AN: Yup, bet no one expected me to pull this fic out on you! I just can't help but feel proud of it, especially looking back on last year when I was so insecure and hated it so much. It really isn't that bad.
Narnia was always my first love, always will be, and Shasta-or-Cor/Aravis is the stuff dreams are made of. This fic also includes my own private conversations with Aslan.
Two tired boys hiked up the hill towards their father's castle, and as they huffed and puffed onwards, the elder remarked, "That was some good boxing you did today, Corin."
"Wasn't it!" Corin laughed. "And the best thing about it all, Cor, is that you can't box for anything, so I don't have to try too hard for you to be impressed."
"Oh, shut up." Cor gave his brother a friendly shove, "accidently" making Corin lose his balance and roll down the hill. "At least I can still push, can't I?"
"You'll pay for that!" Corin shouted back through his laughter. "I'm coming to get you, and you'll be sorry!"
"Fighting again?" A voice called from the castle gates. "Hurry up, supper is in an hour's time."
Cor looked up and caught his breath. Aravis was already walking back into the courtyard but he caught a glimpse of her face before she turned. Its beauty stunned him.
Corin sniggered as he moved to stand next to his brother. "Eyeing her, are you? Don't worry, you can have her."
Cor glared coldly at Corin. "I have absolutely no idea what you might be talking about." He stalked up the hill.
"Oh, indeed," Corin puffed as he ran to catch up. "You two have been through so much together, I shouldn't wonder if you end up wooing her. Besides, Father said there isn't anyone else to make marriage alliance with in these lands, not unless you want to marry into a loathsome Calormene family. You ought to take your chance at a free marriage before someone else pops up."
"How are you so well informed?" Cor growled. "And anyway, Aravis and I are nothing but chums."
"Wait a few more years and see. Aravis grows prettier by the hour, and I think she'll notice when you're knighted."
"None of these things you can't do either. Wooing and being knighted and all the nonsense you just said."
"But you're the one who will be king," Corin murmured. "Quite a catch for her, isn't it?"
Cor's stomach twisted at the thought of being king. "I think you're being ridiculous!"
"Say what you will," Corin laughed as he raced up the hill. "See you at supper!"
Cor grumbled to himself about brothers as he hiked slowly behind.
"Corin's in the castle already," Aravis appeared at the gates again. "I was just wondering how long it'd take for you to reach, yourself."
"Who are you, anyway?" Cor muttered, but he was smiling. "Mum?"
"Close." Aravis rolled her eyes. "Come on, we've got Queen Lucy supping with us tonight."
"Oh, really? How come?"
"You know. She's been visiting some people in Archenland and decided to drop by tonight."
"And aren't you quite happy about it."
"Don't tease me, Cor." But Aravis was laughing herself. Queen Lucy, Aravis claimed, was the only one who could understand her. They were the best of friends, nearly like sisters, and Lucy doted upon Aravis and took her under her wing.
Supper was a simple affair, even with visiting royalty. The Narnians always insisted that King Lune and his house take no burden of preparing anything fancy. Lucy sat with Aravis, and her laughter rang oft and merrily. She wore an exquisite blue dress that brought out the sparkle in her eyes, and it was Cor's turn to nudge Corin out of his daze and whisper a reminder that her Highness was at least seven years older and not interested in marrying at the moment. Corin shot him a look of death and shook his fist, indicating that a good box with Cor at the receiving end would take place after supper.
The plates were cleared away, and Cor received his box. It was useless trying to avoid Corin's IOUs; his brother always had his way in the end. Cor sighed and walked along a deserted garden balcony, nursing his sore cheek, when he heard a laugh and turned to see Aravis. "He gets you all the time, doesn't he?"
"Yes, he does," Cor admitted. "What are you doing here? You should be having a wash and getting ready for bed."
Aravis walked alongside Cor. "Yes, and I would ask you if you were my mother, but you're obviously not, so never mind."
"Why are you allowed to play chief and I'm not?"
"Because I'm a Tarkheena."
"Right, and I'm going to be king next time. Does this mean I win?" He turned to face her, grinning. It was the only time Cor embraced his inheritance – when he needed a higher status than Aravis's.
"No, because you're not king yet." But Aravis didn't seem very much in the mood for jest.
"I say, is something up?"
"I was only thinking about Lucy. She's very pretty, isn't she?"
Cor frowned. "Yes, she is. Why?"
"Cor, if I wore a dress like hers... would I look an absolute fool?"
"Of course not! I think you'd look simply lovely."
Cor realized that he must've praised a little too warmly and backtracked, cursing Corin for all romantic ideas and nonsense.
"I mean, well, you'd look alright in it, I suppose."
"Sorry for the pointless question. I just wondered. What on earth did Corin box you for?"
"You weren't the only one who thought Queen Lucy's dress pretty."
Aravis smirked. "Corin seems to have his mind on every lady in the castle, from the cook to the little maid who polishes his shoes!"
Cor shifted uncomfortably. "That's not exactly true, Aravis. He never says anything about... well, liking anybody."
"And you think he would tell you!" Aravis rolled her eyes. "Boys are ashamed of falling in love; it's not a thing he'd waltz in and announce to you, Cor."
