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To Aravis Tarkheena, Daughter of Kidrash Tarkaan.

May Azaroth and Zardeenah continue to smile upon you.

For I understand that they already have. Oh, but I was so very happy to receive your letter, assuring me of your safe arrival in the Northern Lands.

To hear that you have not merely been allowed to settle, but that you have been welcomed into the household of King Lune himself, to be a lady of the court at the Castle Anvard – it delights me. To know that they see you as the proper gem you are, even if perhaps you would have needed a bit more polish to have been properly at home at the court of our Tisroc (may he live forever).

And I must confess, darling, that I take some comfort in knowing that you have chosen to settle in Archenland. Admittedly, they are still barbarians, but at least that country is supposed to be not quite as infested with demonic beasts and evil witches as the scholars and poets of old assure us that Narnia itself is.

Of course, it is not just the poets of old that confirm this. Why, as I am sure you know, for your letter arrived by the very same boat, our very own Prince Rabadash returned from his recent expedition most ignomously cursed and bound in an ass' form.

Why, it was not until this very week, during the great Autumn Feast – but it just occurs to me that you have lived in the provinces all your days and only visited Tashbaan those couple of days, and so you have never seen the Autumn Feast as it should be properly seen. If you had stayed, we would have gone together, I am sure of it, and you would have been at my side on the Azaroth Balconies, watching the dancers and singers and the procession of slaves bearing the tribute from every corner of Calormen, the first of each harvest brought forth in colourfully woven baskets to be placed in sacrifice at the feet of the great statue of Tash himself, destined to be burned upon nightfall beneath the most beautiful fireworks.

We would have been sharing the sweet wine and honey fried nuts during the moment when they brought forth the ass. It had been washed and brushed and it glittered faintly, for I imagine they had sprinkled gold dust upon it to make it seem more royal, but alas – the demon's curse was too strong. It was a very ordinary looking beast.

It was brought before the great statue of Tash and it debased itself, kneeling down on its front legs like a man prostating himself before the Tisroc (may he live forever), and it prayed most fervently in the tongue of asses, which reached even the furthest seats, for the great Temple is a marvellous building, where even the smallest whisper of the priests of Tash will reach the ears of the faithful.

And lo! The miracle happened! Tash, in his infinite mercy, smiled upon the fruit of his lineage and freed him from the foul curse.

You would have been most amused, as was I, to have witnessed this, for as the ass' form faded away to reveal the man beneath, it turned out that it had not occurred to anybody that it would, as it were, reveal the entire man. Why, his buttocks were raised for all to see, and even his hair was immodestly uncovered like some common slave boy's.

By the time one of the assistant priests had the presence of mind to grab one of the banners and cover the Prince, I fear half of Tashbaan had gotten a far better look than is entirely seemly.

I do wish you would have stayed, darling Aravis. I would have liked to have spent the evening in your company, watching the fireworks and gossiping about the Autumn Feast into the late hours. I know you are not as fond of gossiping as I, but it is always wise to take note of who follows the newest fashions and who is secretly sent a dainty morsel during such events.

I do miss you.

I hope you are well, in that Northern castle of yours.

I wish you all the best and please, do write me back soon!

Your dear friend
Lasaraleen Tarkheena, Wife of Omar Tarkaan

***

To Aravis Tarkheena, Daughter of Kidrash Tarkaan.

May Azaroth and Zardeenah smile upon you.

Dearest Aravis, I have the most excellent of news!

I am coming to visit you.

As you no doubt know far better than I, as the lands of Narnia lie close to your new home, the Kings and Queens of the demon-infested land are said to have mysteriously vanished. The story which has reached us in Tashbaan is a mess, really, about some hunt for a demon deer. It is nonsensical, since everybody knows that the Narnians worship their demons. Imagine the blasphemy to arrange a hunt for even the most minor of our exalted pantheon?!

Of course, you and I are civilized ladies and can guess at the truth behind the fancies. No doubt poison was involved, and some ambitious courtier. I am sure it will become clearer, once he steps forward to claim his prize.

Now, obviously, under normal circumstances the Tisroc (may he live forever) would have enjoyed this golden opportunity to send forth his son and chosen heir to expand our borders, bringing civilization and the light of Tash to the barbarians. However, the Prince is said to have not quite recovered from his ordeal with the northern demons and the loss of his elite soldiers.

Why, my slave girls have brought me the most amusing stories back from the markets, about how the shadow puppeteers have taken to use a silhouette of a man with donkey ears to represent the character of the Prince in the old plays. Though, if the guards walk through the market, you can be sure they are swift to replace it with the old ones.

