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1. Prologue: There's Courage Involved

“Abbas,” said Aravis, with a certain tilt to her chin that the scribe had seen more times than he could keep count, “do you love me more than the air and the light?”

Abbas looked upon the young woman who was the only daughter he would ever have. She was his joy and his delight, fierce and loyal, thoughtful and gifted with stories as much as she was with sword and horse. As a baby, she had sat upon his knee and traced the words he’d read to her from precious volumes with a small chubby finger. As a child, she learned the stories he’d told her, made up ones of her own, dictated dozens of tales and letters, and taken refuge in the cool dark corners of the library during the heat of the long summers. And now, she devoured epics and strategic theorems that Ilsombreh had never touched.

She would have made Kidrash a fine heir. If she had been a boy. But she was destined to make some Tarkhaan a reluctant wife, perhaps in a year or two. He only hoped he had not trained her too well to refuse what would bring her family honour....and that her future husband would treat her kindly.

“My Tarkheena,” said Abbas, and bowed his head. He could not have been prouder of her if she were his own flesh and blood. His rank had made that impossible long ago, but it could not contain his heart. That was his own to do with as he wished. “You know that it is so. I love you unto death, as I serve you in this life.”

She wanted something Kidrash would never grant. 

Her lips curved. “I know. And I am blessed by the gods to have two fathers. Which is why I ask this of you now.”

Abbas watched her take a deep breath and square her shoulders and make the most of the sudden height from this year’s growth spurt. “As you know, Ilsombreh fights in the west against the rebels at Pugrahan. The last letter we received, they had been pressed back and had lost several battles. They are in desperate need of reinforcements in their cavalry.”

She put a hand flat on his desk. “I can ride better than most of the new recruits. I could lead the battalion myself as well as Chlamash. Not even my father would dispute the truth of this. Only the fitness of it.”

“Tarkheena - ” said Abbas, liking this plan less than anything she had ever proposed thus far.

Abbas. This may be my only chance. It’s no secret that stepmother seeks a fine price for me. Soon I will be sold to the highest bidder. Will I never see the world? Ride to the edges of the empire, breathe the mountain air, see the salt pits and the forests that dance?”

Aravis spoke as one who had had little denied to her. She had seen so much of Calormen’s east; she had not been a prisoner in Calavar, but had ridden to other provinces, seen the fineries and foibles of Tashbaan as a child, seen the beauties of Mezreel and smelled the Valley of the Thousand Perfumes.

But she had not seen the horrors of war. He closed his eyes. “Tarkheena. You do not know what you ask.”

He felt her grip his arm. “I do. Ilsombreh faces the same danger every day. If my father’s firstborn son can choose such risk, is my father’s daughter any less worthy of it?”

She had an answer for every argument. Abbas was neatly caught, for he had been the one to tell her the tales of warrior queens and goddesses and great ladies from lands afar, to enable her boyish pursuits as she tried to keep up with Ilsombreh in every way. Could he wonder that she sought this now?

With his gaze returning to her, the scribe knew his wild daughter would find her way with or without him. He knew, too, that were he to resist, she would wear him down bit by bit until he had no defenses left. Even if he could withstand, there was nothing stopping her from taking one of the horses from the stable that night and rushing off, save her own better logic.

Abbas let out a long breath. “Your father will have my head if anything happens to you,” he said. “But I might die of a broken heart before that.”

He saw her smile quietly, like she was indulging his worry while knowing herself invincible. “For your sake, dear Abbas, I will try not to get myself killed.”

The battle had already been won. 

He passed a hand over his brow. “You must heed carefully to my instructions. No improvising plans.”

In the impulse of triumph, or a burst of affection, Aravis threw her arms around him with shining eyes. “I will be the most diligent of students.”

