A/N: I have to admit, I am very nervous to post this. This is a story that has been buried in my notebook for quite a while, but began to knock on my head recently. I decided to use my idea to do a writing experiment of my own.
When the story begins, Rabadash has won the battle in Archenland. It's been done to death, I know, but I hope I have provided a fresh take on it. Comments are greatly welcomed.
Susan walked through the camp, a Calormene soldier on either side. She could feel the eyes of the other soldiers on her, some leering at her, others just anxious to gawk at the woman they had traveled so many miles to steal. She kept her head high, ignoring the stares, trying to pretend that they could not bother her.
"Queen Susan!" a voice called, very unlike the heavily accented Calormenes. She looked around, trying to see who had called her name. What she saw made her gasp: a large group of Narnians, tied together and sitting on the ground. They were still bloody and dirty from battle, but they had been stripped of their weapons and armor. Susan could not help herself. She broke away from her guard and ran to the soldiers. Kneeling down, she took the hands of those closest to her. "Are any of you hurt?" she asked worriedly.
"Your Majesty, you must get away from here!" cried a Faun. "There is no telling what these men will do!"
"The prince has promised my safety as we negotiate," said Susan. "Now please tell me, how many have survived?" She did not dare to ask the question that had plagued her every thought: had Edmund and Lucy come through the battle?
"More than half are still alive, Your Majesty, although many are hurt," said a Leopard. "We surrendered when the king was captured." Susan hung her head, hot tears of relief springing to her eyes. Edmund is alive, she thought. But Lucy? Corin?
"You must come with us, Your Majesty," said her guardsmen, who had come up behind her. Quickly, she turned back to the Narnians and said, "Keep faith. Aslan will not abandon us. I will see you all safe." The Calormenes took her by the arms and pulled her away.
Susan entered the prince's tent alone. Rabadash smiled slyly and stood from his chair. "Welcome, my lady," he said. His very voice made her skin crawl. "I do apologize for these meager accommodations, especially after you have had the pleasure of experiencing the luxury of my home." He walked toward her, offering his hand. "I must say, I was surprised that you left so quickly, and without even a word. I would have thought a lady such as you would have better manners."
He took her hand, which she quickly yanked away. "I left," she spat, "because you are a monster, and your actions here have proven this. How dare you follow me here?"
Rabadash only chuckled. "My lady, taking Archenland was a strategic move, nothing more. Your brother chose to become involved. My quarrel was not with Narnia. But you mustn't think we wouldn't defend ourselves."
Susan's face was stone. "I want the Narnian captives released, and the dead returned to us. You will negotiate a truce with Archenland, and take your men and leave forever."
"That I am afraid I cannot do," said Rabadash. "This is part of my kingdom now. I am willing, however, to negotiate for the captives." He stood very close to her now, but Susan stood her ground, unwilling to be intimidated. "What are you willing to give for their safe return?"
"You said your quarrel was not with Narnia. Why will you not release them as a sign of good will?"
"Because in this, I have something to gain." He leaned in and whispered in her ear. "Return to Calormen with me and be my queen. Only in this will you ensure your people's safety."
Susan took a step backwards. "You are a snake and a coward—" Her voice cut off as she gasped. Rabadash raised his hand as though to strike her. She winced, but the blow never came. He said slowly, in a warning tone, "Men have lost their lives for less, Highness." He brought his hand down and stroked her cheek. "You hold the future happiness of your people in your hands. I would not be as quick to judge as you. However, I do have something that may change your mind."
Susan was taken to a small tent that was guarded by no less than eight men. She looked at Rabadash, who gestured for her to enter.
Edmund was inside, sitting on a chair, his hands tied behind him. Susan cried out and ran to him. She knelt and threw her arms around him, crying against his neck. "Oh Edmund!" she sobbed, and cradled his face in her hands.
"Susan?" he whispered, his voice cracking. She nodded, looking him over closely. There was a jagged cut above his right eye, and she tried to wipe away the blood and grime. "Are you hurt?" she asked.
"Nothing serious," Edmund replied. "But why are you here?"
"I am negotiating with the prince," she whispered.
"Do not trust him!" Edmund said adamantly. "He is a liar, and has no regard for anything but himself. Do not agree to anything."
"Edmund, I . . ." She wanted to tell him everything: she had agreed to marry the prince, that she was leaving forever, that this may be the last time they'd ever see each other. The words would not come.