But you don't care about common market gossip, do you, dear Aravis? So, let me get back to the important bits.

As the Tisroc has decided against using the opportune moment to invade, it has been decided to send a small embassy to Narnia, to witness the memorial ceremony for the lost monarchs and the coronation of whoever is put forth to assume their place.

And, as you must have no doubt guessed by now, my husband the Tarkaan has been chosen to be of the party, and I will accompany him.

It is, of course, an intimidating prospect. Not the voyage itself, which will be by one of our finest galleys, but the demons of Narnia worry me greatly. When the Queen Susan and her courtiers visited Tashbaan, I had the opportunity to see several, including a horrid goat demon that almost looked like a man. Only imagine what sort of monsters they might keep at home?

And yet I will gather my courage and go, dearest Aravis, for Narnia will be but the first stop.

My Lord the Tarkaan, knowing how I miss my dear friend who has settled in the wilds of Archenland, has cleverly arranged to head a small trade delegation which will proceed from Cair Paravel to your new home. Officially, it will be his task to negotiate with King Lune and his officials, to re-open the fruitful rivers of trade between Archenland and Calormen which has sadly dried up during the last few years.

Unofficially, of course, it is all to allow me to visit you.

I would ask you to write, but if Azaroth and Tash smile upon me, we shall meet face to face sooner than your return letter would be able to reach me.

Your dear friend
Lasaraleen Tarkheena, Wife of Omar Tarkaan

***

To Aravis Tarkheena, Daughter of Kidrash Tarkaan.

May Azaroth and Zardeenah smile upon you.

Darling Aravis.

I am writing this back home in my own house, having only taken the time for a nice bath and to pet my little monkey, which has missed me so these last couple of months. My slave girls tell me there has been days where they had to sweet talk it for an hour before it'd eat, can you imagine?

But what a delightful couple of months they have been.

It was such a pleasant surprise to see you waiting for me at the docks by Cair Paravel as our galley arrived, even if it did take me a few moments to realize it was you, dressed in the northern fashion as you were.

Really, that yellow does not become you at all.

I do hope you will wear the clothes I brought you as a gift. Perhaps, if they see what a proper lady wears, your Archenlanders and Narnians will come to appreciate proper fashion. And do let me know if there is anything in particular you find yourself missing. It will be so very simple to send you what you need by trade caravan, now that all has been agreed upon.

But truly, darling Aravis. It was a pleasure to see you again. And yellow aside, the north seems to become you very well.

And it has been so very pleasant to walk with you through the gardens of the Narnian castle during the days we waited for the coronation, even if it did keep startling me whenever a mole or a duck would walk right up and go ”How do you do?” at us. I did find the coronation itself a somewhat quaint affair, though I hesitated to mention this to you at the time, as I'm sure some passing sparrow or rabbit might have taken offense and brought my words before this new King Peridan as some manner of diplomatic insult.

Though really, Aravis, my dear, you must agree with me. This entire charade with the four empty thrones and the ”temporary” throne placed one step lower, and that silly little silver circlet instead of a proper crown – and that horrid horse man thing that placed it on the new king's head, blabbering about lions and stars.

Oh, but I am being a silly goose, writing so much about Narnia, when what I really wanted was to thank you for your own very excellent hospitality as the lady of Castle Anvard. The gardens were lovely, the dinners were delicious, and oh, the bath house!

I do fully understand, my dear, why you must have felt the need to have it built. Really, that tub you described to me, to be dragged into one's own room and slowly filled, bucket by bucket. I wonder what Tarkheena would not have insisted on something more proper.

And oh, to remember the face of that Prince Cor of yours, when he walked in us in the middle of our relaxation. If I had not seen him for myself, I would never have imagined a man could turn as red as a juicy strawberry.

As we were crossing the desert, my Lord the Tarkaan amused me by telling of how the Prince had sought him out, all stuttering and embarrassed, as if he thought we had been doing something wrong. I suppose a boy raised, as you told me, by a mere fisherman and without a mother might not have been told of such mysteries, but still...

My Lord, ever the diplomat, did his best to put his mind at ease about our friendship, about how perfectly ordinary it is among the Tarkheenas. He even, he confessed, went as far as telling him the story of Azaroth and Zardeenah and the sacred silver spring, and he will have to make the proper sacrifices and let himself be ritually cleansed for telling a woman's story now that we are at home once more.