A slowly devised plan emerged. Under the guise of traveling to a friend’s lake house, she would be sent to the cavalry barracks for training as a page, to prove her worth as a squire to one of the officers. She would give no family name, only letters of recommendation from certain sources Abbas would provide. He didn’t tell her what sort of implications those letters would come with, but assured her that they would at least grant an opportunity to demonstrate her skills with horses and armor. But she’d be dismissed, if she was found wanting - or discovered. Her voice was naturally low for a girl, an alto’s cant, easily pitched lower, and she was thin and wiry, not yet in a woman’s body, and taller and stronger than most boys her age. He had no idea that physically, she could compete with the other pages, after running wild in Calavar all her life. 

Still, she would have to earn her way, without Kidrash’s name. Only by skill and hard work would she be promoted and sent out. Abbas had little hope that Aravis would give up before then. So…

“Three months.” He would stand firm on this condition. “Three months and no longer. I cannot keep up the illusion of your visit for more than that.”

He could see the wheels in her mind whirling, calculating if three months would be enough time to be deployed. “Surely six would be possible, if I write enough letters to leave with you before I go?” 

Abbas gave a short laugh. “Do you think anyone would believe you capable of spending more than three months in Lasaraleen Tarkheena’s daily company?”

Her face fell a little. “It is true,” she said wistfully. “I wish you weren’t so right all the time.”

He was already pulling out a sheaf of papers on which to write letters to his own acquaintance within the recruitment offices. “My dear, I do too.”

 

2. Lukewarm Won't Do

The new squire was pathetically scrawny. By comparison, next to Rabadash, he would make his prince look very well. It was an improvement over the last one, who was too handsome by far, with well-favored features and even finer form. More than once, in Narnia last year, he’d had cause to cast a jealous eye upon Susan’s regard of his erstwhile squire and vaunted virility (much good it would do him now in the ground). This plucked chicken would only earn her pity, or perhaps, her maternal tenderness. The boy’s voice hadn’t even deepened into manhood yet.

“Here, boy.” Rabadash watched the stride of the squire, the utter lack of timidity, the sheer brazenness as if he were a son of the Tisroc himself. Perhaps he was. His father had taken many concubines. It would explain why the boy refused to state his parentage. “Tend to Arctan while you answer my questions. I will keep no squire who has no care for a princely mount.”

In acknowledgement, the boy jerked his head. His lack of obeisance added to the pile of clues about his origins. A royal bastard, proud and upstart. But he was no threat to Rabadash. If he thought to shank the crown prince in his sleep, how sweet it would be to turn his fierce vengeance into abject loyalty.

And it was clear from the start that he knew his way around a horse. He approached Arctan, who suffered few newcomers, with openness and quiet murmurs, and most of all patience. That solicitude was rewarded as Arctan permitted introductory touches. Was it possible the beast smelled their shared blood?

“I am told,” said Rabadash, “that you will give no name but Arveth. I order you now to tell me your father’s name.”

From the horse’s side, unbuckling its gear, Arveth looked up at him, mouth set in a line for a moment. “You know my father. He would not approve of me being here.”

Rabadash laughed. “You do not know our father well, if you think so. But you were wrong to go about it so underhandedly.” He smirked at the boy. “I will keep your little secret. For now.”

Almost as soon as Arveth’s mouth opened to reply, he snapped it shut again. Another jerk of the hairless chin. Poor boy. Maybe he’d get Rabadash’s luck and grow a luscious beard by his majority. Or maybe he’d always have that delicate point, with mere wisps to obscure it. “Thank you,” he said, only a little stiffly.

-

Noble blood or not, Arveth was hilariously bashful about certain things. He would duck his head when in Rabadash’s tent while the slaves bathed and dressed their prince; the first time, he’d tried to sneak out all together, only to be held a captive audience while a grinning Rabadash drilled him on his battle lessons. He learned quickly, but could not seem to unlearn his modest ways of dressing and privy. And his sense of entitlement earned him more than one rebuke within the camp, for even squire to the prince could not hold himself above ranked officers.