But Edmund knew. He looked completely aghast. "No," he breathed. "Susan, don't do it."
"This is the only way to make things right," she replied. Please understand, she pleaded inside her mind. "You and the other Narnians will be returned home. Corin has already been sent to his father."
"If you marry him, Susan, I will make you a widow. This I swear to you."
Susan breathed deeply, fighting off the tears that threatened to spill forth. "I'm so sorry, Edmund. Tell Peter—tell him I'm sorry." She hugged him again, and kissed his forehead. But Edmund struggled against his bonds. "No, Susan! No!" he shouted. Susan stood and fled from the tent. She walked hurriedly across the camp, back to her own tent, her hands over her face, still hearing his shouts following her.
Susan slipped from her horse, glad to finally have the chance to stretch her sore muscles. Rabadash had them all riding at an incredible pace for nearly twelve hours with only one brief rest. The horses were shaking and panting. Susan took a few steps and then sank to the ground. She held her knees to her chest, resting her head on them. She thought of Edmund and Lucy, returning to Cair Paravel without her, and what Peter would say when he was told what had happened. She was too exhausted to cry.
Rabadash stood over her. "A queen should not be wallowing on the ground like a slave," he said in a scornful tone. He grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet.
"Whether I am a queen or slave," she replied grimly, "I will be your wife. I see no difference." Rabadash said nothing, but only smiled.
Susan thought she would be happy to finally arrive in Tashbaan and be finished with riding, but as the city drew near, she was filled with a new dread. Servants were at the castle to greet them. "Take the queen to her room," Rabadash barked, and Susan was led away. Her room was lavish, filled with food and pillows and a bathtub and a huge bed. She sunk into the hot water of the bath, allowing the warmth to wash away the soreness in her muscles. When she was finished, she laid in the bed. It was nearly dark outside, and the moon had risen. In the quiet room, she felt a sudden wave of homesickness. Her own bed, her clothes, her things . . . riding her horse through the forest, sailing along the coast on their ships . . . Lucy's laughter, and Edmund's jokes, and Peter's kindness . . .
She sobbed into her pillow for what seemed like hours, until at last she had nothing left inside her, and lay shaking in the bed. And it was at that moment that Susan decided that she would not cry again, that she would be strong for Peter and Edmund and Lucy, that Rabadash would never see her pain and use it against her.
Susan was kept locked in her room for three days. The only people she saw were her servants, but they did not dare speak to her, or even to look at her. Susan thought about planning an escape—in fact, it would be easy enough, she had decided, to climb out her window and slip away into the crowds of the city. But she feared the repercussions that might mean for Narnia or Archenland, and did not dare to test her plan.
On the morning of the fourth day, Rabadash visited her. He sent the servants away with a harsh word and locked the door. "I trust you are finding your room suitable?" he asked. Susan was sitting by the window, watching the busy street. She acted as though she had not heard a word. "Our wedding will be in two days. It takes several days for the temple to be ready, and all the necessary sacrifices to Tash to be prepared." Susan did not bother to reply. Angry, Rabadash shouted, "You would do well to pay attention to your lord!" Calmly, she slowly turned her head to face him, her expression hard, continuing her stony silence. He moved next to her and slid his hand through her long hair, tilting her face up to him. "Will you always be so cold? You will have many duties to fulfill as my queen."
"Why me?" she asked him. "Why could you not just let me go?"
"Because you are mine," he replied, as if it were the most logical reason in the world.
Susan no longer feared him. "You cannot possibly believe that my brothers will allow me to stay. They will come for me."
"Then they will only find death," Rabadash answered.
Susan did expect the Narnian army to arrive any day, but that day never came. As the weeks went by, she stopped looking for a sign of rescue.
Her marriage to Rabadash was not what she expected. She had thought that he would want her to wait on him constantly, but he mostly ignored her. She had also expected to continue with the same sort of duties that she had as Narnia's queen, meeting with the king and receiving visitors and such. It was quickly apparent that as Rabadash's queen, she would have little to do with the people. He sent for her when he needed to parade her for a visiting dignitary, but these times did not happen as often as she thought they would. The Narnian court was always receiving visitors, and Cair Paravel would be host to any number of Narnian citizens or visitors from other kingdoms. It seemed as though very few people wanted to visit the court in Tashbaan. He also had her ride with him when he traveled through the streets. She felt more like a trophy that proved his power than a wife to a king.