"How do you know so much?" Cor shot at her.
"I'm a girl. I ought to know these things."
"Well, I've heard that girls often assume things wrongly. They think every chap in the kingdom's after them just because he bows and says 'good morning'!"
"And how do you know so much?" Aravis raised her voice. A fight was on its way.
Cor was in a fix. Should he confess that he'd overheard the chambermaid's rant regarding her hopeless romantic life? Or lie and say he'd been approached by countless females when he had his early morning rides? As much as he knew the latter wasn't going improve Aravis's mood, he was more than a little tired of her constant mothering and I'm-a-Tarkheena jabs.
"One often meets girls of that sort," he said airily, expecting a punch on the arm or a verbal flow of Aravis-like abuse, but she did neither.
Cor watched in bemusement as Aravis's face paled and then reddened so drastically he wanted to laugh and exclaim in surprise at the same time. Without a word, she turned on her heel and stalked back into the hall they'd walked from.
"That was not wise, my child," a familiarly wild, golden voice said.
Cor wheeled around. "Aslan!" The Great Lion visited sparingly but Cor had always looked forward to his next coming. Tonight of all nights, however, was very wrong timing. The last thing Cor wanted Aslan to barge in on was his brief satisfaction after winning a quarrel against Aravis.
"I say, Aslan," he mumbled. "What brings you here?"
"Look at me." It was a command.
Reluctantly, Cor lifted his head and looked into the large, golden eyes, expecting to see anger. But the Lion's eyes were expressionless, or else they held an expression Cor knew not.
Aslan sighed and breathed upon Cor's face. "Come closer, Child. Let us walk together. I wish to speak with you."
"Yes, Aslan," Cor mumbled. "What about?"
But Aslan would say no more until he and Cor had walked out of the courtyard and through the gates. Cor worried about being caught wandering the grounds at a time he was not allowed to, but he could see no guards.
Aslan brought him to the hill slope overlooking the castle. "Son of Adam, what do you see?"
"I – I see the castle."
"It is where you will rule one day."
Cor winced at the reminder. "High King Peter told me that you showed him Cair Paravel and said the same thing."
"You remember well. For you must realize that the throne – my blessing to you – is never too far away. The sight of Cair Paravel heartened and encouraged Peter. Does yours do so to you?"
Cor sighed shakily. "I'm scared, Aslan."
"Courage. The day has not yet come. You are only afraid, are you not, because you feel unprepared? Rest assured, my son, that you will not be crowned king until I deem wise."
What if he thinks it's time when it's really not? Cor worried.
"Child," Aslan said gently, as if he had read his mind, "I do not follow time. Time follows me. I do not make feeble estimations and guesses. For I am the One who writes your story, not the one who merely observes it."
"I'm sorry, Aslan. I see now." Cor hung his head.
"Do not be ashamed that you know so little of me, my son. It is good that you did not realize this at the time, so that it should be all the more comforting to you now."
"But will I ever be ready, Aslan?"
The Lion chuckled. "No one will ever be truly ready for anything in life, nor will they always be prepared. But know that in spite of this, I am stronger than your shortcomings. In your day of trouble, I will be there. And, Dear Heart, wherever I am, there shall be victory. Speak your thought."
"I only wanted to – to know..." Cor faltered.
"Do not be afraid to ask, Child. Your wisdom grows with your desire for answers," Aslan encouraged him.
"I only wanted to know why you couldn't make everything perfect first before bringing things to past."
"I do not create perfect situations, my son. Perfect situations will never change you for the better. So delight in your tribulations! For they shall mold you to become like me. And now, I must speak to you of another matter, concerning Aravis."
Cor blushed in spite of himself.
"Yes, I chose well."
"What do you mean?"
"Dear Heart, believe you that I would leave you to rule alone? Nay, a queen you shall have, a wise helpmate and counsellor to stand at your side."
Aslan laughed, a deep, wild, golden laugh. "Aravis! Aravis Tarkheena, who I brought to live in your courts. Yes, my son. Do not open your mouth so wide, the day comes when happy shall you be to win her hand."
"Oh, Aslan, not you too," Cor groaned.
Aslan regarded him with a twinkle in his eye. "Longer was this in my mind than thy brother Corin's. Child, I do not match for sport. She has been created for you and you for her."
"But Aravis is such a wet blanket," Cor heard himself complain.
"All the time?"
"Well... I mean – most of the time!"
"Do not doubt that she is changing every day for the better. Even you are not perfect in her eyes at this moment because of the foolish lie you told her, but just as surely as you will be king, she shall be your queen. And this will not be undesirable to either of you."
"I've messed it all up," Cor muttered moodily. "I shouldn't have told that stupid fib. She'll never forgive me."
"Nothing is impossible, my son. I have given you a second chance. Now come, it is time you were in bed."
The voice of Aslan faded, and when Cor awoke in the morning he found he was tucked up comfortably in his bed. With a sigh he turned his head to the right, and what he saw made him stare. Lying on a chair was the most beautiful blue dress he had ever seen – bluer than Queen Lucy's dress, bluer than a summer sky.
And he knew what to do.