His sword skills were, frankly, an embarrassment to the bloodline, far more than any ignoble mother. Rabadash took pleasure in beating him soundly, then seeing the look of mingled wounded pride and envious (if grudging) admiration on his face. It kept Arveth coming back for more, determined to prove himself an apt student at least, if nowhere near battle-ready.

“I could kill a few rebels,” he persisted, when Rabadash informed him of this three nights before the next expedition. “It’s a waste of a good rider, putting a flag in my hand instead of a sword.”

Rabadash had to agree on the riding point. Whoever had trained him in the saddle was worthy of a place in the palace stables. The boy sat like the son of a Tisroc, if not quite as well as the first son. But he would not budge on the fighting point.

“You hold a sword like a pigboy,” said Rabadash, with all the tact their differing ranks demanded. “Watch your betters. Learn how to be better.”

“Ass,” muttered Arveth. And the next round, he didn’t lose his sword quite so fast.

-

“Who’s that?” Arveth’s brows, as fine as his chin, furrowed in the direction of the painted miniature Rabadash drew out the night before the battle in the privacy of his tent.

The best artist in Calormen - by Rabadash’s reckoning, at least - had captured every detail: the dramatic pallor softened by rosy cheeks and blushing lips, the arching brows, startling blue-grey eyes, long slender neck and shoulders, and best of all, the lengths and lengths of night-black hair. He could not bring her out too often. He would just spend all his time staring at her.

“My wife,” said Rabadash. “In all but deed. Soon, in that too.”

Arveth looked closer. “A Northerner? As your queen?”

Rabadash was torn before showing off her beauty and reserving her from such lowly eyes. In the end, he needed the boy to know. “The Queen Susan is above all Northerners, her beauty known beyond the sea. Kings seek her and cannot have her.” The corners of his lips curved. “She is mine. And she knows this.” His pride could not be contained. She was a Queen worthy of him, as none else were.

“I have heard of no betrothal,” said Arveth, clearly curious.

Rabadash shrugged and set aside his turban. “It will happen when she visits in the summer. Never fear.” He dimmed the lamp until it only cast a faint glow on Susan’s face. The way it would when she shared his tent at last.

“Now, little brother…” He grinned. “Stuff your ears, for I have my lady’s breasts to dream of, and they are sweet indeed.”

“I have to use the privy,” Arveth muttered, and fled.

“You may think of her,” Rabadash called to his retreating back. He thought it a very generous offer.

-

By the time of the attack the next day, all distractions were safely put away and Rabadash was all business. He held no doubt they would win. His scouts had done their work; his commanders had planned their formations with the exact makeup of this rebel camp in mind. It was infantry-heavy, and Rabadash’s two hundred would easily sweep the day.

Arveth, it turned out, was the rusty gear in this well-oiled machine. All was going to plan in the first wave. He stayed behind Rabadash, legs firmly clamped onto his own horse as he carried the banner-pole with both hands. (Another thing they would have to train, those skinny twigs of arms.) He even dodged one way as Rabadash dodged the other when a spear was launched in their direction. That steering with his knees was no mean feat.

Yet he’d veered right into the frontline, and the rebels smelled his weakness. They set upon him instantly, like wolves upon a weakened calf. Beset, the squire flailed. The banner fell. It was a wholly one-sided fight, and Arveth would lose it.

Rabadash growled. They would not spill royal blood. Not on his watch.

He wheeled, circling. The lean of his torso was calculated to the exact degree, as his razor-edge scimitar swept in a deadly arc. The rebels fell; the ones who didn’t, fell back. Rabadash shouted, and his men pressed the sudden advantage and rushed the field.

And Arveth behind, bannerless, but safe. “Th -”

“Later,” snarled Rabadash, before he thrust himself into the fray to finish off the rest of the rebels.

