Aravis sees the opulence that is the Tisroc's palace as they pass through first the Hall of Black Marble, thereafter the Hall of Pillars, and the Hall of Statues, passing even the great copper doors that Lasaraleen whispers lead to the throne room. They have only paltry lamps to see with, though Aravis knows it must be magnificent beyond description.
She is practically humming with excitement, now. They're doing it. After all the waiting, all the plotting, all of the time spent convincing Lasaraleen to not abandon the plotting…it's working.
There is a phrase with which Aravis is likely familiar, and which I will share with you now: it is 'counting chickens before they've hatched.'
And I'm very sorry to tell you that Aravis was doing just that, as they entered the Old Palace, which was closer to the garden-court and its many terraces.
It had already grown quite dark as they found themselves in these new corridors, and Aravis doesn't see, at first, that they're moving…more slowly. Hesitantly.
She doesn't realize that this means Lasaraleen, for all her bluster, is not actually quite sure of the way they need to go from here.
They halt, then, at a junction, and Aravis, unthinkingly, urges her: "Go on, do go on."
"I'm just wondering…" says Lasaraleen. "I'm not absolutely sure which way we go from here. I think it's the left. Yes, I'm almost sure it's the left. What fun this is!" She flashes a smile at Aravis, in the light of the (few and far between) torches, fixed in their brackets in the wall.
They take the path, and follow the passageway as it offers less and less light, and then, uncertainly, as it turns into a staircase, leading down.
"It's all right, I'm sure we're right, now. I remember these steps," Lasaraleen says confidently.
But that's when a light appears ahead.
Light carried by servants with tall candles.
Servants who are walking backward.
It's only before royalty that servants walk backward.
Aravis feels Lasaraleen grip her arm, suddenly and tight, like a pinch.
Like she's afraid.
The grip remains tight as Lasaraleen starts to pull Aravis with her, retreating the way they've come from, up the stairs, padding softly and groping along the wall. "Here's a door," she mutters, pulling it soundlessly open. "Quick."
Aravis realizes a few things in quick succession:
For all her posturing, perhaps it is true, after all, that Lasaraleen's "people" aren't really as close with the Tisroc's "people" as she's led Aravis to believe.
Perhaps coming to the party and being in this part of the palace without having been invited…is something that Lasaraleen can get in trouble for.
And overall…that Lasaraleen let Aravis talk her into coming, anyway…it says a bit about what a nice friend she is trying to be.
And so Aravis follows her lead, without complaint, as she draws the door softly behind them, and begins to feel around in the pitch darkness for familiar surroundings.
She can hear by Lasaraleen's breathing that she's terrified. "Tash preserve us," she whispers. "What shall we do if he comes in here? Can we hide?"
It's Aravis who feels the little sofa, by blundering into it. "Las!" she whispers, and is joined by her friend in an instant.
"Let's lie down behind it," Lasaraleen whimpers. She sounds near tears. "Oh, I do wish we hadn't come."
Aravis is the reason Lasaraleen is in this situation. Even if she exaggerated her own importance to downplay the element of danger that was in this plan. Even if, as they both tried to fit, and couldn't, and the upper part of Aravis' head poked out the bottom (and Lasaraleen wouldn't move even a little, even when Aravis shoved, and Lasaraleen pinched her feet), Aravis knows that it is her duty to protect her friend.
And so Aravis gives up any kind of fighting, and they just breathe, in the silence of the room, where their breathing seems like the noisiest thing in the world.
"It is safe?" Aravis breathes, in the tiniest hint of a whisper that she can manage.
"I…I think so," begins Lasaraleen, even softer, if possible. "But my poor nerves—"
That's when the door opens.
And the light comes.
And Aravis, terror-struck, can see everything, because of where her head is.
First the slaves. Deaf and dumb. Used only in the most secret of councils.
They take up posts at either end of the sofa, which is a good thing, for Aravis, since it means her head is now hidden completely from view, unless one happens to look directly between the feet of a slave.
Not likely, comes Shasta's voice to her mind, then, and Aravis can't help but smile.
