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: You may have noticed by now that I completely and utterly fail at any kind of regular (or even reasonable) update speed. I must inform you that this is a longstanding character trait and is unlikely ever to change. Sorry about that.
Still book canon only.
Summary: Politics intrudes on romance, but Hwin knows that as long as her friends work together, they can overcome any obstacle.
Chapter 8: Simple Problems
Hwin was more than willing to give Aravis and Cor a bit of privacy to consummate their marriage - the day was warm, the grass was soft, so why not? And from the sidelong glance the two humans exchanged, they had done something of the sort at least once before. But Aravis and Cor insisted on continuing their journey north and east to Cair Paravel.
"We won't reach the coast by nightfall unless Hwin and I gallop ourselves to death," Bree said as he and Hwin picked their way across a shallow, stony mountain stream. "There's a watch station where the Anvard road meets the river road. We can stop there for the night."
"That will work," Aravis agreed, shifting her weight on Hwin's back in response to a patch of bad footing.
The watch station had been established early in the Pevensies' too-short reign, as Narnians shook themselves out of a century of magical isolation and remembered that borders were not always impervious and roads often carried guests whose names ought to be hurried on to Cair Paravel and brought to the four monarchs' attention. As such, it combined a square three-story stone tower and ten-foot curtain wall with an extensive guest house and a courier service.
Hwin and the others arrived an hour before sunset and found the gates open and welcoming: clearly some of the Talking Birds had grown curious, or someone in the tower had a good spyglass trained on the road. A gray tabby cat leapt down from the wall to the top of the open gate and then to a nearby mounting block as Hwin and Bree ambled into the courtyard, their shadows stretching long and thin on the hard packed ground.
"Prince Cor, Lady Aravis, Captain Bree, Lady Hwin," the cat said in a rasping voice, flicking her tail lazily from side to side as she watched the humans dismount. "My name is Anaprisma and I bid you welcome to Narnia. Will you entrust me with the nature of your visit so I can advise Lord Steward Peridan what to expect upon your arrival in Cair Paravel?"
Aravis and Cor glanced at each other. Bree swished his tail and shivered his withers, attempting to look unconcerned. Hwin laughed soundlessly to herself and said, "Thank you for your welcome and concern, ma'am. Our friends have only recently married and are seeking some time for themselves away from Archenland's political affairs."
Anaprisma tilted her head, her eyes narrowed to slits. Then she bared her teeth in a wicked grin. "I believe I see. Lord Peridan will most definitely wish to speak with you tomorrow. For tonight, please enjoy what poor hospitality Narnia can provide on such short notice. Master Cowslip in the guest house will provide supper for the humans, there are oats and hay in the stables for the horses, and anyone who wishes can bathe in the pool at the back of the house." She leapt down from the mounting block and vanished into the tower.
"Was it necessary to mention our marriage?" Cor asked in a plaintive undertone.
"Hiding it will only encourage people to think you and Aravis might be separated, and there's no hiding the way you obviously want to... to be with each other," Hwin told him, tactfully censoring her words. "Besides, if you want help, it's best to be open about the lay of the land so nobody stumbles into any holes and snaps an ankle later on."
"You can leave Archenland, but you can't escape politics," Aravis agreed in a rueful tone. "You should be used to the price of rank by now."
Cor made a terrible face. Aravis laughed, and his grimace dissolved into a matching grin as he reached for her hand.
Hwin nudged Bree with her hindquarters and tilted her head toward the stables attached to the guest house. He blew noisily through his lips, but followed her across the yard readily enough.
"Bother politics," he said as Hwin gripped a bell rope between her teeth and rang to summon a person with opposable thumbs to help remove their saddles and bags. "You'd think getting to Narnia would be enough, but no. After the trouble of a daring escape to freedom you still have to work out what to do next."
"That's how life goes," Hwin said as a faun stepped through the open doorway of the guesthouse, sketched an abbreviated bow, and began unbuckling straps. "The only place without problems is Aslan's country." Which was strange beyond strange to think of, because even after death wouldn't people still be people, with all the flaws that helped distinguish one from another and give life flavor? But if anyone could manage to keep individuality and free will alive while simultaneously making peace among all souls, Aslan certainly had the best chance. And Hwin had decided as a filly - scared, brutalized, alone in a foreign land among humans who did not recognize her as a person - that she would keep faith with him.
Bree snorted, but let that track of conversation drop.
In the morning Aravis and Cor wore the unmistakable residual scent of sex, despite their obviously vigorous attempts to wash it away. Hwin jostled Bree before he could say anything on the subject. Their humans had enough to worry about. There was no sense overburdening their minds by tripping them into the sinkholes of their species' odd taboos.
Getting their gear ready took twice as long as usual since the humans were constantly distracted by stealing and sharing heated glances over Hwin's and Bree's backs. Bree flicked his tail at Cor several times in a futile attempt to redirect his attention. Hwin simply waited. She remembered the strange, hot longing she had never indulged in while she lived in Calormen, and her nervousness the first time she mated after returning to Narnia - the way she had watched the stallion in her adopted herd, feeling a sudden sympathy for Bree's sense of dislocation from their brethren after so many years among their dumb cousins. But in the end it had all been quite natural and easy, and her two foals were healthy, happy, and so much at home among her herd sisters that she could leave them to visit friends without any fear that they would vanish before she returned.
Finally Aravis swung onto Hwin's back and she moved toward the watch station's gate, following close on Bree's heels.
A gray blur dropped down from the wall, landing with a light-foot thump on Hwin's withers. Hwin startled, dancing sideways on the path and rolling her eyes back in an attempt to see what had touched her. The cat Anaprisma leapt to Aravis's shoulder, then down between her arms and out of Hwin's sight.
Aravis was a steady, calming weight on Hwin's back.
"I will accompany you and your lady wife to Cair Paravel and present you to the Lord Steward, Prince Cor," Anaprisma announced in her rasping voice. "I suggest you hurry. The sooner you present your side of the story, the easier it will be to avoid any trouble between our countries."
"Trouble?" Cor said.
Anaprisma purred. Something twitched lightly over Hwin's shoulders - the cat's tail, most likely, though it felt remarkably like a crawling insect. She shivered her skin, attempting to dispel the sensation.
"Two Narnians aided a Calormene in abducting the crown prince of Archenland," Aravis said slowly. "Am I correct?"
"That isn't what happened at all!" Bree said, stamping a forehoof in annoyance.
"But it's what some of the Great Council would prefer to imagine instead of the truth," Cor said, his shoulders slumped. "They still have Corin," he added plaintively. "I don't see why people expect me to fit their every wish any more than my brother did when he was Father's heir."
"Because you care enough about your country to try," Aravis said. "Which may have been foolish, in retrospect, but what is done is done and no one can return to rewrite the path of her youth with the knowledge of her age. We will make haste to Cair Paravel and take responsibility for what we have done."
Cor straightened in Bree's saddle, drinking strength from Aravis's words. "Yes," he said. "You're right. There are things I need to make clear, and now is better than never."
"To Cair Paravel, then?" Hwin asked, taking a tentative step forward.
"To Cair Paravel!" Bree cried, and he shot forward in a rapid trot. After a moment Hwin followed, Aravis balanced steady and sure on her back.
They had all saved each other once before, in more dire straits than these. They would save each other again. Hwin was sure of it.
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.