Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Stranger Comes -- The Matter of Aravis

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings, though really ought to go with this post.]
[Content note: child abuse]

One day a man came from the south, upon a great horse, who was unlike any man Shasta had seen before. His turban was of clean silk and over it he wore a helmet with a single spike at the center. He wore a shirt of chain mail, a round shield studded with brass hung from his back, a curving scimitar hung at his side, and a lance was in his right hand, while he held the reins with his left.

This was the first time Shasta had seen any instruments of war, and he didn't truly understand what he was seeing. To him the brass studded shield was no different than silver inlaid stirrups: they made the man seem other worldly, strange, and impressive.

His beard was strange to Shasta as well, for it was crimson.

The horse Shasta barely took note of. It was dappled with a flowing mane and tail.

Shasta didn't even notice the man's armlet, but Arsheesh knew by the design inlaid in its gold that this man was a Tarkaan. So great a lord had not visited this scrap of coast in a generation, however any properly educated Calormene subject knew how to respond.

Arsheesh dropped to his knees and bowed so low his beard touched the soil, then hastily gestured to Shasta to kneel as well.

"I require lodging for the night," the man said, and Arsheesh was quick to agree to provide it. To Shasta this was nothing new, he would sleep with the donkey again. The same as he did when a man from the village paid a visit. Arsheesh knew that this was very strange. A Tarkaan almost never traveled alone, had no reason to be in this place, and if he needed lodging would prefer the inn at the village to the south, not the isolated home of some fisherman.

Arsheesh, though, also knew not to ask questions. He rushed into the house to make it presentable, pausing only to order Shasta to care for the horse and its saddle and say, "Please allow this humble servant a moment to tidy my inadequate dwelling."

"Do you know anything of lances, boy?" the man asked Shasta. Shasta simply shook his head.

"The shiny end doesn't touch the ground," the man said, "and don't touch it yourself unless you like bleeding." In truth the lance was not nearly that sharp, made for thrusting instead of slashing, but the man thought that Shasta would be more careful if he believed the metal to be more dangerous than it was.

Indeed, when Shasta took the lance he treated the metal tip as though it would bite him if touched, and carefully moved the weapon into the stable.

When Shasta returned the man had dismounted. He approached Shasta with the horse's reins in his hand, then stopped. He was looking at something on Shasta's neck, or perhaps his shoulder. Shasta was about to look at his shoulder to see if he could understand what the stranger was looking at, when he realized what must have caught the stranger's eyes.

It had been three days ago, and Shasta had done something wrong with cooking dinner. He didn't really know what, but he always seemed to find some way to mess things up. His shame would still be written on his body in purple or brown. He was never good enough for Arsheesh, and now here was this man, someone Arsheesh obviously looked up to, looking at where Arsheesh had made Shasta's failure visible.

Shasta tried to turn to hide the sign of his shame, but the man reached out his free toward Shasta to turn him back. Shasta flinched. He couldn't help it. He hadn't meant to. It just happened. The man's hand had stopped at the flinch, frozen in mid air.

The man pulled his hand back and offered Shasta the horse's reins. "He's well trained," the man said. "He'll give you no trouble."

When Shasta took the horse to the stable, the man walked to join Arsheesh inside the house.

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