Then a very fat man, wearing so many frills and pleats and bobbles and buttons and finery that Aravis knows he must be very important; she knows that the least of these jewels is very expensive.
She sees his pointed cap, then, and knows it's the Tisroc himself (may he live forever).
After the Tisroc (may he live forever) comes a young man wearing a feathered, jeweled turban on his head, and an ivory-sheathed scimitar at his side, perhaps only a handswidth longer than her own. (Her brother's own, actually.)
After this man comes another man: older, and a little hump-backed. Aravis represses a gasp.
It's Ahoshta Tarkaan. The Grand Vizier.
Her intended husband.
The Tisroc settles on a divan with a contented sigh, Ahoshta gets down on his knees and elbows and buries his face in the carpet, which, Aravis thinks nervously, would give him the perfect perspective to see under the sofa to the two people unintentionally listening in on this very obviously secret meeting.
She begins a silent prayer to Tash.
Let their counsel be swift, let their eyes be blind to us, and please keep us safe, great Tash.
Their counsel is vitally important. Do not think, but Listen.
Aravis' mouth falls open, a little, in her shock.
She has never once ever heard Tash answer her prayer.
Then she obeys his words.
Protect her friend. Heed her God.
Listen to the Tisroc.
Planning is well and good when it's the sort of thing you're good at. As the sun dips lower and lower, Shasta has thought of dozens and dozens of plans, each of them more wretched than the last.
He can't mount a rescue in the city, when he has no idea where his friends are. He can't wait here forever. And so, uneasily, it seems that he's settled on the worst plan of all: Wait until it was fully dark, raid as many melons as he could carry, from near the river…
And set out for Mount Pire alone.
Shasta had never learned reading. If he had, and if he'd read any books at all about journeys over deserts and how miserable they are, he might have tried a little harder to either think of a different plan, or else have more patience to wait for his friends.
Shasta had sworn to get to Narnia with his friends. Hopefully all of them together.
Was it not his duty to see the quest through?
Or was it, perhaps, his duty to wait a little longer?
But he can't start in the daytime. It would be too hot.
As he deliberated on this point, though, something did happen.
Sitting in the shadow of one of the tombs, Shasta looked up—
To see two horses. No…two Horses! It's Bree and Hwin! But…
But where is Aravis?
Bree and Hwin are saddled, bridled, combed, and loaded, and being led by a strange man; an armed man, pretty handsomely dressed, like an upper slave in a great family.
It's a trap, thinks Shasta.
Because it's too good to be true, otherwise. The Horses are obviously outfitted for a journey, they're rested and ready to go.
But where is Aravis?
Somebody's caught her and tortured her and she's given the whole thing away.
Shasta remains still. It's dark enough, now, as the sun is sinking, that unless the man knows exactly where to look, Shasta is rightly invisible.
Is it not his duty to jump out? Run up and speak to Bree?
But then he'll just be caught, too.
But…what if it's his only chance?
Wait. And watch.
The voice—if one could call it a voice—is familiar to Shasta. Like…he's heard it before.
It's not his own.
And, though Shasta has never been patient, he takes deep, calming breaths to control the anxious hammering of his heart.
And he waits. And he watches.
Whatever anything else, Shasta knows it is his duty to obey the voice. Be it a God or a ghost, it is someone he can trust.
He feels it, deep in his gut.
And it's getting dark, again. The shadow Shasta sits in lengthens until it blends in with the night, and the moon is bright overhead.
And because Shasta is waiting and watching, he sees something important.
He starts muttering to himself, adjusting his grip on the reins of both Horses.
Had they been dumb beasts, Shasta wonders that his agitation wouldn't spook them.
Shasta sees something else.
Another person is coming.
"You can go back to your mistress now," the person calls. No. Commands.
"To hear is to obey," the man says quickly, and Aravis gives him money, and he all but runs back toward the city. The gates had closed long ago, but he's clearly happy to get away from the tombs.
Shasta is on his feet and walking towards them before he even realizes he's moving.
