There are times Shasta climbs up onto the battlements of the castle of King Lune, and looks towards the South. He watches the green hills and forests of Archenland slope down, farther and farther away, until there – he can see it – the desert. And beyond that, glittering Tashbaan, and maybe even the ocean beyond that.
The wind stirs his fair hair, cut in a way that befits an Archenlandish prince. It feels wrong. Not raggedy and rough. He feels like a right fool, having to dress up in fine tunics and robes and crowns and call himself Cor. Maybe Aravis is used to this. Of course she is. She was a princess, back home in Calormen –
He had lived by the seaside, had been raised by a sour old fisherman who would have sold him for a bit of extra gold, had been beaten for putting a foot wrong, and had never, never had enough to eat. And now he is a prince! At first it was like an amazing dream, where he could have whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. The poetry is marvellous, the food delicious, the king and his god, Aslan, kind.
But they keep calling him Cor. And Cor is not his name.
He stares at his hands, which he had once thought were so pale. The sun is hotter down in Calormen. You tan quickly, and Shasta had lived there all his life. His skin is pale compared to the Calormenes, but not here, where most of the people have lived their lives in luxury and peace under a cool sky.
It is too cold in Archenland.
He despises some of the nobles. He walks with Aravis in the corridors – they stick together, they're two countryfellows in a strange land after all – and they give Aravis looks. Small gestures, that he catches out of the corner of his eye. A sniff, a raising of the chin, a flick of the hand, a pointed refusal to look at her. One visiting lord even spat at her.
He challenged the man to a fistfight for that, and lost. He should have asked Corin. His – his father, the King, tries to stop them, to foster an attitude of respect and understanding. Shasta gets the feeling that Aslan would disapprove as well.
The nobles say and do what they like.
He can tell it hurts her.
Shasta's hands fist in the fabric of his fine tunic, and for a moment he feels like it is suffocating him. This piece of cloth could buy a serf in Calormen food for…who knows how long? But Calormene serfs are not deserving of pity, according to some of the people here. They are unimaginative, dull, petty, worthless. They worship the devil Tash, serve the vile Tisroc in his glittering palace – Shasta represses the urge to say may-he-live-forever – and for that they are scum.
How do you know? he feels like shouting at them. Were you ever a poor young boy in Calormen? Did you ever scrounge for your supper at the bottom of a barrel of stinking fish? What do you know about poverty in a harsh country? And what then do you say to Aravis Tarkheena, who rebelled and ran away from an easy life supported by cruelty and slavery , ran away to the North because she believed with all her heart that Narnia was a better land?
Poverty is a word he hadn't even known back in Calormen. His education must be doing him good. He laughs quietly to himself.
Shasta, too, was raised in Calormen. His skin is tanned – though not as dark as Aravis' – and he speaks with a lilt that he hadn't even noticed before he came here to Archenland, because everyone spoke with it – Arsheesh, Aravis, even Bree.
He supposes that's what bothers him, because his blood is not Calormene, it is Archenlandish, and for some reason that means the very same nobles who spit at Aravis bow and scrape before him, the next King of Archenland.
"I don't think Aslan would approve of this," he says aloud.
He looks around. Aravis has joined him. She comes here too, sometimes. To escape.
"You know what I mean," Shasta says. "Here, do you ever…miss it? I don't mean the slaves and the Tisroc and the ropes of pearls and all that. I mean…the good things. The things you remember once they're gone forever."
The hot sun, the glittering sea, the energy of the poor at the marketplace, the simplicity of life when you don't know words like 'poverty' -
"Yes," Aravis says. "And you know, I don't think I'll ever stop."
"This is a good place though, Archenland," Shasta says. "Free. Kind. The air is nicer. It's a better place than Calormen."
"Yes. It's a good place." She lets the wind blow her hair all around. "I do like it here, I really do. And Aslan is so much more wonderful than Tash." When she says Aslan's name, a dreamy smile spreads across her face.
"You know I'll be king one day," Shasta tells her earnestly. "I can change it. I want to…make friends. With Calormen."
"Ha! Have a good time with that one, Cor." There's a little bitterness in her tone. But there's hope there, too.
"My name's Shasta. I've told you before."
"A peasant's name," she teases.
"Yeah," he agrees, grinning. "A peasant's name."
And they look toward Calormen and the South.
The Horse and his Boy is my favourite Narnia book, but after rereading for the first time in years, I picked up on quite a few issues that had flown right over my head when I was seven years old. This oneshot came into my head and wouldn't leave. Hope you enjoyed it!