Thursday, May 25, 2017

Setting a price -- The Matter of Aravis

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

Shasta returned from the stable and sat by the door. Men did not visit Arsheesh with any great frequency, but it had happened often enough that Shasta had found the most comfortable position to sit in, and a favorite crack to place his ear against.

Arsheesh spoke the way he did when anticipating a particularly good day for fishing or selling. It was how he spoke when he anticipated a windfall with greed in his heart, but Shasta didn't know that any more than he knew there were villages besides the one that lay about a mile to the south.

The words Shasta heard were, ". . . what price could induce your servant, poor though he is, to sell into slavery his only child and his own flesh?"

The truth was that Shasta knew almost nothing of slavery.

Some of Arsheesh's guests had mentioned slaves when talking about this or that, and the traveler from the north had told stories of people who had unbelievable numbers of slaves, but that was all he knew. The part of the village he had been to was visited only by free men and slaves so trusted they had been rewarded with the trappings of freedom. Shasta didn't even realize he had ever seen a slave, and he didn't know where they came from.

For him they had been like some sort of magical being, one he wished he had access to when he spent his days working with barely any pause.

The idea he might become a slave shocked Shasta so much that his mind seemed to stop.

Arsheesh continued, and Shasta heard, but his thoughts and his feelings were numbed to the point he barely noticed that he heard. "Has not one of the poets said, 'The bond between father and son is stronger than folded steel, and one's offspring more precious than water in an endless desert."

"One of the poets has said that," the man replied, "however the selfsame poet also said, 'It is more difficult to hide the truth than it is to conceal the tallest tower or the greatest army.' Not his best work, perhaps, but he did say it."

"My lord?"

"The boy looks nothing like you," the man replied, "his name gives me pause, and I have seen the mark of your 'bond' upon his 'precious' skin."

"It is true that I have been strict with him, but one of the--"

"The poets said many things, and imparted great wisdom, but none of the things the poets have said will excuse you if you fail to tell me the truth. How did you come across a boy so obviously foreign --boreal*-- so far from our northern border?"

"It is true that he is not of my flesh," Arsheesh said --Shasta knew he should feel something, but no feeling came-- "but I have raised him as my own and--"

"You are trying to drive up the price," the man said sharply. "Tell me his origin."

"I have never taken a wife, I knew that I would never be able to afford one, and so believed that I would be without child forever, but one day, the year after the Tisroc, may he be blessed with long life, came to the throne --beginning his august and beneficent reign-- the gods delivered to me a child."

"The gods work in myriad ways, many poets have said," the man said, "How did they deliver you this child?"

"The fish were scarce that year and I was forced to travel further than my humble boat could be wisely taken," Asheesh said. "Many times I found myself at the mercy of the southern current. On one day I saw another boat caught in a similar fate. When I approached the boat I found a dead man and the boy, then a baby. It was fortunate that he was old enough to eat, for there was no sign milk --only water-- and the man had clearly starved himself to keep the baby fed."

"Truly it must have been the doing of the gods," the man said, "if you came across such a scene in the short time between when the man starved to death and the babe did the same."

"I took the child both as a blessing from the gods and because they command that one befriend the destitute," Asheesh said, "but was forced to leave the boat and the dead man in the southern current."

"Before the gods delivered the boy to you, they entrusted him to the man who starved," the man said. "There is no more reason to believe that they wish the boy to stay with you, than there is to believe that they wished the boy to stay with him. It takes only a glance to see that you've had ten times the cost of his bread in labor because you took him. Perhaps it is the will of the gods that someone else benefit from the boy."

"You yourself have wisely said," Arsheesh said, "that the boy’s labor has been, to me, of inestimable value. This must be taken into account in fixing the price. For if I sell the boy I must undoubtedly either buy or hire another to do his work."

Wait, what? Shasta thought.

"Fifteen should be a reasonable price," the man said.

"Fifteen!" Arsheesh cried out in indignation that didn't seem to be fully real, "Fifteen! For the prop of my old age and the delight of my eyes! Do not mock my gray beard, Tarkaan though you be. My price is seventy."

I'm a dead fish, Shasta thought, for he recognized this as the same kind of argument Arsheesh had over the price of this or that fish in the village.

Shasta walked away from the door, stumbling a bit and feeling numb.


* Yeah, it's a Latin word, but I wanted to invoke the idea of "oriental". Shasta is exotic and strange and comes from a culture that civilized Calmorene citizens don't need to learn any actual facts about because it's enough to know that it's this mysterious place of the other. (Which appears in entertaining stories which include fantastic things like talking beasts and lion gods and ice witches and . . .)

For Arsheesh that would have been his first major selling point if he hadn't thought he could get a higher price by trying to get the monetary value of a father's love. For the Tarkaan it's just a quick way to say, "Totally not one of us, drop the 'father-son' bullshit"

Latin directional adjectives:
boreal == northern
austral == southern
occidental == western
oriental == eastern

Northern and southern both have alternatives, where oriental and occidental are pretty well your only major options for eastern and western. This is because of the sun. At their roots oriental and occidental are rise and set, so the east/west connection was obvious. The sun is lacking in any daily impressive-looking north/south action, so other names needed to be found. Boreal and austral both have their roots in winds.

By the way, the Tarkaan here isn't Anradin. That happened about a hundred years later and far to the west. There was no fisherman in that story, for there were no fish in that place.

Also on that "other time, other place" note, the origin story of Shasta provided by Lewis goes with another story. I've kept Shasta the same age by pushing back the date of his discovery to a time when he would, barely, be able to be sustained on solid food.

I know that a northerly wind blows from the north to the south (that is, a northerly wind causes air to move southerly; there is a reason people get confused) because winds are named for their direction of origin.

I do not, however, know ocean current terminology. In fact, I'm not sure there really is one. Currents, being things that persist where winds do not, have names. Thus I decided to just go with what felt right. The southern current is a current that flows south and is useful if you're making a southern journey but annoying as all Hell if you're a fisherman who navigates by going due east to reach his fishing grounds and then due west to get home.

The southern current is actually an immense eddy that dominates this part of the coastline, it's much faster, and much smaller, than the northern current that gives rise to it. Somewhere, far to the north, part of the northern current smashes into an outcrop of land that forces a large amount of water to make a U-turn, it also forces the water into a smaller space, same amount of water moving + smaller space = faster flow this flow continues because, in a place to the south, the northern current is pushed far away from the coastline, the southern current flows south to that place, turns again, and much of the water rejoins the northern current.

Does any of this make sense? Narnia is a flat world. It doesn't so much have to make sense as it needs to sound plausible. I think --I hope-- it sounds plausible.

No comments:

Post a Comment