The Horse, his boy, the Mare, her girl, the Rat and the Trickster
Written a long time ago, and reposted from my Live Journal.
Because it so puts my brother's beak out of joint, sometimes I help Aslan. Not that he really needs it of course. But, Calormen is my country, not his, and the people, especially the slaves and peasants, certainly know me better than they know him. Besides, the Lion of Narnia appreciates a good joke, he does.
It was like this. One night I was banging around away south. My people are weak here and don't have anything, which means I'm strong, if you follow, because faith in the Trickster is the only thing they do have. A slave who leaves a bread crumb has far more power than some great Tarkaan lord giving me a plate of gold. Not that he would. He gives all his gold to my big brother, Tash.
So, the Tarkaans mock me, and when they don't give me my due, and when they abuse the people who worship me, well, I'm not above a bit of fun at the expense of the great and powerful. And that's really what this story is about.
It was late and I was hopping fence to fence, chasing away the foxes and collecting the offerings my people leave – the shriveled root, the kernel, the flower. For these folk, my folk, what they give, I return to them, three-fold, as the saying goes. So, the shriveled root becomes a whole onion, a kernel becomes an ear of corn or a sheaf of wheat, the flower turns to a cup of honey. The hen will lay another egg, the goat gives sweeter milk, and the bread rises a little more in the pan. I don't ask for much. My people don't have much and what I give in return eases their hard lives, just a little.
So, my offerings collected and blessings dispensed, I was sitting on the fence, wondering if I should go bother the dreams of a fisherman I don't like. He never gives me so much as a fish head.
When, speaking of fish and what the cat dragged in, who should drop out of a tree but the Lion of the North. He wasn't a lion down here. He was cat. A really large cat. Which was still a problem since I was a rat at the moment.
It's really odd hearing him talk all deep and formal when he's not a Lion.
I edged away from the cat and jumped on to the hindquarters of a donkey who had sidled up to the fence. With a nudge from me, the jenny lazily swatted her tail in the direction of the cat. I scratched her withers in return.
Aslan wanted me to ask him why he was here. I wasn't going to. There was only one reason why he would be here, so far from his own lands and the creatures who worshiped him.
I kept scratching the jenny. The cat flicked away a fly – and it wasn't even one I sent.
"Would you like to hear about a joke?"
Oh he knows how to get my attention, that clever cat.
"What's in it for me?"
"A role in playing the joke."
"Who is being pranked?"
"The Tisroc. One of his sons. Other powerful Tarkaans."
I couldn't help it. My whiskers twitched. That Lion is such a bastard. Any prank on the Tisroc, his sons, and their great Lords always pisses off Tash. Which just makes me do it more. Aslan knows this.
"Tell me the joke."
So the Lion told me a tale. He said there was a great King in the North whose money and infant son had been stolen by one Lord, only to be stolen away by another Lord. The Prince was raised in Calormen as a poor servant never knowing who he was. One day, the Prince stole a great Tarkaan Lord's horse, who was really a Talking Horse of Narnia. (I loved that part). Then a young Tarkheena promised to another great Tarkaan Lord, she finds a Talking Horse of Narnia too, and gives everyone the slip and meets up with the Prince who doesn't know he's a Prince and looks like a slave.
It gets even more complicated once they get to Tashbaan and I could tell Aslan hadn't thought through this part of his joke yet. There's a really angry Calormene Prince (Aslan didn't say who, but I could guess and it really sweetened the story for me, that's for sure). The Calormene Prince wants to marry a Queen of the North, she's not interested and so she and her brother need to secretly escape Tashbaan. Somehow, the stolen Northern Prince needed to get mixed up with his twin brother who is a Prince and not stolen. And that Tarkheena, she gets found out but escapes with information about a secret invasion. Then she and the Prince who doesn't know he's a Prince raise the alarm and there's a big battle.
I don't care much about battles so I stopped paying attention. My people are always fodder in war and they always lose the few things they do have. Besides, war is boring and loud and really I admire the clever ones who get out of a scrape without killing or burning anything.
But the rest of the story. Well, frankly, I was hard pressed to see the Lion pulling it all off, especially with all those tricks and disguises, and plots and lucky chances. And in Calormen, too. I could see why he came to me. Oh, Aslan could do it on his own, sure. But, it's more fun when two play and the Lion of Narnia has a sense of humour, and really, he can set the goal and let me take care of the details. It's why I like him.
Except when he eats me. That hurts.
And, pranking the Tisroc, his sons, and the Great Lords? Colour me entertained.
"I'm in," I told Aslan, just as he was explaining more about the politics of his Northern lands. Boring. "But, three conditions."
The cat growled. He doesn't like it when others dictate terms. The jenny, at my urging, took a step further away. I didn't want to get eaten. Again.
"I claim the Tarkheena as my own and I get to have some fun with her and your Northern Prince."
"Fun?" the cat repeated. It's odd hearing sarcasm from a cat's mouth.
