Foreword and Discussion:
In the beginning of Chapter 3 of The Horse and His Boy, At the Gates of Tashbaan, the recent history provided by Aravis as back-story narrative was delivered in a formalised and culturally appropriate manner, which was rightly described by Bree as being in the grand Calormene style. Nevertheless, it was brief and brushed over many details.
It is likely that the the sensibilities and biases of Clive Staples Lewis were playing themselves out and most certainly the reason was his desire to provide a fast-moving and uncomplicated story that could meet the attention span of children. For it must be remembered that it was he who first brought this part of her story to the attention of England and the wider world from which Digory, Polly, Lucy and her family and Eustace and Jill came. In light of recent findings, it has been suggested that some form of his story also had a back influence on the historical record which has come down to us in Archenland and Calormen, as he wrote the stories out of the order in which they actually occurred and only within a few short years. But if so, it was via unknown channels.
Alternatively, it has been theorised by several of the scholars from the University of Tashbaan's Ancient History Unit and Women's Studies Unit, that it may well have been Aravis Tarkheena herself, who chose at the time to misrepresent the sequence of events leading to her escape from forced child marriage. This would be an upsetting circumstance for any child to contemplate, with undoubted mental trauma of the anticipated experience itself leading to a truncated narrative. Her mental self control to be able to deliver her story so skillfully in the grand Calormene style that is rendered in Lewis's narrative, is thus to be greatly admired, regardless of brevity and distortion.
The tone of the surrounding story suggests that it was also an attempt by Aravis to establish herself as a force to be reckoned with in the male company of Bree and Cor, especially in relation to the swiftness of her decision to commit suicide, as well as the degree of her own agency in later securing the services of the family slave to forge the letter from the soon-to-be Grand Vizier.
With such varied hypotheses and the lack of concrete evidence, the key influences on how Aravis's early story was told were, until recently, uncertain.
However, it can now be revealed that a remarkable document has been recovered along with other scrolls from forgotten vaults under the ruins of Anvard, Archenland. This contains a long hidden and probably more accurate representation of events in Aravis's history from the point of view of another player entirely. This is one who is alluded to only briefly in the history which has come down to us. The document appears to be a transcript of a confessional interview, delivered in the presence of Aravis's father Kidrash Tarkaan, when Amin, the faithful, loyal, enslaved and conflicted scribe, valued administrator and teacher of the household children, lay upon his deathbed. The given date is about nine years after Aravis Tarkheena's abrupt departure from Calavar, whilst the delivery date to Archenland of this extraordinary document is nearly eleven years later than the date of recording, so it may be surmised that it was not released by Kidrash to his daughter until she became crowned Queen Consort of Archenland, following King Lune's death. The reasons for this decision remain obscure.
Because of its advanced age and brittleness, this original document may not be viewed by the general public. However, two full transcript copies have been made; one of which resides at the UTL, (University of Tashbaan Library) and the other in the RAAH, (Royal Academy of Archen History, in Armouthe).
However, to facilitate bringing the true story to common appreciation, and to avoid a rush on the two transcripts in their respective libraries, what follows is a dramatised third-person narrative version of the events and experiences related by Amin through his master, Kidrash Tarkaan. This narrative was composed by Master Filbert Satyr, Third Keeper of Records and Bachelor Novelist, Royal Academy of Archen History, Armouthe, the year 2321.
Aravis Tarkheena, who later became Queen Consort to King Cor of Archenland, was born in Calavar, the mid South Province of Calormen, during the dry season of the year 999, one year before the White Witch's time was finally ended in Narnia.
