Disclaimer: The Chronicles of Narnia is the intellectual property of C. S. Lewis and his estate. No money is being made from this story, and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: "Mother of Exiles" was inspired by the 2/15/10 word #130 on the 15_minute_fic livejournal community. It has been altered slightly from its livejournal form. Book canon only.
Cor latches on to his new identity very fast and hard in HHB, and there are both sound political and strong personal reasons for Lune to ignore and suppress any whispers about Cor's childhood cultural 'conditioning,' but the fact remains, Cor grew up in Calormen and he marries a Calormene woman. I refuse to believe there is no connection between those two facts. Also, Aravis and Cor must add elements beyond friendly arguments to their relationship at some point, considering they do have at least one son. So I played around a little. :)
Story Summary: Marriage is a bit more complicated than quarreling and making it up again, especially for the crown prince of Archenland and an exiled Calormene Tarkheena.
Chapter Summary: Aravis has made her home in Archenland, but she is still Calormene by birth and culture. She hopes Cor is too.
Chapter 1: Mother of Exiles
Aravis had never cared much for feminine beauty, neither as applied to herself nor to her friends and rivals. Her ideal of grace had more to do with galloping horses and the ripple of sunlight on well-forged steel. But she knew what a Tarkheena should look like, sound like, and smell like. She knew about hair oiled and braided into a gleaming crown, about bells around the ankles and light chiming laughter, about musk and spices dabbed at the throat and wrists and ears. She had watched her stepmother catch her father. She knew the steps of the dance.
Aravis wanted to catch Cor's eye, wanted him to realize that they should spend the rest of their lives together as more than battle companions. But she had no perfume save for the echo of dried flowers pressed into soap. She had no bells, only the ring of sword on sword, and her laughter had never been restrained like Lasaraleen's. She had no oil but the kind used to preserve blades or keep leather supple.
She would have asked Lucy for advice - Lucy had known, like no other woman Aravis had ever met, how to be both warrior and woman, and how to make a foreign land home - but the kings and queens of Narnia had vanished as mysteriously as they had come into this world. Aravis had no one else she trusted to guide her in the ways of northern women.
So she argued and fought and pressed Cor harder and harder - in council, on the practice field, out riding - anything to let him know her attention was his. She let her eyes linger on the lines and curves of his body as he moved, or her hands brush his bared skin when she handed him a shirt or towel. If she had only the starkness of the north and the beauty of war, she would make the most of them and cease mourning for the land and customs she had willingly renounced. But oh, some nights she dreamed of combing scented oil into Cor's new and ragged beard, tidying the blond hairs into a braided, pointed queue. Some nights she dreamed of his hands unwinding bells from her ankles and draping the cords across the arches of her feet.
She began to insult his manhood in public, wondering if he would understand the meaning underneath her words, or if being northern by blood had kept him from learning the courting dance. For a month, Cor argued, evaded, and made every response but the one she wanted. Aravis grew furious, then resigned. She told herself she should have known a fisherman's son would be ignorant of the ways of the world, as he had been ignorant of the rules of betrothal among the Tarkaans. Or perhaps he was trying to leave Calormen behind like a shed skin, trying to convince the people he would one day rule that he was one of them by culture as well as by blood and choice.
Whatever his reasons, the results were the same.
And then, the morning of the new moon - the day Zardeenah of the Maidens yielded power to Achadith the Queen - Aravis found a tiny bottle in her chambers, made of blue glass and sealed with lead rather than cork. Her mother had kept bottles like that. Not daring to let herself hope, Aravis pried out the stopper and raised the bottle, cupping her hands around the glass to warm the delicate oils within.
She breathed in, not the sickly sweet ghost of flowers that northerners sometimes used, but the heavy, smoky musk for which Calavar, her father's domain, was famed. Her mother's perfume. The scent of home. A set of hawk jesses, their leather cords hung with tiny bells, lay on her washing table beside the perfume.
An answer. An invitation.
Aravis dabbed a drop of musk behind each ear, at each wrist, at the hollow of her throat. She combed sword oil through her long, dark hair and braided it into a crown. She tied red silk cords to the ends of the jesses and wrapped the leather and bells around her ankles and calves to bind her trousers tight. As she walked, the gleam of metal and the scarlet of silk were visible now and then through the slits in the side of her long, scarlet skirts: the formal court dress in Calaverene colors that she had sewn for herself when no one in Anvard had been willing to make clothes in the Calormene style.
Lasaraleen would have added kohl and jewels, but Aravis had none and did not miss them. She had the basics as close to correct as she could manage in Archenland, and frippery would be lost on Cor in any case.
King Lune's courtiers looked at her askance as she passed in a whirl of silk and scent and sound. Several sneezed. Aravis ignored them.
Cor was waiting in the stables, two dumb horses already saddled and bridled. As Aravis's perfume drifted through the low, wooden building, the horses whickered and shied at the unfamiliar scent.
"Thank you," Aravis said as she set her foot into his cupped hands and vaulted into the saddle. Cor's hand lingered on her ankle for a long moment as Aravis arranged her skirts, his fingers sliding along the leather and silk and flicking lightly against one of the bells. It chimed faintly, and Cor smiled to himself.
Aravis met his eyes as he looked up. Abruptly, he flushed and looked away, hurrying to open the stable door and lead his horse outside.
"It's not that I don't like you normally, in breeches and all," Cor said as he latched the stable door behind Aravis and swung into his own saddle. "But I grew up in Calormen too, and you're beautiful when you dress like a woman. Even if you did forget to bring your sword. If you faint, don't expect me to catch you."
Before Aravis could think of a suitably stinging response, Cor kicked his horse into a gallop, heading for the castle gate and leaving Aravis to breathe in a sudden cloud of dust.
Aravis spurred her horse to follow, swearing revenge at the top of her lungs.
Later, she would also consider a reward, and an answer to the question his hands and eyes had asked. But that was something for Cor alone to know, just as his gift had been for her alone to understand.
For all that he was Lune's son, Corin's brother, Cor was still a child of Calormen. He knew the steps of the courting dance as well as Aravis did. She had opened the dance. He had offered a gift. She had accepted. Now there were only two ways this could end - marriage or blood feud - and since Cor wouldn't dare trouble his father with the political headache of a feud with Kidrash Tarkaan…
Aravis bent low over her horse's shoulders, teeth bared in a fierce smile as she slowly gained on Cor, and anticipated the end of the race.
AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I appreciate all comments, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.
8/20/10: This chapter was edited slightly in response to a point raised by AM83220; hopefully the formerly misleading phrasing now conveys my actual intent.
8/15/16: This chapter was edited again during the process of finishing the story for the 2016 WIP Big Bang.