I do hope our visit will not cause you any undue worries. As I understood the gossip at the Archenland court, it is commonly held that the young Prince Cor is partial to you, and as he is the heir I suppose that would be the only proper thing for him to offer you. Really, you deserve nothing less than the title of Queen, my dear Aravis.

And now I am running out of paper and it is too late to send a slave to market to fetch more, so I will simply tell you that I miss you already, and I hope that you will return my visit very soon. My Lord the Tarkaan and I would be most happy to host you and any guest you'd chose to bring.

Your dear friend
Lasaraleen Tarkheena, Wife of Omar Tarkaan

***

To Princess Aravis, Wife of Prince Cor and Daughter of Kidrash Tarkaan

May Azaroth and Zardeenah smile upon you.

I am writing to tell you that the last details of your visit have been quite settled. Everything is arranged and I will listen to no more excuses.

I understand your concern these last few years, but now you are wedded and part of the royal family of an admittedly inferior nation. Neither your father nor Ahoshta Tarkaan – who married another less runaway Tarkheena two years ago anyway – will be able to lay a hand on you now without causing an unfortunate diplomatic incident.

In fact, and this really was supposed to be a surprise, but if it will set your mind at ease: my Lord Husband, finding it most unseemly and reflecting poorly on all of Calormen for a Tarkheena to have been wedded to foreign royalty without bringing her dowry to her new household, has been exchanging letters with Kidrash Tarkaan on the matter. I imagine you will be pleased with the results.

And most importantly: I do miss you so, my dear Aravis.

Really, there will be no more golden opportunity for your visit than the upcoming coronation. The mourning period of Babur Tisroc (may he serve Tash forever) is coming along nicely – Tashbaan really is quite the sight, all decked out in mourning whites and silver. But you will get to see that for yourself once you arrive.

As to your concerns about Prince Rabadash, let me lay them to rest. He has these last several years since his expedition to Archenland been the most pious of princes. He has wedded a most lovely Tarkheena of a most suitable lineage, and the Tisrakheena to be has personally assured me that she is partial to favour those who ensured that her husband remained free to be her husband.

So, dear Aravis, as you can clearly see, it is all arranged. You and your Lord Husband will stay in the palace next to mine. It would have been this palace if you had come sooner, but a Prince and Princess must have a retinue of suitable size and cannot afford to be seen as anything less.

And you need not worry for your Lord Husband, for my Lord Husband has agreed to be the perfect host and show Prince Cor the sights of Tashbaan, as I fear he had little time to enjoy those during his last visit.

So hurry up and come, by caravan or by the ship that will bring the Narnian embassy or by some demon-spelled Northern chariot pulled by ravens, whichever will bring you back to me faster, for I miss you, my dear friend of my heart, I miss you sorely.

Your dear friend
Lasaraleen Tarkheena, Wife of Omar Tarkaan

***

To Princess Aravis, Wife of Prince Cor and Daughter of Kidrash Tarkaan

May Tash guard you and your kin.

Dear Sister of My Lady Tarkheena's Heart.

My Lady Wife, being temporarily indisposed, has asked me to reply to your most kind invitation. We are both most honoured, and will, as soon as my Lady Wife has recovered, begin our journey to Archenland.

I fully expect that we will arrive in time for your Lord Husband the Prince Cor's coronation.

Allow me to extend our condolences to you both upon the sorrowful occasion of the death of Lune King (may he serve Tash forever). Does the poet not say, ”A father is a fierce stallion of war, leading the charge,” and thus a grave loss to a loyal son and a faithful daughter-in-law?

With the most sincere regards
Omar Tarkaan, Son of Sharif Tarkaan

***

To Queen Aravis, Wife of King Cor of Archenland

May Azaroth and Zardeenah smile upon you.

Forgive me for not replying to your two previous letters.

Dearest Aravis, this letter is going to be hard for me to write, and, I worry, perhaps hard for you to read as well.

You asked me, in your previous letters, to explain what I meant by my passing remark as we were saying our goodbyes after your Lord Husband's coronation. I was telling you how very much I miss you when you are not with me, that I would long for a return visit from you even before Castle Anvard had faded in the horizon, and that sometimes I deeply regret listening to that cat.

Darling, it is a somewhat long story, and one that reflects poorly on a foolish young woman. So before I start, I will beg your forgiveness.

It was during those two hurried days that you visited my house that I contrived the most foolish of plans.

You recall, perhaps, that I left you alone to sleep that first night, while I myself had to attend a banquet. Now that banquet took place at the menagerie of Babur Tisroc (may he serve Tash forever). Our former ruler was most fond of his collection of beasts and was pleased to allow his guests to walk among their cages during the feast as well as on select days.