Born into the Tarkaan nobility she claimed direct descent from Tash via Ardeeb Tisroc. Her name meant Swift Bird and its diminutive Aravisi (best rendered as Little Bird), was often used fondly when she was little. Her mother was Mastanah Tarkheena of Calavar Province and her father was Kidrash Tarkaan, already Ruling Tarkaan of Calavar Province, following the early death of his father. Her older brother was Kidrashi Tarkaan with whom Aravis had a dear and close relationship. At age six, Aravis's mother, Mastanah died of a long wasting illness, after having had a difficult pregnency and birth and ongoing complications. For a time, the two children and the third child Rishti, were mothered by their father's mother and mother's younger sister. They were also educated by the family slave Amin, like Kidrash before them, as he had proved most adept. When Aravis was age eleven, her father married again. As is common in such cases, the stepmother was deeply resented by both elder children and was never able to gain their trust. It appears that in turn she used subterfuge and spying to find out what was going on in her own household, so in the long run, the mistrust that Kidrashi and Aravis felt was perhaps well founded.
Like her father and aunt before her, Aravis Tarkheena and her elder brother were of athletic disposition, although it was reported that her brother Rishti, younger by three years, though fondly loved, was not gifted academically nor inclined to the arts of war or sport. Far from it. This may be why Kidrash Tarkaan, after having lost his elder son, made the hard decision to marry again, in the hope of producing a new more capable heir. Given that Aravis was proving to be gifted on all fronts and the precedent existed for a ruling Tarkheena, the possibility must be considered that Kidrash's gender politics and those of his new wife harmonised, towards Aravis being removed from the line of succession. But given what was about to happen to Aravis Tarkheena, it must be considered that perhaps this was an even more strategic move... to have a daughter based in Tashbaan who would become a young rich and influential widow before long, once the elderly Ahoshta had died. Amin, the family admistrator and slave had his own perspective on these matters as you will read below.
Please read and enjoy the following story and make up your own mind, O worthy reader.
Aravis Tarkheena lay on the bed in her dark albidwar, now stretched rigid, now curled in a miserable coil. She silently shrieked, her eyes starting, fists clenched, her breath gasping, her heart thumping, sweat and tears and snivel all blending together in one unholy mess.
She let it all accumulate and run down her face and onto her pillow. It was the only thing in this world that she now felt she had any control over, that truly belonged to her any more.
The visage of an old man with a lascivious grin and arthritic fingers quivering over her flesh leered in her minds eye, unable to be banished.
Here in her beloved mother's house, had come to live a stepmother who would do nothing to stem her father's worst excesses and failures of judgement. Indeed, Aravis thought she appeared to be working to rid herself of Aravis as soon as possible. And her father was showing himself to now be ruled so completely by ambition and grief that he would marry off his only daughter, a girl of a mere thirteen years, to a powerful old man with the morals of a baboon.
Aravis's only comforts since first her mother's death and more recently her brother's had been to either retreat to her albidwar, to silently practice her fighting skills with her brother's scimitar, or to ride her blood mare at breakneck speed through the savannah woodlands of her father's wide estates where no-one could spy her.
And now having had the news of her father's intentions; nay the acceptance of the proposal by the Grand Vizier, she was consumed with abject misery, terror, betrayal and deep deep anger. Her faith in humanity, in love, in family safety, in anything that could sustain her hope and spirit were all draining away.
Where could she find the resilience to face what she was about to face? Or the courage to end it?
Aravis lay there with her face against her wet pillow, the smell of roses and jasmine and salty sweat about her, pondering how guilty she would make her father feel when he discovered her lifeless body.
Deep in this mood, Aravis refused to leave her room. She kept it up for a three days.
Her stepmother tried to talk with her. Aravis screamed at her, "go away, you're not my mother"!
Several servant girls were sent in, in gradual succession. To bring her comfits and rose scented water, to bathe her, to keep her company and ease her mood. Equally rapidly, Aravis ejected them and sent them packing. Hairbrushes were thrown and broken. A real glass mirror was smashed. Veils and sashes were ripped to shreds or thrown out the window. One servant girl emerged wailing, covered head to toe with the inky mix of indigo and henna, after she had tried to soothe Aravis by washing and then dying her hair. Of course the silly girl had remarked that the intensity of the black, with the indigo and and orange highlights would inflame the desires of her betrothed, which only heightened Aravis's distress. Anything that smacked of the trappings of femininity and allurement had always rankled and had been suffered with resentment. Now Aravis would suffer them no more.
