Susan woke up at dawn and could not get back to sleep.
She had dreamed a dream that involved hot pans of soup tipping over and her trying to push Edmund out of the way, only to have him say, "I must grab the pot because I was an awful person once and I am still trying to make up for it."
Horrid nonsense, Susan told herself. If Peter had been in Edmund's place, surely he would have done the same. It just happened to be Edmund. Only it always happened to be Edmund.
Susan gave up on sleep. She decided to wash up and go over to the library to read some romantic poetry before the day began.
She had grown increasingly less romantic lately. It had been the gentle, romantic part of her that was so fascinated by Prince Rabadash a few years ago. And that had turned out to be a mistake of such magnitude that it had caused a battle and people had died. Now Susan mistrusted her own romantic feelings and her gentleness, even as she was reminded of it each time someone used her full title.
However, she still allowed herself poetry.
She wore her softest shoes. She walked down the steps lightly and pushed the heavy wooden doors of the Cair Paravel library.
Immediately, she saw him, a man dressed in a Calormene tunic, standing at the end of the long corridor lined with bookshelves, completely lost in the blue-covered book he was holding open. It was Joshta. At that moment, he glanced up and met her eyes.
Susan felt her face go hot. It seemed so intimate, this moment he was sharing with the book in the silence of the library, that she felt as if she had interrupted him undressing.
Joshta's face paled as he looked at her. He lowered the book. He took a step backwards.
"Don't go!" Susan said. "Don't…"
But Joshta had already gone.
Susan sighed. She still tried to read poetry after that but she kept seeing those dark startled eyes. Perhaps, her voice had been too sharp. Was he afraid of her just like Anares? Why did she keep accidentally frightening people?
Eventually, she went back to her room to change her shoes.
Normally, Susan left her shoes outside the room to be shined every evening from 8 to 9 PM. She and Lucy both had their shoes shined by a fourteen year-old centauress named Sirene. She was an orphan who lived and worked at Cair Paravel (when she wasn't going to school or studying). She was rather meek for her species, preferring to perform small tasks for the two queens more than any other occupation, although she had been given a choice where to work.
As Susan picked up her purple slippers to bring them inside the room, she suddenly glimpsed something white inside one slipper. She pulled it out. It was a piece of rolled up parchment.
Silene did not generally leave her notes. They were comfortable enough with each other that the girl could always speak to her. But perhaps, she hadn't had the time?
She unrolled it:
I write this letter to ask you for a favor which would easy for you to grant and means a great deal to me.
Susan's eyes dropped to the bottom of the letter. It was not signed.
She went back to reading.
This morning, you saw me looking at an object. I only ask that you don't mention what you saw to anyone.
I had a friend. He told clever and lively stories to others like himself. He was warned to stop several times. We are not supposed to be clever and we must be very careful with our jests. He had been too free. Finally, his tongue was cut out and he was given as a gift to a very rich man who needed someone to keep his secrets.
I ask that you show me mercy by saying nothing.
Of course, Susan understood who the writer was. She put the letter down and shuddered.
Didn't Joshta know how much the Narnians valued reading? Did he really think she was such a cold-blooded heartless thing that she would get pleasure from reporting what she had seen? But then, Joshta had seen her and Jasmeen talking and laughing yesterday, as good acquaintances do. What would keep him from concluding that they were on the same side?
He must have been so frightened when she discovered him that morning. He must have thought and concluded that this was his only hope, a plea for mercy. But it was a dignified plea. There was no groveling in it, no self-debasement. She wondered if Joshta had ever asked for mercy before in his life and whether it had been granted. The thought made sudden tears fill her eyes.
She wouldn't just keep silent as he had asked. She would do more.
Edmund came to breakfast early. Whenever something made him uncomfortable, whether it was nerves or a headache, a battle wound or a slight burn, he was always more hungry that usual. Everyone knew this.
The next ones to arrive were Lucy and Anares. Edmund studied them. "Something is missing," he said, puzzled.
"Good morning to you too," Lucy said pointedly.
"Yes, yes, good morning," Edmund said distractedly, bowing.
Mirla was walking rapidly by with a tray but stopped upon seeing Anares. Her face turned slightly red, and she reached out to touch Anares on the arm. "About yesterday…I was a bit abrupt with you because I was worried, you see. We, dwarves, tend to say things directly. But I'm hoping you don't take it the wrong way."
Anares's eyes filled for a moment. "Oh, no," she said. "I understand." She had never even thought of being put out with Mirla but still, those words…they somehow meant a lot.
Mirla turned to Edmund. "I made extra toast," she said to him confidingly and hurried on.
Suddenly, Edmund slapped his forehead with his good hand. "Taci! She isn't here."
'You are right," Anares said.
"Is she well?" Edmund asked. He was concerned now for Anares had never left her cat behind before.
"Yes," said Anares. She said no more.
"Edmund," said Lucy. "You'll need to find yourself a partner in the chess tournament. I am playing against Peter today." She looked at him meaningfully and smiled.
Joshta was carrying a silver vial of sweetened orange juice to the tarkheena's room. She had insisted on having fresh orange juice brought to her room in the morning, even though she would be breakfasting with the Narnians within the next half hour. Joshta did not mind. It was easy work as far as work went.
He had spent the morning asking the servants about queen Susan, trying to understand what sort of person she was and whether she could be trusted. He had tried not to show anyone how shaken he was and, truth be told, how afraid. All the servants had only good things to say about her which meant that she would probably not describe their earlier meeting in the library to the tarkheena with any evil intent. But she might mention it accidentally, not knowing any better. And Joshta knew, better than anyone in this kindly country, how much harm a simple remark could do. He had finally decided to leave the letter in her shoe. One had to trust someone, after all.
Now, he would try to have a pleasant morning and hope for the best. And he would not return to the library again. No, he had learned his lesson.
He knocked on the tarkheena's bedroom door using his customary slave knock.
"Come in!" Jasmeen's voice called.
Joshta opened the door and found himself in front of queen Susan. He glanced down quickly, noticing the purple slippers glimmering on her feet. She must have read the note.
Susan was still speaking to Jasmeen. "It's all settled then? We will take care of business in the morning, and we'll all have the chess tournament after lunch, when it gets hot."
"Perfect," Jasmeen said, as she came to the door in a lavender nightgown, her dark hair flowing over her shoulders. "I adore chess." She took the vial of orange juice.
Joshta bowed, ready to leave.
"I was just telling Queen Susan that it's really shameful how little work you have, now that you are here," Jasmeen said. "And as she was agreeing with me, I had an excellent idea." She took a delicate sip. "Queen Susan needs someone to sweep the library."
Joshta stood motionless.
Susan spoke up. "I know it is a maid's job," she said apologetically, "But we are interviewing girls right now for the position. Meanwhile, the library is getting dusty. We would pay wages," she finished.
Jasmeen laughed. "And what would he do with wages? He shall do it for free and he shall do it well."
The queen had arranged this for him, Joshta thought, stunned. He did not look at queen Susan. He was afraid that Jasmeen might see something hidden passing between them. He only bowed. Somehow, he would thank her later.