-

Later would encompass a bath, a massage, and a slave to fuck before he fell asleep. Rabadash looked forward to all of these things as Arveth began to peel his armor off. The turbaned helmet was the first thing to go. He groaned luxuriously when he emerged from the wrappings and close metal cap, damp-haired and slightly pounding at the temples.

“Did you watch, Arveth?” He closed his eyes, extending his arms. “Did you learn how a warrior does battle?”

“Yes,” said Arveth, in his boy’s voice, light as a tenor’s. His fingers felt unsteady over Rabadash’s shoulders. He plucked for a moment ineffectually at the chain mail.

Rabadash tsked. “You’ve done this before.”

“Never for the man who saved my life.” Arveth’s fingers finally caught on the slinky hauberk, and he began tugging it up. The finely wrought mail slithered over Rabadash’s arms and head, setting dark curls slightly askew.

Head tipping back, Rabadash opened his eyes and lazily surveyed the boy. The wide dark eyes, not yet grown into their face, looked up at him like they were seeing him for the first time. Had he once had delusions of taking the prince’s place in the succession? Simple assassination? Or surveillance gathering? Whichever it had been, Arveth had fallen neatly into the palm of his hands. Today’s events had secured it.

“You are in my debt.”

“Yes.”

That was a good place for a bastard.

-

For the next week, he pushed Arveth mercilessly. Back at the camp, they trained on horseback and on foot, with sword and spear, bow and axe. The strangeness of the borders brought enemies and weapons and fighting styles that were infinitely varying. There was no way Arveth could learn it all in a week.

He did try. Rabadash would give him that. He came to have a grudging sort of respect for the way the boy kept coming at him, even bone-tired and driven to his limits. Arveth never complained. He never admitted defeat, never acknowledged weakness. He fought as Rabadash would have fought, had he been born a bastard (which of course was impossible, but in the strangest of worlds, might have been conceivable). He was, in short, worthy of his blood.

Not all of their siblings were. There were at least a dozen noble-born princes in Tashbaan, as many or more princesses, and Rabadash gave few of them the time of day. There had been a threat or two among them, of course. Two of them, he had dealt with incisively. Maneuvered to the front, knowing they were too honour-bound to refuse. Others, he had manipulated within the city to incriminate themselves with schemes and plots, which were basically the same thing.

Arveth was different. Rabadash came to believe that he had no ambitions for the throne. Neither did he seem to question Rabadash’s birthright, or his own lowly parentage on his mother’s side. Rather, he tried to prove that he was worthy of his father as Tisroc.

Rabadash almost felt sorry for him. Had he even met their father? Did he know how utterly contemptible the foolish old man was?

No, of course not. Arveth must have been raised in some far province, somewhere with access to resources; books and riding masters and philosophers. He acted like a noble, spoke like a scholar. He was probably some poor Tarkheena’s bastard son, forced upon her by their esteemed father, raised in privilege if ignominy. Life in Tashbaan must seem a dream, and the Tisroc a distant and glorious figure.

The reality would be a complete disillusionment. Their father was a joke. He would die sooner than Arveth would, out on the front. He was utterly ineffectual, not even able to counter a tiny country like Narnia, much less the provinces that sprawled at the edges of Calormen.

Rabadash would change all that. He would be the strong leader their empire needed. Their god. He would have a goddess by his side. Susan would supply him with Narnia’s riches and Archenland’s support. His tent would always be happy. She would ride out with him when he wanted her, and stay in Tashbaan and rule when he was stronger without her.

“Rabadash?” The boy’s voice broke through the silence he hadn’t realized. Arveth was standing still, passive. He grabbed a spear off the rack.

“Never wait for your enemy.” Rabadash leapt onto one foot and flung the spear at Arveth. Narrowly, the boy dodged. Ah well. One more heir for the Tisroc.