Deep in her heart, she made a vow to escape from this horror and to somehow pass as a boy. She would escape and enlist in the barracks of a neighbouring province, or become a ship's boy and sail away to fortune and far lands. Or end her life in great anguish deep in the woods and utterly alone. How her father would grieve!
Her father's personal scribe and the children's early learning tutor, Amin, was in his work room, sharpening quills, oiling parchment and listening to the tension in the house rise. Amin had been as minder and grandfather to all three of Kidrash's children, dandling them on his knee, teaching them their letters and numbers, how to read and write and recite poetry, taking delight in their emerging characters and talents and making recommendations for their future tuition.
He sighed and tutted as maid after maid was ejected from Aravis's albidwar. Kidrash had just had the door bolted on him when he went to reason and remonstrate with her. Now he had stamped off to his apartment and slammed the door, defeated.
This gentle man sighed again. He had given five and forty years to this family's welfare and both this and his late master's service and stability. And look how they behaved!
And how had Kidrash the Elder ever allowed his elder son Kidrash the Younger to be sent off on that unnecessary and suspicious campaign to the edge of the Kaish last year! Orchestrated by that Tarkaan Anradin of Castle Tormunt, to no-one's glory but his own. There, on the fens below the high plateau, Kidrash Junior had been ignominiously and shamelessly stomped into the mud and left for dead by his own cavalry company after he had "fallen" during a charge. A deliberate act of sabotage against the rising star of Calavaran nobility as far as Amin was concerned. It was plain as day to him, even if he had not been there to witness it. The young man had never fallen from a horse since he was ten!
Amin had gone into mourning for the appropriate period, but had maintained the white feather in his cap of office ever since for more than a year out of respect for the dead and as a silent protest to his master. Kidrash Tarkaan junior had been the apple of his master's eye!
And now Kidrash senior was marrying Amin's masterpiece, Aravis, Little Bird Arrow, to a corrupt elderly politician! The game of the Tarkaan nobility, no doubt. But it would be at the cost of Aravis's integrity, comfort, safety and happiness. "What could Kidrash be thinking? Ah!"
Amin had dandled Aravis on his knee as a babe and been entrusted with her education, because he was trustworthy! He had known from the start what a rare bird she was. Aravis had a bright enquiring mind, a talent for language, poetry, mathematics, diplomacy, philosophy, equestrianism, logic and battle strategy. She could even best her own father at the game of shatranj. And she was only thirteen summers. And she was sly, bless her silken slippers.
Now the elder son was deceased, she could easily have been groomed to be the Ruling Tarkheena of Calavar Province. The precedent was there, despite the younger son, who would never amount to much in his estimation, having few natural talents. Amin considered it likely that he would be fostered out to his mother's relatives, there to be groomed for a middle-rank role in provincial administration; a worthy function but hardly Lord of Calavar. But Aravis's father had married again, hoping to procure yet another heir.
And the wife he had chosen was as meek and obsequious as any he had met in his long life. Well, now he suspected that she was sly and devious too. Whilst not overtly exerting her mistresshood and authority in the household and estate yet, he seriously wondered if she was part of a conspiracy to undermine the Calavaran influence in Calormene politics and whether the marriage of Aravis to the future Grand Vizier was a desperate bid by Kidrash to buy some of it back. Poor Aravisi, Little Bird of Calavar, she deserved better than that.