Among the animals was an old hyena, which I made a point of going to visit this night. She was kept apart from the rest of her kind, as the slaves who minded and fed the beasts explained to me, because she was given to bullying the other hyenas quite badly, thanks to her superior size and cunning, as well as her utter refusal to allow herself to be bred.

She was also, as were a few other priced beasts in the menagerie, of Northern stock and possessed by a demon held at bay by mighty prayers to Tash himself carefully inlaid with gold in the very bars of her cage as well as embroidered upon the collar she wore.

”Oh Naqāthi,” I greeted her and reached into the cage to lay down a suitable offering obtained from her minders, ”I have questions for you.”

”Oh Tarkheena, what manner of questions might a fine human lady such as yourself dare to have for a demon such as old Naqāthi?” and she bared her teeth at me, before lowering her head to eat the offered meat and bone.

”I would ask, oh Demon, if you would tell me of the distant land of Narnia.”

”Narnia?” she laughed. ”You want me to tell you of Narnia?”

”Yes,” I replied and placed yet another bone before her.

”They say that Narnia is a land of demons and devils and wicked magic,” she laughed at me. ”What more do you need to know?”

”But are you not from Narnia, oh Demon? We have all heard the stories and rumours, but I would like to hear you tell me of it.”

”Oh Tarkheena, the Narnia I recall is the Narnia of my youth, long years ago. It was a cold land ruled by a wicked witch, who held even the weather in her thrall. She loved the wolves and trolls and nasty things, but she was of winter and had little care for those of us who were not suited to her chill. My sisters and I hunted the lands south of Narnia itself, where her winter did not reach, but we heard stories – of poisons and minds bound and of great warriors turned to stone in her garden.”

”Oh Naqāthi,” said I, ”that all sounds most horrid. But we all know that Narnia is no longer ruled by a devil witch. Why, one of their Kings and one of their Queens are even in these days visiting our fair city.”

”So they tell me,” said she, ”though you can be certain the Tisroc (may his bones be crushed between my teeth) will never invite those folk to tour his menagerie. He prices his demon pets too highly to risk losing them, for it is known that the Narnian embassy has already been buying the freedom of several slaves abducted from their homeland, and I dare say they'd offer amber and fine furs in trade of the silly Cheetah they brought here only last year and the other handful of demon beasts.”

”And for you, Naqāthi,” but she laughed as I said it.

”For me? Oh no. I am a hyena, and the new Narnian kings and queens are a lion's folk. Tell me, little Tarkheena, don't you know what lions do to hyenas? Steal our hard-killed prey and murder our cubs. Even if the Tisroc (may his bones be crushed between my teeth) were to allow the ransoming, they would not want old Naqāthi .”

”Oh Naqāthi,” said I and started to reach out to comfort the old demon beast.

She pulled her head back.

”Careful, oh Tarkheena. Twice now you've reached into my cage with that pretty, little hand of yours and twice I've eaten what was given. But I am not a tame hyena, not some pet or toy, and if you reach into my cage again I might just be minded to take what you did not mean to offer.”

She bared her teeth at me, and they were very white, and she laughed.

”All these questions of Narnia, little Tarkheena. Tell me, did some pretty Narnian boy or girl catch your fancy? Oh, do go, little Tarkheena. Do go to Narnia. It is a land full of far worse things than me, of goblins and werewolves, ogres and minotaurs and hags. They will find you a lovely morsel for sure,” and she flung herself at the bars of the cage, trying to bite through one of them, and her minders came running with the sharp sticks, shouting and waving me away.

Dearest Aravis, if you recall, I did my very best to dissuade you from your plans to travel north. I had been frightened by the old hyena, as I hope you understand.

You were my dear friend and you were planning to travel to the wild lands of man-eating demons, and you would not listen to a thing I said.

And so I contrived a plan.

It was this: there are other paths out of Tashbaan than the tiny water-door. For instance, I could have shared with you the secret of the lovers' door, which is favoured by the youths of Tashbaan when they wish to go a-courting away from prying eyes. But I did not. Instead I took you to the old palace, intending to lead you around a bit and then, at an opportune moment, to attract the attention of the guards of the Tisroc (may he live for ever).

Dearest Aravis, how you must hate the words you are reading, as I am hating writing them.