-

The next battle, Arveth didn’t die either. Rabadash didn’t know whether to be relieved or regretful. It would solve some problems, in a way. Arveth was a wild card in the deck of Tashbaan. The others, he knew about, knew how to manipulate. Arveth was not terribly charismatic, but he was a natural-born competitor, and he was confident leading when he had to. The night the rebels raided their camp, it was Arveth who got all the horses going in a train, who rallied the slaves while the soldiers were defending the borders of the encampment.

And, to Rabadash’s great embarrassment, it was Arveth who’d strapped his drunk ass to a horse and led him exactly in the opposite direction as the rest of the caravan. That had, in the end, saved his life. The camp had suffered some losses on their journey, but none so significant as the crown prince.

He’d come to on a dark road in the middle of precisely nowhere, swaying. Arveth was pulling him down. “Come on, you lug,” he’d grumbled, and those twigs for arms were yanking him off the heights of his horse and inelegantly onto the ground.

“You’ll hang,” mumbled Rabadash.

“Fine,” retorted Arveth, and pulled him under some none-too-soft bushes. “At least you’ll be alive to see me swing.”

“How...thoughtful,” and Rabadash was out again, head in a pile of leaves.

“Azaroth,” swore a woman, who was certainly not Susan, who never swore but only cried her husband’s lauded name, but Rabadash trusted the rest of the gods to keep him safe until his return.

-

It had been a very rough road back. They hadn’t talked much. Rabadash’s head still hurt - from his tumble to the ground, obviously - and Arveth was still sore about something or other. But they were alive, and that counted for something.

“They made it out?” His recollections were slightly hazy. Rabadash frowned, pulling his makeshift turban lower over his brows to hide him from the sun, which was quite rude. “The rest of them?”

“Yes,” said Arveth bluntly, shoulders back. So he could ride in the sun. It was really no great accomplishment. “No thanks to you.”

Rabadash lifted a shoulder. “The scouts had no word…”

I had no word, and I still got them out of there!” Arveth’s gelding jumped, and he soothed him with a touch. They rode on for a few moments in quiet. In fucking sunlight.

A gusty sigh. “Arveth…”

“You are in my debt.”

Proud as the Tisroc. Wearily, Rabadash pulled a forearm over his eyes. “Yes,” he agreed. “Now can you get us back to fucking camp?”

Arveth sat a little straighter in his saddle. “Of course. Right this way, your highness.”

He’d be insufferable from now on.

-

With a few bushes’ stops along the way, they finally reached camp. Arveth untied him from the saddle, unwrapped the thickly bundled turban from his forehead, and hauled him toward the tent that had been set up. “Bath,” he declared, nose wrinkled.

Rabadash felt inhuman. “Bed?” he asked hopefully.

“Later,” snarled Arveth.

Rabadash didn’t argue.

Hot water, it turned out, was almost as good as bed. He sank into the tub up to his neck. It would have been further, but fingers grasped him by the hair and kept him from completely submerging. Rabadash groaned. “Ow?”

“Shut up.”

It was good enough to actually do as requested. Someone - Arveth - put a waterskin to his lips, and he drank as he soaked in the warm depths. “Ugh.” Water. It didn’t sit well. Neither had all the jostling. Just laying still was a treat.

“It’ll help.”

A cool hand stroked his forehead. He sighed. “When does it start helping?”

Warm water seeped into his skin. Arveth finally made a noise. “When you stop thinking about it.”

He closed his eyes and stopped thinking about it.

-

They didn’t really talk about it, after, but there was a new understanding that Arveth wasn’t so useless after all, and Rabadash could rely on him just a little more. They trained harder, in more ways. The hesitancy was slowly beaten out of the boy, until he had at least of a portion of the instinct a real warrior needed. Rabadash was almost proud of his progress.

He didn’t even die in the latest raid. He stayed to the rear, and the banner survived. That night, Rabadash himself supplied his brother with wine, and they both drank until they sprawled on the cushions of Rabadash’s tent and told the dirtiest jokes they knew. (Rabadash won. Obviously.)