Amin sighed again, scratched under his cap of office with one of his quills and looked out the window across the courtyard, shaded under the vines, contemplating the straits this family had come to. He was an old man now and 45 years of bending over a desk writing missives and marking children's written work had done his eyes no favours. However, they were still sharp enough to spy a very unusual scene unfolding itself across the yard. An enormous black cat was strolling out of the stables. He had not seen such a large cat for many years, let alone a black one. Most cats in these parts were an even brindle and were generally slim and furtive. He watched it sit down and begin licking its paws and washing its face as cats do, before it had a lazy stretch and stand on its hindlegs to have a scratch on a post. Then, getting to its feet again, it continued its stroll across the yard with that nonchalant roll of its shoulders that cats have until it disappeared below the edge of the window. Amin was intrigued and rose, meaning to look down to observe its further progress.
But a moment later, the cat alighted directly on the ledge, fully twelve feet from the ground, not six feet from Amin's astonished gaze. Amin sat down, taken aback. Could it be? And how had it jumped twelve feet? Its yellow eyes stared silently at him for a few moments, before it bent its head and began to wash itself with its tongue.
Amin made a sign, an old sign to ward off effreets and ghouls. He had never known it to work except when he was a child... since he had found himself a wandering urchin with only a starving kitten for company and seeking refuge at night amongst the haunted boulders on the savannah under the stars, surviving together on beetle grubs, frogs from under rocks, lerp from the leaves of trees, and the occasional stolen sqirt of goats milk. And he added a prayer to Azaroth, seeking his protection.
The cat paused its self ministrations, looked at Amin and said: "O, my son, I answer to all the names, as long as they are spoken with sincerity. You certainly have my protection."
Poor Amin nearly fell out of his seat.
The cat continued its washing whilst Amin's eyes were starting out of his face and it took a few minutes before he could gather himself to respond in any way at all. He had considered shuffling out the door and simply escaping from this alarming apparition but decided it would probably return if he didn't deal with it now. Or chase him.
"O... er... most benificent cat... er... what has prompted thee to make this visitation upon my most humble person?"
Amin was not flowery by disposition, despite being a man of letters... nor obsequious, despite being a man in slavery. His invocation of Azaroth rather than Tash marked him as an Azar, a person indigenous to Calavar and neighbouring Varadesh Province. The Azars had mostly been enslaved or taken as bonded servants to the Tarkaans, the elite of the militaristic expansionist Empire of Tash, based in Tashbaan. Azaroth's tradition, which was far more ascetic and simple, was still followed across the southern provinces, but secondarily now to Tash, at least on the surface.
"I have been visiting you all my life my son," was its unexpected answer, delivered in a soft undertone. "After your father disappeared and your mother was outraged and then murdered in front of you, and you ran for your life and became a wandering traumatised orphan, it was I who befriended you as a skinny half grown cat. Between your generosity and opportunism and my neediness and knowledge of how things lay, it was I who guided you to the door of an orphanage school, knowing that it held safety, nurture and learning for you. I have looked in on you from time to time over the years and I remain most pleased that you have used your opportunism and generosity to make a good life here. This family here values you highly."
"O! Always have I wondered what becameof thee. And thou hast learned to talk. I am undone..."
Amin began to cry. The cat sat patiently and then jumped down and rubbed itself aganst Amin;s leg.
Amin I have done the best I could!" he said through muffled tears. "I would have had my own family, but this one here was more than enough."
"Indeed it has so proven", said the black cat with a purring kind of rumble. "I may not right all wrongs and remove you from slavery and for that I am sorry, but I seek to influence what I can through my agents. And that is what I want to speak to you about my son. It seems there is strife at work here that may come to great ill. It concerns the daughter and her safety and fate. I want you to intervene."
"Intervene!?" wailed Amin, "but I am a slave!", he protested. "I have no power here. She is already betrothed to the man about to become Grand Vizier!"
At this, the cat hissed at him and widened its yellow eyes. Amin was startled by its depth and timbre. It was almost as if a lion had roared in the room. He glanced out the window , but no-one who was about seemed to have heard.
"Even the lowest order slave has the power to do something to influence events. And you are the greatest teacher and administrator this household has known for two generations. This you know. Use that power. There is not much time left!" After a pause, the cat said, "Will you do what I ask?"
