Author Note: The Horse and His Boy is my favorite Narnia book, and I've always thought the story of Asheesh the fisherman finding Shasta and raising him was interesting, but especially the idea of what happened to Asheesh when Shasta ran away. This story isn't exactly about that, but it is based on some ideas I have had about it.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or anything to do with Narnia; please don't sue me.
One thing Cor never forgot was what it smelled like to be a fisherman. It wasn't something he thought about often, but occasionally there would be the slightest hint of salt and fish in the air of the North that reminded him of the tiny cottage along the Calormen shore that had once been his home. It wasn't a wholly unpleasant smell, but it tickled the inside of his nose. It also reminded him of Asheesh, a man whom Cor had never been able to hate any more than he had been able to love. Having not known the unquestioning love of his true father until several years into his life, he'd initially thought he ought to feel very angry with Asheesh for depriving him of such a relationship, but the anger never grew beyond slight distaste, and later mild disappointment. After that, he realized that he ought not to expect anything more from a man who, no doubt, was shown as little or even less love than he himself had given. He had learned a lot about things that Asheesh would never know or understand. Cor mulled his feelings for his foster father over in his head one last time as he stared down the hillside to the small cottage where he spent his first years. He pinched his nose lightly to drive away the familiar smell of fish and the itching sensation it brought with it. His pale fingers traveled up to rub his brow and he sighed heavily, "I don't know, Bree."
A soft, only barely annoyed whinny escaped the horse's throat before he caught himself and tried to mask it by finding a small mouthful of grass between his front hooves. When he finished, he turned his long face toward his human companion and said, "Now, really, Cor, oughtn't the great heir to the great throne of Archenland be able to face one old, ailing fisherman?"
"Perhaps," said the prince, "but it is more than that, and you quite know it." Cor's eyes drifted over the shore and back to the cottage, where a small beam of light still showed through a small window. "Nothing has changed, you know. That's the same door as the one I listened in at the night we made our getaway. I sat on that very step when I heard the Tarkaan offer to buy me from Asheesh."
"You called him 'Father,' then," said Bree.
"Of course not."
The pair stood in relative silence for several minutes, Bree chewing small mouthfuls of grass and Cor idly stroking his friend's mane. Cor stared at the light coming from the window, expecting it to go out at any moment, hoping it would. It did not. Half an hour passed before a chill ran through his body and he realized how dark it had gotten. "I ought to go," he said.
"Yes," said the Horse. "I shall wait for you here, friend." He nuzzled Cor and gently pushed him down the grassy slope to the beach.
It didn't take long for Cor to reach the hovel; he stood outside for several moments before raising his fist to knock. There came no reply. He knocked again, but still no one answered. "Asheesh?" he called, and he gingerly slipped his fingers into the crack between two panels of wood to push the door open. "Hello?" As he entered the cottage, he cringed only a little at the intense odor of salt and fish. His eyes immediately fell on a frail old man hunched more than seated at a table. A small hunk of bread lie before him, but the man made no move to pick it up. It was Asheesh. "Asheesh," Cor said, "It is I, Co-, I mean, Shasta." He sighed. "Well, actually my name is Cor, but I used to call you father, and you used to call me Shasta. It was a long time ago."
"Not so long, boy," Asheesh said. His voice was so low that Cor almost didn't hear it, but he did, and it startled him. The old man's eyes bored into Cor's face with a clear wish to cause harm, but the young prince did not fear it.
"Ten years is a long time."
"Perhaps if it is nearly half your life, boy, but for me it has been but a blink of my mind's eye, though perhaps physically dehabilitating." He gestured absentmindedly at his aged body. Cor stepped closer and his eyes were drawn to a long scar along the cheek of Asheesh. "Notice this, did you?" the old man asked, pointing to his marred cheek.
"What do you think, boy? You ran off with that Tarkaan's horse and left me here to suffer for your crime."
"I… I didn't think—"
"Didn't think what? That the Tarkaan would take his due? You were always an insolent and inconsiderate child, but I had not thought you stupid until now."
