirled Lucy in his arms. "Now Lu," he chided with a grin, "It's no good growing wistful on Aravis' birthday. Besides which, that doesn't suit you as much as a smile." He dipped her so that she almost touched the floor. She threw her head back and laughed brightly.
"Now I can die a happy man, having brought my Lady joy." Though he spoke lightly as he did when he was teasing Cor with Calormene speech, Aravis could see the sincerity of his words.
Lucy didn't. She giggled and commanded "Set me on my feet, you lunatic!" Aravis could see she liked the attention, but the playful swat and merry look she gave him plainly showed she saw his flirtations as antics instead of sincere gestures. Aravis wondered what she would say if Corin was a little more steady and sincere.
Corin brought her upright only after pretending to drop her and catching her again so that she shrieked and clung to him. He twirled her about again, and just as he was doing so King Edmund called from the doorway, "So you've abandoned me, Lucy!"
She stepped away from Corin. "Never, brother." She tossed her head and grinned. "For you are the delight of my eyes."
He rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. Very well. But the delight of your eyes is going to leave you for the birthday cake in a moment, so you may as well come and have your last dance."
"Oh, indeed!" Lucy cried, and skipped after him. She threw a grin at Corin and Aravis over her shoulder.
They remained silent on the patio for a moment. Then Aravis turned to Corin. "If you acted more sincere, she wouldn't laugh at you so."
He shrugged. "I want her to laugh, though. It's good to see her happy. She was lonely before." He caught Aravis looking at him steadily. "That's the thing—when you're really in love it isn't so much about you anymore. And look—" he nodded towards Lucy on the dance floor. "She's happy now." He gave her a smile that almost echoed Lucy's wistful expression from earlier and sauntered inside.
Aravis watched after him, considering what he had said. She decided that perhaps a more apt phrase for Corin was "Your joy is the delight of my eyes," as all he seemed to want was to make her happy. In Calormen, men possessed women and they commanded them, but here she saw that love was really about reverence and respect. "If that is true," she mused to herself, "I could break the vow of my girlhood and get married. Providing I find a partner." She watched the party inside and found that her eyes rested not on King Peter, the object of so many daydreams, but on Cor and his stately, serious dancing. She was watching as Lune came up to him to say something and saw him nod and walk toward her. Thus she was unsurprised when he appeared on the terrace, but even so something jumped inside her chest.
He looked at her and colored deeply, but he also stepped closer. "Are you enjoying the party?"
She smiled happily. "It's lovely. Thank you."
"Oh, well…" She could tell by his lopsided smile and the way he scratched the back of his head that he had come up with the idea. For some reason, she felt a bubble of happiness grow inside her until she had to grin.
He stepped closer still. "You ought to smile like that more," he said.
Aravis looked up at him and found her breath was a little short. She wanted something, but she didn't know what, not until he touched the necklace at her throat and said "You're wearing your necklace."
"Of course. It's tradition," she answered, pausing a beat before adding "And it's beautiful." She touched it too, and her fingers brushed against Cor's. "Did you know that pearls were the traditional gift for young lovers?"
He grew even redder and pulled on his ear. "What's the gift for old married couples then?" he asked with a bashful smile
Aravis found she couldn't answer. Her voice caught in her throat because she had a crazy daydream of her fiftieth birthday when Cor might present her with a gift of emeralds. She realized that since they had met each other, even when she didn't really like him, she hadn't been able to imagine her life without him. She had always expected to have him there. Then all at once she remembered what Lucy had said, that she could turn around one day and find love in front of her face. Her eyes widened with the sudden realization.
He coughed a little. "What—um, what have you been doing out here?" he asked lamely.
She didn't want to talk, but if they stopped talking, then what would happen? She wanted so much even in just this moment she wondered if this could be love like Corin had, a love which gave rather than expected. "I was talking with Corin," she whispered.
This seemed to break the spell instantly. "Oh. I see," he said, moving away abruptly. "Well, we should get inside. Father says it's almost time for the cake."
Aravis furrowed her brow as she looked at him, trying to decide something. She chanced teasing him, hoping he would stand close to her and she could get that trembling, expectant feeling back. "Yet you haven't asked me to dance."
Cor looked away, but not before she saw a certain hardness in his eyes. "Well, maybe that's because you've been dancing and flirting with Corin all evening."
She stared at him, open mouthed for a moment, and then she started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Cor demanded. "It's been obvious to me for weeks that you like him. And he doesn't even notice because he's only got eyes for Lucy."
Aravis laughed even harder. The whole thing was so astonishing she couldn't even put up a protest. Cor scowled, watching her. "I still don't see what's so funny about it," he said bitterly. He glanced over his shoulder. "The cake's ready. Let's go."
Finally she found breath enough to speak, but Cor was already inside.
She couldn't really call their exchange on the balcony a fight, but in the days afterwards it certainly felt like they had one. Worse still, instead of making up as they usually did Cor continued to glare at Aravis every time they were in the vicinity of each other, particularly when she was with Corin. Though she hated the looks and wished she could at least understand why Cor was so mad at her, she refused to let him dictate who she spent time with. She sought out Corin more than ever.
Every time she thought of Cor and his unreasonable anger she herself got angry. "What right has he to treat me this way?" she asked herself, pacing in the stables. "He didn't even let me explain! Why the very idea of loving Corin is absolutely preposterous! He's my brother, my friend. This has always been the problem with Cor. He's so thickheaded! He's been thickheaded ever since we were in Calormen together."