Rabadash did come to her nearly every night. Other than that, her only companions were her servants, who were there every morning when she awoke with her bath and breakfast ready, and only left when the prince would come. They had been forbidden to speak to her, and their fear of Rabadash kept them silent. But Susan talked to them, and told them about Narnia, and her family, and all of her heart's secrets. She treated them very kindly, and gave them food and clothing and gold that she did not want or need. Because of this, they loved her dearly.
Susan spent most of her days sitting at her window, watching the city. The Calormenes could see her in the window, and strange rumors spread about this sad queen, who was almost never seen. But the servants in the castle told the story of how she had been taken from her family, and of her generosity towards them. Without realizing it, Rabadash had married a queen that his own people began to love, and they spoke of him in whispers as if he were a monster.
Nearly six months had gone by. Susan had not seen Rabadash in over two weeks, and had no news of what was happening. She feared he was dead, and what would happen to the country if he was gone, and what would happen to her, alone and friendless in a foreign city. And something else had begun to invade her mind, which took all of her will to put aside.
Susan was spending another morning sick in bed when Rabadash arrived. He banged through her door, causing the servants to fling themselves on the floor in terror. Susan had not even dressed yet, and she sat bolt upright, still in her dressing gown. He strode over to her bedside and pulled the covers from her. He was angry, very angry, and she thought for sure that he would kill her. That might have been in his mind, but when he looked down at her, it was easy to see the small bump through the thin cloth of her gown.
He left immediately and did not return. An hour later, however, people began to arrive, doctors and medicine men and all manner of midwives and nurses. They made such a fuss that Susan was sick all over again, but now she could not deny the truth.
There were people always with her now, and she did not have even a moment alone. But it was wonderful to hear voices again, and see new faces, although none of them spoke to her. And now, Susan was able to collect news, as she lay in bed with her eyes closed. When they thought she was asleep, they would talk about Rabadash, and how the battles were going badly. It seemed as though Archenland had rallied itself, and the Calormene army had been pushed out. Even now, a great army was making its way across the desert.
Rabadash came to see her one afternoon. Her stomach was still swelling, and he seemed scared to even touch her. Susan could not help but feel a small twinge of pity for him. His eyes were sunken, his skin pale. "You are well?" he asked her.
Susan nodded. "And you, my lord? You look as though you have not slept or eaten. Is your war not going well?"
She saw in that instant her mistake. "You dare! This war is yours, not mine! If you had not stolen away with your coward of a brother and those disgusting animals you call subjects—" Rabadash became so filled with rage that he could no longer speak. He just sputtered out a stream of curses at her, and her family, and Archenland and Narnia and anyone else he could think of. He could not strike her, although Susan thought that he might, so he kicked and choked the servants in the room, who fled in terror before him. Susan tried to follow, begging him to stop, but he locked the door behind him, and for the first time in weeks she was utterly alone.
Her servants returned the next day. Their tongues had been cut out.
The people continued to whisper among themselves about Rabadash's madness. The war he was fighting could not be won. Calormen was alone against the rest of the world, but he would not give up the fight. And they spoke of the queen, how she tried to protect her servants—her servants!—from his wrath, how she sent out food and money to the poor, and how she was the only one who would stand up to the prince.
Susan was awoken by the sound of horns. They were not Calormene horns, with their strange notes to which she was still not accustomed. These horns were deeper, richer, and she found herself weeping for the first time since her first night in Tashbaan. She hurried to the window. Through her tears she could see the banners of Narnia, and Archenland, and the Lone Islands, and even those of Galma and Terebinthia and Narnia's allies. Her heart leapt, and she held onto the two servants with her. Rabadash led a battalion out with swords drawn, but the soldiers threw down their weapons at the sight of the great host. Rabadash screamed and cursed them all, and one figure stepped down from his horse and ran him through with his sword. She knew that Edmund had fulfilled his oath.
It seemed as though Susan's rescuers had anticipated a great battle, and even perhaps a siege of the city, but they had not counted on the people of Tashbaan to welcome them in. The men cheered the soldiers as they came up to the palace, and the women wept openly. The Calormenes parted in the streets to allow them through. The door of her room opened, and the castle guard called for her. "Your Majesty," they said, bowing low, "your people are here for you. Calormen will follow your lead." And Susan left her room, her head held high, and walked towards her freedom, her family, and home.