Cor blinked rapidly at the curious sensation caused by Asheesh's words. It was mostly an insult, but also, in a veiled way, a compliment. He sighed and removed a parcel from its loop on his belt. "Here, sir," he said, opening it. "I brought food." Asheesh looked at the assortment of meat, cheese, and fruit greedily, but he made no move to take it. "Please, Asheesh," said Cor, pushing it toward his companion. "Take it."
"I am too tired."
If Cor had not been rescued from the poor state of his early life, he might never have understood compassion, but he was, and he did. In an instant, he knelt at the side of his foster father and began tearing the hunk of bread into pieces and cutting the meat. Not in any of his predictions of what might occur on his visit to Asheesh had he imagined himself serving the man, but he fell into the task without hesitation because he knew it was right. Bitter and mean as he was, Asheesh was a man, and he needed help. Cor also knew that it was no more than what the fisherman had done for him when he was a starving infant, barely alive off of a shipwreck and delivered to Asheesh by Aslan himself.
More than once, Asheesh seemed as though he meant to bite Cor's fingers, but the time he spent eating was otherwise calm. A long silence passed between the companions before the fisherman said, "Thank you," though in a malcontented voice. "Why are you here, boy?"
"I do not really know," answered Cor. He didn't.
"Did you think you could come here and make up for this?" Asheesh suddenly shouted, pointing a shaking finger at his scar. "Did you come to make up for leaving me alone in this place without considering my welfare or the affect it would have on business?"
"No, of course not! I-I had no idea any of that had happened! I was a child. How could I have known what would happen?"
"I was wrong," said Asheesh, "You were quite stupid. To think of you abandoning me to starvation and years of overwork! It makes me sick to think that you are my son."
Cor slammed his fist onto the table and stood, straight backed and regal. "Now, listen here, sir," he shouted, "I was but a boy who had been beaten and treated like a servant by a man who claimed to be my father. I heard you tell the Tarkaan about my real past, and it was the first good thing I ever knew. Yes, I left—no, escaped—but I am by no means here to apologize." Asheesh's eyes burned, but he did not move or speak. "It was the best thing I could have done. I found friends; I found my father, my actual father. He is a king, you know. And I will be king after him, and I will use nothing that you tried to teach me when I am king. None of that is important now."
"Then what do you want, boy?"
What did he want? For the first time, Cor realized he didn't know. He sat back down and put his golden head in his hands. Neither of the men said anything for a very long time, and Cor thought about all the reasons he knew he must have had for making the journey. He thought of his father and his brother, and of Aravis. She would have known what to say. He thought of Bree waiting for him on the hill. "I want nothing," he said finally. "I only needed to see this place again to truly appreciate what and who I have become." He stood again and pushed his small stool under the table. "And to thank you for saving my life that night on the boat. I know you did not do it for me; I know you were thinking about possible rewards, but you did it, and that alone is admirable." The fisherman sat motionless and stared at the table; Cor sighed and removed another small parcel from his belt. "This is enough gold to hire help; it's enough to buy more boats and nets than you could ever use. I hope it will make things right in the crude fashion that is the only way you understand. Goodbye, Asheesh." He turned to leave, but before he made it to the door, he heard the old man grumble.
"You are welcome, boy," said Asheesh.
Cor smiled. It was as close to "thank you" as he would hear. He gently closed the decrepit door of the cottage and trotted uphill to reunite with Bree. The two friends walked silently for a long time until they felt like resting, and only then did the horse ask after his friend's visit. "It was strange, Bree," said Cor. "He said it had not been that long, but it feels like a different life in a different world." Bree only nodded. "You know, I really never did think about what would happen to him when we ran off that night."
"Why should you have?"
"Well, I mean, it would have been decent of me, would it not have?"
"What decency could you have known, Cor, after those few years in his care? The only decency he has himself has just been given to him by you. It was a gift he will never appreciate, but the best one you could have given."
"I suppose so, Bree," Cor said, just before turning in for the night. "I suppose so."