"Oh, Hwin! Bree! It worked! It worked!" Aravis is cheering, patting Hwin's neck and offering her kisses like Hwin is a normal, dumb horse, but Hwin doesn't seem to mind.
"Thanks be to the Lion it did!" Bree replies.
But it's Hwin who notices when Shasta steps closer. "And here comes Shasta!"
Shasta is smiling so wide he thinks his face will crack in two. "Well, this is quite the reunion," Shasta says, and clears his throat when it comes out raspy, at first. He hasn't really spoken, today. "How have you gone from being a peasant and two pack horses to this?"
Aravis is smiling, too, but quickly halts her absent petting of Hwin's neck. "There's no time to explain, now. I've learned that Prince Rabadash is mounting an expedition of two hundred men and their horses to cross the desert and attack the city of Anvard in the unsuspecting Archenland. And then Narnia itself!"
"Treacherous hounds!" Bree stamps a hoof. "An attack in time of peace, without defiance sent!"
"Why would they attack now?" Hwin wonders aloud.
Shasta watches, part awe, mostly jealousy, as Aravis swings herself in her fancy clothes, into Hwin's saddle. He wishes he could mount like that.
Maybe he can. If he practiced.
"Because the Narnian Queen rejected the Prince's suit of marriage," Aravis answers Hwin, and Shasta gets up, his own, clumsier way, into his seat in Bree's saddle. "And then slipped away on their ship," Aravis finishes, and Shasta is vocal about his relief.
"So they escaped, then? Oh, good."
Aravis looks over at Shasta. "You knew about it?"
And it's different from how she might have asked it, before. Before, she might have asked the same question while somehow implying her disbelief that someone like Shasta would know anything important. And now, she is just asking out of curiosity.
Has something changed? Did something happen, in the time they were separated?
"I heard their plans, during the confusion," he clarifies. Hwin and Bree are walking sedately, getting used to the way the new saddles feel with their riders. "When they thought I was Prince Corin."
"They truly thought you were a Prince?"
And there's the old Aravis. Shasta grins, though. "Yes. Prince Corin and I resemble one another, if only a little, I suppose. I met him. He helped me to get away, in fact—"
"We've no time to lose," Aravis feels prudent to remind them, then, and Shasta lets his mouth shut.
"Now, don't be anxious, little lady," Bree says, and that note of pomp has entered his voice—the tone he has when he thinks it's clear he knows best. "We'll grease the Prince's oats for him! We'll be there before he is!"
"Will we?" Aravis asks, and simultaneously Shasta says, "Can we?"
"Can we? And with a good start, too!" Bree insists, and his voice has grown in its pompousness.
"But he said he was going to start at once!" Aravis insists.
"That's how humans talk," Bree says, as though Aravis is simple for thinking the thing is true. "But you don't get a company of two hundred horse and horsemen watered and victualed and armed and saddled and started all in a minute. Now: what's our direction? Due North?"
"No," Shasta says certainly. "I know about that from the talking Raven."
"A talking Raven?" Hwin queries.
"He was with the Narnians. I've drawn a line. Look a little to the left…here it is," he says a little quieter. He points out the furrow he'd made. "Here's our bearing."
"Right. Now," says Bree, all authority again. "Let's be clear about something: all that nonsense about galloping for a day and a night, like in stories, can't really be done," he says with certainty. "It must be walk and trot: but brisk trots and short walks. And whenever we walk, you two humans can slip off and walk, too."
Shasta is nodding, and looks over at Aravis, who is nodding, too.
It's strange, to be agreeing with her.
"Now. Are you ready, Hwin? Off we go. Narnia and the North!" Bree says grandly, and they're off.
It's delightful, at first. The sand isn't hot, the air is cool, and there are only the sounds of hoofbeats.
During their time walking, Aravis and Shasta make a point to fill in the missing bits of their stories to the others.
Shasta tells his tale, first. He's not good at that sort of thing, he reasons, and Aravis will be more likely to entertain them.
