Thursday, June 22, 2017

We're Leaving -- Matter of Aravis

[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings, but it would have gone with this post if not for the fact comments are long since closed.]

Shasta stroked the donkey as the Horse insisted that he, a creature that had just dismissed human legs as silly things, would somehow make "a fine rider" out of Shasta, someone who rode primarily by making use of his silly human legs.

Then the Horse got to saying useful things, "We mustn't start until those two in the hut are asleep. In the meantime we can make our plans. My Tarkaan was riding north on a secret mission."

For a moment Shasta's heart leapt at the idea of secrets in the north. Then practical thoughts put an end to that, "So we should probably go south."

"I think not," the Horse said, "see he thinks I'm dumb and witless like his other horses. Now if I really were, the moment I got loose I'd go back home to my stable or paddock: back to his palace which is two days journey south. That's where he'll look for me. He'd never dream of me going north on my own."

"But you won't be on your own," Shasta said. "I'll be with you and Arsheesh knows that I've always wondered about what lay to the north."

"Of course you have," the Horse said. "That's because of the blood that's in you. I'm sure you're of true northern stock."

Shasta averted his gaze in hopes the Horse wouldn't see him rolling his eyes.

"When we both go missing," Shasta said, "and Arsheesh tells the Tarkaan that I've always wondered about the north, the Tarkaan will think I took you north."

"No," the Horse said. "He'll think you tried to take me north, someone who has only ever ridden a donkey," the contempt returned, Shasta pet the donkey, "could never control a horse such as myself. We'll leave a trail leading south, there's a stream not too far from here where we can turn around without leaving a trail."

Shasta had an idea that he thought was better.

"Or," Shasta said, "you could go south on your own, I could ride north on the donkey, and since war horses are so much more expensive than human slaves--"

Shasta's idea was detailed and he was a bit of proud of himself for coming up with it all at once. He'd make it look like the horse escaped through his own incompetence. Considering how often he really was incompetent Arsheesh would have no trouble believing that. Then his theft of the donkey would look like him trying to escape punishment.

Arsheesh would never be able to catch up to the donkey on foot, and the Tarkaan would be pointed south while struggling to find a way to catch up with a runaway horse that wasn't weighed down by a rider.

Shasta never got to say any of that, because the Horse cut him off:

"The donkey is a dumb and witless beast, why would bother doing anything with it?"

"We are taking the donkey," Shasta said.

"It will only slow us down," the Horse said. "Leave it here."

"I'm taking the donkey," Shasta said. "If you don't like it you can go your own way and explain to everyone you meet why you're a horse with no human."

The horse made a sound of frustration for which there are no letters, then said, "Check to see that they're asleep."

Shasta crept back to the home he'd be leaving. There was no light. No signs of anyone awake. He heard the familiar snores of Arsheesh. He didn't hear anything else, and he didn't want to risk going inside, the door and the floor and the . . . everything, weren't exactly silent.

He had to just believe that the Tarkaan was asleep based on the utter lack of evidence he was awake.

Shasta returned to the Horse and the donkey and said, "They're asleep. Tell me what you need, and hope we can get it quietly."

The donkey had a bridle, but its back was always bare. It had never had a saddle or bags. Shasta didn't know anything about them or how to put them on. While the Horse tried to be helpful, the process of getting it ready was long and difficult. Also, it refused to answer Shasta's questions about why it should want a saddle or the contents of its saddle bags.

It did, at least, make some conversation beyond, "Looser," "Tighter," "Higher," and "Lower," when Shasta asked it how it had come to be in Calormen.

"Kidnapped," the Horse said. For a moment it seemed like it was going to leave it at a single word, but then it added, "Or stolen, or captured -- whichever you like to call it. I was only a foal at the time. My mother warned me not to range to the southern slopes, into Archenland and beyond, but I wouldn't heed her. She also talked about Aslan as though he were a real flesh and blood lion, as if she'd seen him in her lifetime. Gods obviously aren't like that, so I thought she was just a foolish old Mare.

"I should have known that her practical advice would be more grounded in reality than her theology, but I thought if she were wrong about one thing she might as well be wrong about all things. By the Lion's Mane I have paid for that folly."

Of course, Shasta had no idea who Aslan was, but he had other questions.

"Why didn't you tell someone you weren't like other horses?" Shasta asked. "Cry out, 'I'm a Narnian Talking Horse and shouldn't be treated like this!'"

"That's worked so well for the talking human slaves of Calormen," the Horse said bitterly. "The true reason, though, is that I'm not so foolish as to think that might have helped. The ones who captured me knew I could talk; I did cry out when I was first captured. But in Calormen, a talking animal would, at best, be a curiosity shown at fairs, guarded so well I could never hope to escape.

"That would be the best I could hope for. More likely the Calmorene who heard me speak would react with superstition over greed and destroy me out of fear I was a demon. Many in this land know that Talking Animals exist, but they can't seem to accept that we could be people rather than devils."

"But surely someone--"

"It feels like you're finished," the Horse said. "It's time for us to go."

* * *

It wasn't long before Shasta and the donkey had reached the top of the hill that marked the northern edge of the world Shasta had known. There was no great secret, just grassy plains that seemed to go on forever.

"I say!" is how the Horse announced its presence, causing Shasta to flinch. "What a place for a gallop."

"I have no idea what that is," Shasta said.

"Horses have different gaits," the Horse said. "Just like humans run differently than they walk. A gallop is our fastest gait; a donkey's too, I believe. It's not just for when we're in a hurry, it's also for throwing away all cares and just moving."

"Won't that wear you out?" Shasta asked.

"If I did it all the time," the Horse said, "yes."

"Well . . ." Shasta realized that their introduction had lacked something very important. "What do I call you?"

"My name is Bree-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah," the Horse said, though one must understand that human alphabets don't properly capture the sounds a Horse is like to make when speaking its name.

"I don't think I can say that," Shasta said.

"I believe, when I was a foal, it was said that humans would have an easier time calling me, 'Bree'," the Horse said.

"That I can say," Shasta said.

"And what shall I call you?" Bree asked.

"I'm called Shasta."

"That I can say," Bree said. "Now, as to what a gallop is, let me show you."

Bree took off across the grassy plains.

Shasta leaned forward on the donkey, right hand gently touching its neck, and said, "Just go."

The donkey thought for a moment, like any other donkey it didn't understand human words per se, but it had spent a lifetime with Shasta, it understood "go" it understood tone of voice, and it understood the feel of Shasta's body. It also understood that the Horse that had been beside them a moment ago was speeding away.

Ordinarily it wouldn't have gone faster than a trot without some kind of great incentive or threat, but everything in how Shasta felt where and when the two touched this night gave off a strong sense of importance. There was no apparent threat or reward, but Shasta resonated with importance and, whatever that meant, it was probably worth keeping the strange Horse in sight for.

Shasta galloped for the first time.



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