But the times he drew out Susan’s portrait, Arveth grew quiet. He didn’t joke like the others. Rabadash never needed to kick him for insolence about his future bride. He didn’t act disgusted by the barbarian alliance, either. It was very strange. He swore the boy was confused by the whole matter.

“What is there to consider?” Rabadash stroked the frame of the picture. Its wood was smooth from constant rubbing as much as the crafter’s polishing. “She will be Queen of Calormen. Perhaps they will let her still be Queen of Narnia as well. There is no sign of Peter taking any brides. She is next in line, and her children. And if Edmund should happen to fall, the way will be very clear for our countries.”

Next to him, Arveth bit his lip. “Does she not have a say in it, too? Has she given you her word? In sign, if not in deed.”

“Of course.” Rabadash waved a hand. The fine linen across his chest heaved with his breath. “A good as given it. She was very favorable towards me during the tourney. She knows what this would bring to our realms. It could be nothing but good for Narnia.”

Arveth, on his side, half rolled and let his hand fall across the top edge of the portrait. “Good for Narnia. But is it good for her?”

“She gets me, doesn’t she?” Indulging the touch on his prized possession, Rabadash chuckled. “She will be mine. As any woman would want to be.”

Arveth huffed what might have been a laugh. “I’m sure they are lining up at the palace as we speak for the privilege.”

He could just imagine the sight. It was a good one. “But I want Queen Susan at the front of that line.”

The rest of them could leave. If only she was there. Waiting for him.

He felt Arveth’s hand squeeze his arm. He didn’t shake it off. “She should see you like this.”

Rabadash blinked. He looked down at himself, in sheer linen for sleep, no turban, no jewels, no perfumed oils. His beard was a mess. “Have you gone mad, brother? She should never see me like this.”

Arveth blinked back. “Will she never see you in bed, when you are ready for sleep, at ease, thus?”

“Of course not.” Automatic, before he took a moment to consider. She would see him in bed. Most certainly. She would see him at moments he was ready for sleep. He would be undressed, not in pajamas. But there would be no jewels, no trappings of stature. It would be just...like this.

That was very strange to contemplate. Rabadash looked the portrait in the eye. “I do not know if you are ready for this,” he told her. She was so poised. So perfect. So was he, but even the son of a god had to sleep. “You will rule our worlds. But my bed is a messy place.”

Arveth chuckled. “You speak truth, brother.”

“You-!!”

Shouts and boyish peals erupted from the tent as the two rolled about in a tussle, the precious portrait tossed to the side, and the princely bed indeed a messy place with cushions and blankets and rugs by the dozens, comforts strewn all around, no amenity of food or drink far at hand. Even at war, Rabadash was a Prince.

-

They would go farther west. The fighting had grown fiercer in Zalindreh, the rebels stronger. They received reports in the flush of victory, when all seemed easily won.

And then had come the list of the dead. Two pages front and back, pored over by the squire until he froze on the last.

... Rishdeth Tarkaan
Harpha Tarkaan
Shuladin Tarkaan
Zarhash Tarkaan
Fahrooh Tarkaan
Emeth Tarkaan
Ilsombreh Tarkaan
Betartha Tarkaan

Arveth’s face went paper-white. He handed back the parchment with shaking fingers. “No. It is from the rebels. A false report.”

“It had Chlamash’s seal,” Rabadash said, and pointed. “Is one of these your kinsman? Your mother’s other bastards?”

Spots of scarlet suffused the high cheekbones, and shining drops in the corners of his eyes. There was that same fight. The one he’d seen in their battles, when Arveth was ready to buckle, but still put up the last blow before Rabadash kicked him to the ground. “Yes,” he spat. “And that bastard is dead. Thanks to your war. Will you bring him back?”