"I know you're going to have them get married and rule wisely and well and all that. But before they do, to get them there, I want to do something fun with them first. Make them earn it again. Send them off on a mad adventure before they get too old and boring and married." Something with pirates and mistaken identities and more disguises. Really, I just love disguises. There would be wild misunderstandings, too. The sorts of things humans could resolve in a minute if they ever talked properly to one another. Which they never, ever do.
"I will entertain that proposal," the Lion agreed.
Fair enough. He was going to a lot of trouble for this caper. He didn't want me to upstage that. We'd work it out when the time was right.
"As for you claiming the Tarkheena, she will give her allegiance to me first."
I rolled my beady rat eyes at the cat. Of course she would go to Aslan first. "But she's a Calormene, and always will be, cat. It will always be in her blood and heart, and a girl this clever I want looking to me, not my kin."
Aslan considered it but really, whether he agreed or not, you could put a Tarkheena in the North, but you'd never get the Tarkheena out of her. Not completely. And why would you want to?
"Very well, Trickster. I agree to your modest terms. What is your third?"
"The Calormene hothead Prince? I want some role in the punishment you give him."
It's pretty funny when a cat looks gobsmacked.
The jenny turned and looked at me so I scratched her back again, an idea already forming. Aslan would agree to this condition. He knows I am a lot more creative than he is when it comes to public humiliation.
"I agree," the cat said.
We weren't going to shake on it. I didn't want to get that close to him.
To business. The best pranks required a lot of planning.
"So when do we start? You need to get the infant down here. When's he coming?"
"Tomorrow. I will bring him here, to the beach, by boat," the cat said.
Come to think of it, there was a story in Calormene about a great Prince stolen away as an infant, hidden in a boat, and raised by barbarian wolves in the North. This was a funny retelling of that old fable.
"So who is going to find him and raise the boy?"
"The fisherman, Arsheesh."
I stared at the cat. He stared back and I heard a threatening growl. I didn't care. He was crazy and I was angry.
"My brother's feathered balls! You vicious, stupid fleabag! You can't just deposit an infant with Arsheesh!"
The cat's growl got louder.
"Arsheesh is awful. He's mean, he drinks too much, and he'll work the boy to death. He's the worse sort of human, Aslan. You don't want him there. Pick someone else."
The cat flicked his tail irritably. "But if the boy is happy, he will not run away."
Oh. Right. There was that.
Still, the cat was being stubborn. I didn't like Arsheesh since he withheld what was due me, but even so, Aslan didn't know the man the way I did.
"Aslan, I know you don't deal with humans much. They aren't like your Trees and your other Narnians." Reptiles didn't raise their offspring at all. Most of Aslan's Beasts were only with their parents for a season, or maybe a few years. "I know other folk who would give a child a proper home. When the time comes, we can work something out to get the boy to leave." Prophetic dream, maybe. We were both good at those.
"It is Arsheesh," Aslan said, and there was no arguing with him. Stupid cat. He'd just eat me and then do it all on his own, and it would work, but it would be a giant cock up and I'd miss out on the pranking.
"Fine," I muttered. Really, sometimes I wondered if the Calormenes were right in calling Aslan a fiend. This was so stupidly unnecessary, it was almost cruel.
I would watch out for the boy; I could mete out punishment and misfortune on Arsheesh when he was too harsh – but not so much for him to think the boy bore a curse.
I admit a lot of the fun of this prank had disappeared. I know what vicious humans would do to those who were weak and small. So maybe the Prince had good blood from kind people, but a cruel master could turn the sweetest person sour and mean. That wasn't the sort of thing a Lion would think of – how what you knew when you were young could taint you later. He'd want a good King for his Northern land, not a tyrant who had learned to enjoy pain and suffering because he'd suffered it at the hand of a brutal Calormene fisherman.
This meant I had to stay involved. The baby Prince would need my aid.
I started ticking off on my paws what would need to be done as Aslan, curse him, had figured I would. They would need a goat for milk and there was a good girl across the field I was fond of. She'd been raped by a passing bandit, had a child herself, and would gladly give her breast to an orphaned babe.
"Are we concluded?" Aslan asked.
If I had shoulders, I would have shrugged. "Yes." I had a long night and day of work ahead of me. Really, just dumping an infant in a fisherman's cot was mad. Arsheesh would try to pass off the child first, too, which meant I'd have to get the good people who want to help to go against their nature and refuse. That would be hard.
I gave the jenny another scratch. "I'll have Arsheesh down at the beach tomorrow evening."
The man slept like the dead. I'd probably need biting flies, mice chewing on his hair, and scratching fleas. Torturing Arsheesh made me feel better. "You'll help me, darling?" I asked the jenny.
The donkey huffed her agreement. She would plant herself at Arsheesh's hut and bray all night for another scratch on the withers.
"Thank you," Aslan said. And he meant it. I still felt bitter about it, though.
"Does this mean you won't eat me?" I asked.
The cat jumped back up on to a high branch of the overhanging tree. It was the sort of leap no other cat could have made save the Lion.
"Not this time, Trickster."