He talks about the lovely food, and the Narnians. He talks about the funny man with goat's feet, and the wise, croaky-voiced Raven who had given them their heading. "We're headed that direction, you see? Straight ahead toward Mt. Pire, which is the twin-peaked mountain. It's dark, now, but can you see it? There, that shadow against the stars?"
"I see it! Hwin says, first, and then the others slowly do, too.
Shasta skips over the fear he'd felt during his night amongst the tombs. Finishing his tale with a simple, "And so I waited for you by the tombs, hoping you were safe, or that you hadn't left me behind."
"Left you behind?" Aravis sounds scandalized. "I would not be so dishonorable!"
The vehemence of her tone warms Shasta in a way he can't explain, though it brings a small smile to his face.
Aravis felt duty to their mission, too.
Duty to him, as a part of their group.
"So…what happened to you, then?" Shasta says, eager to hear her tale.
Shasta is not disappointed. Aravis is really marvelous at telling stories.
"Well, after I saw you hurried away by the Narnians, I grabbed Bree's halter and waited for a moment. I wasn't sure what to do, except to move on to a place where I could think, and confer privately with Bree and Hwin. But before we could go, another parade came through, with servants carrying a litter. This one contained another Tarkheena, called Lasaraleen. Fortunately, I know her well; we have often stayed in the same houses and been to the same parties."
Aravis has a way of speaking with her hands that Shasta does not. And he watches her, mesmerized, as she describes leaping into her friend's litter and taking control of the situation, remaining hidden and guaranteeing the Horses' good treatment.
She talks of the plan Lasaraleen came up with, and the surprise they had when the Tisroc himself (may he live forever) came into the very room they'd chosen to hide in, and proceeded to have a very secret, private council together with his son and his Grand Vizier.
"The Tisroc (may he live forever) was determined to abstain from attacking Narnia outright. He said it was a fearful place of Magic, ruled by demons and sorcerers. But then Rabadash disclosed his plan. 'O my father,' said he, 'How if I show you a way by which you can stretch out your arm to take Narnia, and yet draw it back unharmed if the attempt prove unfortunate?'
"To which the Tisroc (may he live forever) replied, 'If you can show me that, O Rabadash, you will be the best of sons.' And Rabadash's treacherous plan was set forth: he would ride with his company to Anvard, in Archenland, and take them by surprise. And then ride through the pass north of Anvard straight into Narnia's great castle of Cair Paravel, where he would lie in wait for the Narnian ship to sail into harbor, capture the Queen as she disembarked the ship, and ride, ride, ride back to Anvard. 'And when you hold Anvard, you sit in the very gate of Narnia,' Prince Rabadash said. 'And your garrison in Anvard can be increased by little and little, until it is a great host!'
"The Tisroc (may he live forever) agreed to Rabadash's plan, because if it failed, he had only to say that he had known nothing about it, and could leave Rabadash to rot in a Narnian prison, if he failed."
"Of all the sneaky, conniving—" Shasta bursts out, and Aravis nods.
"How did you get out?" Shasta asks, then, and Aravis smiles.
"They eventually left the room, of course. And we were able to find the proper passageway, which took me to the water gate. I said farewell to my friend, and came to find you at the tombs."
"If the two of you have finished your jawing," Bree says sternly, as though in rebuke, "you may climb up again for a ride."
Shasta knows, though, that it's all bluster, as usual.
Bree had been listening keenly to Aravis' story, too.
There is a marked difference in length, here, comparing Aravis' part and Shasta's, and I do apologize for that. I have stuff I'm eager to get to, and this stuff feels so extemporaneous, after reading the story so many times. And, like, the book is there, guys. If you want more word-for-word interactions and stuff, I don't want to rob that from you, but I don't want to just type in the book.
I took more from the Narnia theater version, here, in the mixing around of the dialogue and stuff. Their version had Aravis' lines much better than what I came up with, here, (I'm saying, it's just this part. No one would cooperate with me when I tried writing them. That's why it's taken so long to get out) and I'm looking forward to what we have coming! Our friends are reunited! We just gotta get them across the desert so...they can...separate again...