I know you had claimed that marrying Ahoshta Tarkaan was the worst fate you could imagine, but I imagined one far worse for you in the North. Instead, oh, I wanted to keep you safe in Calormen, among civilized folk, and near myself. And I was convinced, that even if you would be furious with me at first, soon enough you would realize how pleasant it is to be married to a man as powerful as a Grand Vizier and forgive me. And besides, it was my plan for it all to come about in a manner that would seem to you utterly accidental.

Darling, we were in the Old Palace and I was just about to draw the attention of the guards, who would question what we were doing there at that late hour, when a voice addressed me.

”Oh Lasaraleen,” it said in a whisper, ”is this truly what you desire? To put the woman you care for in a cage?”

I looked around and saw what had spoken.

It was a cat. A fairly large beast with green eyes, sitting with its tail gracefully curled around its paws and looking straight at me.

At that moment, I found myself thinking of the old hyena, bitter in her cage, and I looked at you, my dear Aravis, and I felt shame in my heart.

I looked again, but the cat was gone. I never did see it again.

The rest of the story you know, of how we after a small detour eventually made our way to the water-door and said our farewells.

And now you also know the part I never meant to tell you.

Dear Aravis. Please. Do not be mad at your oldest friend. It was all so very long ago now.

I could not bear the thought of you being mad at me.

Your dear friend
Lasaraleen Tarkheena, Wife of Omar Tarkaan

***

To Queen Aravis, Wife of King Cor of Archenland

May Azaroth and Zardeenah smile upon you.

I long for a letter from you but all I have is silence.

No, that is not quite true. I know that you have received my last letter, that it was not lost to robbers or accidents.

I know this, because not one week ago envoys came from Narnia, their ship carrying precious treasures for the Tisroc (may he live forever). On this very day they set sail once more, the treasures having been exchanged for a number of beasts from the private menagerie of the Tisroc (may he live forever) as well as a collection of bones and skins and a stuffed hyena.

I suppose old Naqāthi was wrong to think that the Narnians would leave her behind.

So, you see, I know that my letter has been received and read, but from you? Silence.

Oh, dear Aravis, please. Don't be silent. I cannot bear it.

Your dear friend
Lasaraleen Tarkheena, Wife of Omar Tarkaan

***

To King Cor of Archenland

May Tash guard you and your kin.

My thanks, oh King, for allowing your Lady Queen Aravis to visit us.

Allow me first to assure you that she has arrived quite safely in Tashbaan and that my household and I will extend her every courtesy.

My Lady Tarkheena is already much improved. She has risen from her bed and taken walks in the garden with the sister of her heart, and they spend every night in seclusion.

I have high hopes that my Lady Tarkheena will continue to mend and beg that you will permit your Lady Queen to remain with us at least until the Autumn Feast, which my Lady Tarkheena is determined to spend with her.

With the most sincere regards
Omar Tarkaan, Son of Sharif Tarkaan

***

To Dowager Queen Aravis, Mother of King Ram

May Azaroth and Zardeenah smile upon you.

My darling Aravis, I was so incredibly sorry to hear of King Cor's death.

I know the pain that you must feel, of course. It has been five years and more since my own dear Omar Tarkaan passed into the arms of great Tash, and yet, sometimes, I still feel the pangs of his absence.

I take comfort in knowing you to be surrounded by friends at your court, as well as of course by your son, who when you receive this letter will have been crowned King Ram.

I regret being unable to attend the coronation. I fear the journey to Archenland is beyond me this year, for I am no longer as young as I once was. Instead, I hurried to select and send suitable gifts for your son, and my eldest, a humble Vizier in the service of the Tisroc (may he live forever), arranged for them to be sent on the galley bearing the official gifts and the official envoy.

This letter will follow at a more sedate pace with the next trade caravan.

Darling Aravis, I have a small confession.

I do not merely write to offer my condolences. I write to ask a boon of you.

I am myself a widow now, and my son, as is proper, has provided me with a lovely little palace by the river outside of Tashbaan's walls. It is quite lovely, but it is so very empty here, just me and a few slaves.

Darling Aravis, it is a very roomy palace and the baths are excellent. And I would ask you to join me here.

I do not mean merely for a visit, though if that is all you will grant me, I will be grateful, for I do hope to see you yet again before we meet in the lands of Tash himself.

But I would be delighted if you would agree to come and stay with me, oh sister of my heart, as Azaroth and Zardeenah dwell together in their secret palace in the desert.

I shall await your reply or, if all the gods will accept my sacrifices and listen to my prayers, yourself.

Your dear friend
Lasaraleen Tarkheena, Mother of Tarek Tarkaan