"Well, yes, but he is very good," someone answered her. She jumped. She had quite forgotten the Talking Horses were there.
"He's not acting very good these days, is he, Hwin?" she snapped at him.
"Don't snap, Aravis. This sort of thing isn't as easy for you humans as it is for us animals. You let things get too complicated," Bree said with an officious toss of his mane.
"And what sort of thing are you referring to, exactly?" Aravis demanded.
"Falling in love, of course," was Hwin's gentle reply.
Aravis faked a snort of derision. "Me? In love with Cor?" Her voice was much higher than usual. "He won't even talk to me right now."
The horses shared such a knowing look that she found them completely insufferable. She turned on her heel and stalked out of the stable. She bumped into Cor on the way, but she didn't take any notice.
"You're excused!" Cor shouted after her, but she didn't even turn. She went and flopped under a tree near Corin where he was lounging in the grass watching Lucy practice broadsword fighting with Edmund.
He took a look at her and then glanced at Corin, who was walking out to the fields with the horses. "Alright. What in the Lion's name is going on? He's been looking at you like that for days, Aravis, and I just don't understand it. Usually you're over your little spats pretty quickly," he commented, sitting up.
Aravis tossed her head. "Why don't you go and ask your brother? He somehow got it into his head that I'm sweet on you."
He snorted and smiled reflexively but cut his laughter short. "You're not, are you?" he asked, a little uncertainly.
"Honestly!" she replied with derision. She got up and dusted the grass off her skirts. "I thought you were supposed to know something about love." She stalked off in the direction Cor had gone, determined to have it out with him. "Cor!" she shouted as soon as she was in earshot. "Cor!"
He didn't turn. Aravis was so sick of him behaving like this she took off her own slipper and hurled it at him. It glanced off his shoulder. This gave him pause. He turned around. "What do you want, Aravis? Wouldn't you rather be with Corin?"
She stalked over to him and picked up the slipper from the ground and began to hit him with it. "You fool! Don't you have eyes? Can't you see anything? I don't love Corin!"
Cor put up his arms to shield himself from the blows Aravis rained down on him. "Then what are you spending so much time with him for?"
"Because! Because…" Aravis trailed off and ceased hitting him for a moment. She could explain that she was trying to understand love from him, but she couldn't answer the next inevitable question: why she suddenly wanted to know. She hated that Cor was making her question herself and she hit him again, trying not to notice the look the horses were giving each other. "Oh, you're so stupid!" she cried, finding that she was near tears. "I don't know why I even bother with you when you can't see what's right in front of your face!" Everything bubbled to the surface then and she started to understand. As soon as she understood she became very frightened and she dropped her slipper and ran.
"Aravis, what are you talking about?" Cor called after her. "Hey, Aravis!"
She didn't turn. She felt she had to run away from him, especially once the tears sprung to her eyes. She never cried, not since she thought she might have to spend her life with that horrid Ahoshta. She barely registered his feet pounding in pursuit, she just ran as fast as she could. But Cor caught her in his arms from behind. "Stop a second," he said more softly, breathing hard in her ear from the pursuit. "What's supposed to be right in front of my face?"
Aravis grimaced and struggled against him, trying to get away. She was surprised to find how strong he was. He turned her to face him, kept her pressed close to him so she wouldn't run away. "What are you talking about? You start beating me with a shoe for no reason and then you run away!" He looked into her eyes and saw the tears there, and he rubbed her cheek with his thumb. "Oh, Aravis…"
She pressed her lips together. "I never wanted Corin." She struggled against him more, not looking at him, trying to will away the lump in her throat. "It's you I love. You are the delight of my eyes."
Cor gasped sharply with surprise and let her go quite suddenly, as thought she had become too hot to touch. Aravis stood there, looking miserably at her toes. She didn't know if he had gone or stayed until he said haltingly. "I—I am?"
She nodded, not raising her head. "I have to go," she said. She started to turn away, but he caught her hand. Now he was laughing.
"I'll take off my other shoe and beat you with it if you keep laughing like that," she told him viciously, setting her jaw in a hard line.
His arms were around her again. "I was so jealous! I thought it so unfair that nobody should get who they wanted, if I loved you and you loved Corin and Corin loved Lucy."
She sniffed and laughed a little herself. "No. No, Corin's very nice and everything, but…well, it's always been you and I, hasn't it?" She looked up into his face.
He smiled very slowly and nodded. She pressed her lips to his. She had thought that it would be a token kiss, one very much in the Calormene fashion when a betrothed touches his lips to his wife to be's, but Cor held her tight and kissed her deeply. She went uncomfortably weak at the knees, and some ways away she could hear Bree and Hwin nickering with delight.
Of course that was not the end of their quarrels. They had a disagreement that very night about whether Corin would be so lucky with Lucy. Aravis said only if he became more steady and Cor said if he won Lucy's heart he'd do it by being himself. Only Aravis began to see that now the making up after the fight was much more satisfactory, and that the times in between fights were sweeter. She started to feel a little glow of happiness every time Cor walked into a room, every time she saw him standing awkwardly in his court clothes. When she danced with him at his birthday feast just a couple of days later, she wished the music could have gone on forever. After awhile, she saw that it did for them in their own fashion. They had always been inseparable. And he was the delight of her eyes.