"Of course, O great one. Yes! I will do what I may but I am unsure of the best pathway forward. And I am still afraid."
"Good", said the cat. "For that shows that you are not taking this responsibility lightly and will do your appointed task well. I now go to speak to another."
With that, the cat leapt from the window-sill to the ground and sauntered back to the stables.
Amin wondered who the cat was planning to speak to in there, but decided it would be better to not know.
Amin paced unsteadily about for a while. Then he took a long draught of water and a mouthful of minted milk to sweeten his breath.
Outside his work room, he automatically adopted the slave shuffle until he reached his master's apartment. Eyeing the mat and low panel that was reserved for slaves to knock upon, he summoned his courage and instead pulled the small bell cord that was for members of the family and visiting Tarkaans and heard a musical tingle.
"Aaargh! In the name of Tash, who comes to disturb my attempt to get some peace and sense! What do you want?"
The door was flung open. Kidrash Tarkaan stood there looking flushed and out of sorts. He was about 40 years old, muscular, upright and military in bearing, his gleaming teeth in excellent health; a disciplined man, but looking harassed. Dressed in simple white pantaloons, longshirt and sandals, there was no turban or cockade this day, his salt and pepper hair caught loosely at the crown of his head with silver clasps, and the silver and onyx medallion of his office at his neck.
Looking surprised, he hesitated "Oh..."
Then "Amin! You dare ring the bell? What is the meaning of this?" he demanded.
Amin remained silent, his gaze directed to the floor until Kidrash rubbed his face and eyes with exhaustion and exasperation and sighed. "Ah, what of it? I cannot expect your old bones to be cringing around on the floor anymore. Come in. Tash be praised, I think maybe you are the only one here I may now get any sense from!"
Half an hour later, Amin appeared at Aravis's door and tapped softly. Kidrash was watching from further up the hall. There was no answer. Amin leaned his head against the panelling and spoke quietly through the grill.
"Little Bird. It is I Amin, your teacher and devoted slave. Young mistress, I am sorely troubled by your situation and I wish to hear the troubles of your heart."
There was at first no answer. Then, as his softly spoken voice pleaded with her to let him in, Aravis's tense voice accused, "My father sent you!"
"Only in a fashion Little Bird. In all truth, one of the gods has sent me... if you can believe it. But I visited your father's apartments and gained his permission first. He has agreed that he does not need to know what passes between us, merely that I do my best to comfort you and help you find a way to face your... er... changed circumstances... with poise and honour."
"So my father is not outside then, listening to every word?"
"No, Aravisi Little Bird, he is not. Nor another soul. Your father has even given his word to prevent it."
As Amin heard the bolt being softly drawn aside, he signaled to Kidrash with a nod, who swiftly departed, retiring to his study, no doubt pensively awaiting developments.
The door was unlatched and a hand clutched his arm and drew him into the room, before the door was bolted again.
Amin encountered a red eyed, blotchy, trembling girl who was as distraught and dulleyed as any he had seen since he was scratching a living in the streets. The albidwar was stale and musty and even the handsome blue bed curtains and embroidered pillows on the plush divan looked draggled and sad.
He spent the best part of two hours with Aravis, firstly holding her under his left arm, letting her cry her heart out, then listening to her describe her agony at the prospect of what her father and stepmother had set in train for her.
It was during this discussion that he shared his own horror about what was happening to her but also confessed that he feared for his own safety should he be seen to undermine her father's authority.
Instead, he entered into a secret pact.
"O Aravisi Little Bird, my heart is wrung with pity and horror for thee. I greatly fear for what you might do to yourself. But I live in great hope, for a being whom answered to the name of Azaroth himself has this very day spoken with me direct, wishing me to do what I can on your behalf."
Aravis looked at him a little doubtfully. If she had not been in such straits, she would have been scornful. But Amin was so sincere and said so with such gravity that she clung to what he offered as a branch in a floodway.