“It is the cost,” said Rabadash. Arveth was so young. He had never known any loss. This was only the first of many. “For our empire. Our safety. Families safe at home. Children.” He thought of Susan, holding their son. Of a horde of rebels breaching the wall, trampling them underfoot. His face grew hard. “We either have these things, or we have nothing. Someone always has to pay the cost.”

“Why did it have to be him?” Arveth turned his back, that Rabadash might not see him weep. Good. The boy still had some pride.

“He was weak. Or unlucky. The gods will know which.”

Arveth shook his head. “He was favored by them from his birth. Meant for greatness. My father…”

Rabadash snorted. “You think the Tisroc will care what other bastards die in his wars? Perhaps he would not even care if his own did.”

But Arveth was still staring at the parchment in Rabadash’s hand. If the words reached him at all, he did not show it. He just reached for his army-issued sword and its belt buckle, unclasping it until the whole kit fell the ground. “I must go,” was all he said. “I will mourn my brother. My true brother. Though he be unlucky or unfavored.”

Rabadash frowned. “You cannot just -”

“Watch me.”

He could have raised the alarm. He could have swept out his scimitar and stopped Arveth in his tracks. But he watched the boy who was his squire and his brother walk out of the tent and abandon his post and take his pack horse and ride on out of camp. And he knew he would never see that boy again. 

 

 3. Epilogue: If You Want To Become Truth

His eyes were weary with weeping. The days were dark in the house of Calavar with the loss of Ilsombreh, for all mourned its future lord, slain too soon in battle. The only consolation Abbas could find was that he prepared the funeral rites for only one child of Kidrash, not two. And though his heart was eased to have Aravis returned to the household safe and sound, her own grief tore at him to see. 

She was strong all through the procession, the laying out of the body, the long prayers and vigils around the tombs. But in the long walk back to the castle, Abbas quickened his steps to come beside her and saw what she would not let the others see. He put his arm behind her back. There was no comfort in words tonight. 

He felt her weight leaning against him, bone-weary, world-weary. Three months. That was all it had taken. That, and the realities of the empire they were all a part of. The lives it demanded, so that it might grow and flourish.

"We must not forget him," she said. "I wish to keep his armour, that a part of him may be with me always. Will you see to it, Abbas? Have it brought to my chambers?" 

It was a request he could grant willingly, though he knew he would have to be on watch twice as vigilantly, in case Aravis decided to use it. "I will," said Abbas.

“It should have been me,” said Aravis, her voice still low as a boy’s. Her eyes were fixed on the tall, lonely figure of Kidrash up ahead of them, beyond his wife and her ladies, with the small form of Ardeeb trailing him uncertainly. The new heir. “If the gods wanted one of us...they could have taken me.”

“And yet, they did not,” Abbas pointed out softly. “Why do you think that is?”

She was quiet for a few moments as they walked. Night had fallen, and the torches made long shadows longer. “The purposes of the gods are beyond me,” she said at last. “But I will be damned if I waste the years Ilsombreh no longer has with bearing children to be sacrificed to this endless cause.”

For that, they both knew, was what all Tarkheenas’ lives led to. If they were lucky, they bore sons, and a beautiful daughter or two, and lived long enough to see their sons rise to power or die a warrior’s death, and their daughters married into great houses. 

Weary as she was, Aravis was steely-strong beside him. Abbas shook his head. “You are destined for something else,” he said, and believed it. “Even if you have to carve out that destiny yourself.”

With a last embrace, she straightened and let her arm fall away. “I know, Abbas. And when I see it...you’ll know too.”

-

There's courage involved if you want 

to become truth.  There is a broken-

 

o pen place in a lover.  Where are

those qualities of bravery and sharp

 

compassion in this group?  What's the

use of old and frozen thought?  I want

 

a howling hurt.  This is not a treasury

where gold is stored; this is for copper.

 

We alchemists look for talent that

can heat up and change.  Lukewarm

 

won't do. Halfhearted holding back,

well-enough getting by?  Not here.

-Rumi