Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Narnia: Shasta in Susan's chambers

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
[Immediately follows from the previous, so that's good to read first if you haven't yet.  As a reminder, the apparently human Narnians mostly aren't.  Gold Bow == Apollo, Gold wings == Iris, Winged clothes ==Hermes, woman with apple == Eris, and Dionysus doesn't have anything to say in this section.  Pine needle hair == Tree Spirit.]

Soon they had left the crowds behind and Shasta had a new worry: he'd completely lost track of how they'd gotten here. Even if he did get away from the strange foreigners, how would he ever find the others again?

They passed through a great garden courtyard and when they entered a door on the far side the Calormene escort remained outside. Down a corridor, up some stairs, and then it seemed that as soon has Shasta's eyes had adjusted to the darker lighting of the indoors, they were in a room as bright as the open air. Before his eyes could adjust a woman hugged him, kissed his head, and then pushed him back far enough to look him in the eyes.

“Corin, how could you?” she demanded. “I thought I was your friend.”

The others had all called him “prince”; at least now he knew who they thought he was, though he'd never heard of Prince Corin and had no idea what to do with the information.

“And have you thought of what it could mean?” the woman asked. “If the crown prince of Archenland disappeared while on a journey with a king and queen of Narnia? It could be cause for war.”

“Susan,” the king said, “he hasn't said a word since we found him.”

Susan quickly looked at the king and then looked back at Shasta with worry in her eyes. “What happened to you, Corin?”

“I . . . I don't know,” Shasta said. He hadn't meant to, it had just come out.

“At least he can speak again,” the woman with the apple said. “Give the boy some time. I'm sure he'll tell us everything when he's ready.”

“Since when are you so understanding?” the woman with the golden wings asked. Then the wings started to move. Shasta was too shocked to do anything. “It's so good to be able to stretch,” the woman said. “I was holding them still for so long I felt like--”

“At least you can go outside,” one of the people in the room said. When Shasta looked at him . . . what was it? Its legs were like the hind legs of a giant goat --there was even a tail-- above that it was like a naked man, if somewhat reddish, but in its curly hair . . . there were horns.

“This is a strange land with strange people,” a large Raven said. “Why didn't Rabadash warn us that they'd be so annoyingly shocked every time they saw people who weren't human?”

“Maybe he knew that Susan wouldn't come if she knew we weren't welcome,” something with a long nose and a spiky brown and gray body said. “It would fit with his other . . . omissions.”

“Well, it's not every day that someone sees an echidna, never mind an Echidna, in Calormen,” the woman with the apple said casually as she plopped herself on a couch at the edge of the room. “I don't see why you're all so surprised; if there weren't conflict to be had I'd never have come.”

“It's fine for you,” a Mongoose said, “you can pass as human. I can't say anything outside of these walls without five people fainting, three people praying, two calling an exorcist, and another seven assuming I'm part of some cheap ventriloquist act.”

“Enough, everyone,” the goat-man-thing said. “I take it the search went well, King Edmund, given how quickly you found him.”

“Well, it's hard to search without looking like you're searching, Tumnus,” Edmund said. “I think we moved so slowly that everyone with business in the city must hate us by now.”

“We found the kid,” the woman with the apple said. “Quit complaining.”

“He's your king,” the Raven said. “You should show some respect.”

“I'm a god,” the woman said. “I'll respect whom I choose.”

“She was actually surprisingly helpful,” the man with the golden bow said.

Most of the occupants of the room looked like they found that hard to believe.

“Screwing up everyone's day by slowly wandering through the city and obstructing traffic must have put her in a good mood,” the man with the winged hat said.

“No doubt,” the woman with the wings said.

“We probably should have just had the locals search for him,” the Echidna said. “It is their city.”

“No,” Susan said. “Even if this place were what we'd expected, it still wouldn't be in Narnia's best interest to admit that we'd misplaced a prince. Looking incompetent in a foreign capital is not good for diplomacy.”

“Especially if you really are being incompetent,” the woman with the apple said.

“Especially then,” Susan said.

“I hate it when you agree with me,” the woman with the apple said. “It takes all the fun out of it.”

Susan just smiled at her.

“I'll clean up the young prince and get him cooled off,” the goat-man-thing --Tumnus-- said.

Shasta just let himself be led away by Tumnus. He'd seen and heard too much to process and was barely even thinking at this point.

In another room Tumnus gently cleaned Shasta's face. Then Tumnus started to pull at Shasta's clothing and, when Shasta realized that he was preparing to remove it, Shasta shook his head. Tumnus mumbled something, all Shasta could make out were the words, “you humans,” and left Shasta's clothes alone. He left Shasta's clothes on, and proceeded to clean Shasta's arms and and feet.

As Tumnus washed the grime out of Shasta's hair he said, “You can't just run away, young prince, but other than needing to keep you with us until we return you to your home, I hope you realize that none of us would do anything to you that you didn't want. You're safe here.

Tumnus gave Shasta some cold food of a type he'd never tasted before, and cool water to drink.

Finally Shasta was able to think. These were obviously Narnians. That meant that the king and queen of Narnia --brother and sister, how did that work?-- were right here in the other room. Maybe he and the others didn't have to make it to Narnia. Maybe if he could bring the others to these people they could go back to Narnia in their company.

No. It was too much of a risk. They were obviously here as guests --why would they upset the Calormenes by aiding in Aravis' escape? The others were safer the further they were from scrutiny. Likewise, he'd be safer if he either convinced these people he wasn't Prince Corin of Archenland --provided he could do it in a way that let him go free-- or slipped away before the real prince showed up.

Still, the one who told him to play along had said she was a god --and no one disagreed-- and if he stayed with them for a little while maybe these people would feed him. Also, he wouldn't be able to get away when they'd just caught him and thought he'd already run away once. For now he'd watch, try to learn what he could, and be ready to run if a chance presented itself.

When Tumnus led Shasta back into the large room the others were in the middle of a discussion. “We've been here for three weeks,” Edmund said. “In that time I think I've learned all I care to about this place.”

“And I've done all that I think I can,” Susan said. “Not enough but--”

“We didn't come here to set up an escape route for slaves, Majesty,” the Echidna said. “There was only so much we could do.”

Escape route for slaves? Maybe Shasta could tell the truth. Not the whole truth, of course. He'd leave out Bree and Aravis and Hwin and the donkey. But maybe if he told them he was a runaway slave they'd let him go instead of returning him to slavery.

“No, we didn't,” Susan said. “When he was a guest in our land Rabadash seemed a just and kind person. I never expected how he treats his own people. The fact that there would be slavery here . . . it just never occurred to me.”

Edmund smirked, “So I take it you're not going to accept his marriage proposal?”

Susan laughed.

“As I recall,” the woman with the pine needle hair said, “she's had offers from kings who were more moral, more powerful, and better looking.”

“If we're agreed that it's time to go,” Edmund said, “then it's time to talk about how we go. I fear it may not be as easy as it was to come.”

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