He continued, "I have sought your father's permission to give you counsel and and this he has agreed to. However, you must know that he has in no way agreed to withdraw the marriage contract, despite my suggestion that this could be a wise course of action. He disagrees utterly. He no doubt has some reason he considers fit. But having listened to your terror and horror, I now propose several limited pathways that you might consider taking. Being the most capable student I have ever encountered and had the utmost pleasure to educate, no doubt you have also considered these, so I shall not be surprised if you reject them out of hand. But please hear them all before speaking.
"FIrstly, to proceed with the mariage... no hear me out Little Bird, I beg thee..."
Aravis had bitten her lip to prevent a loud scream, which she checked only just in time.
"Should you proceed with the marriage, I will do everything in my power to make sure that you recieve instruction by the best of the slave women to increase your chances of of maintaning your physical integrity, no matter what other instruction your stepmother chooses to provide. You do know of what I am speaking Little Bird?"
Aravis nodded, revolted, sick at heart. Terrified. She crossed her legs and folded her arms tightly around herself.
"And to then come home to Calavar as often as humanly possible so that you may take comfort in familiar surroundings. I may be able to have words with your father about this being a wise course of action, given your great youth and the undoubted grief the marriage will continue to cause you for some time."
"Alternatively, you may be thinking of running away. But know that if this is your choice, and you make a successful escape from this house and estate, that the entire Calavaran spy network will be after you and those of Tashbaan as well. Even if you don the guise of an urchin boy, you will surely be found, or if not, you must flee far and far... swiftly. I doubt you wouldst ever get far enough. Anyone giving you safe harbour, their life would be forfeit. If this be your choice, I do not blame you, but your father's honour and influence is bound up with this marriage. He wishes you to embrace this as a wonderful future for yourself and for your father's and your own influence in the Calormene game of power."
"Any more drastic measure, I beg you to not contemplate further. But I must ask if you have already given it thought."
Aravis just stared into space for a full minute, hugging herself, whilst the faithful compassionate man sat patiently. Then just as Amin was about to speak again, Aravis held her hands in front of her and brought both towards her heart with a sickening and painful thud which must surely raise a bruise. The illustration of her intended method was so clear that Amin was reduced to quivering tears.
"No, no, Litte Bird! Please do not do such a thing. Please take hope. For the god who spoke to me only two hours since, did so with clear intent. He means for you to live and have a good life even if your father will not shift his purpose. I hope I have given words of guidance enough."
In the end, he was unsure if he got anywhere in helping her accept her fate, but she did seem to take great comfort in his gentle attention. At the end, Amin left Aravis with a heavy heart as he did not feel that he had managed to help her accept her fate. Indeed, she seemed to have fixed her mind on something else.
He returned and spoke to her father and said "O my master, I have done my best. Only time will tell."
Thus it was, that the next morning she could not be found. Her mare was missing and somehow seemed to have slipped away leaving few identifiable prints. All feared the worst and a search party was mounted. But just as it was ready to set out, Aravis rode her mare at breakneck speed into the stable yard and jumping from her horse's back boy fashion, raced back into the house and bolted her door again before anyone could detain her.
Some time later, she emerged from her albidwar, washed, with her hair dressed, and wearing the silver thread pantaloons and head and torso wrap of ending maidenhood, went before her father, curtseyed very low and indicated her happiness at the match.
Later that day, she forced herself go down for dinner and to eat mechanically. Her stepmother was being demure, her father a blend of breezy, distant and authoritative. The elephant in the room was not spoken of.
Rishti her little brother whinged and complained again about being expected to eat his greens. "Eeeeww! But I hate salad! Salads make me feel sick!" When his father admonished him and demanded he eat his greens for the ten thousandth time, she could see Rishti stuffing his cheeks with the tabbouleh, eating his other food around it, most skillfully, before waiting to be told he could be excused. Which was granted. She knew that he would just go to the privy and spit it all out.
Normally Aravis would have been silently barracking for him, but tonight all she could do was fume at both the silly rules and Rishti's insistence on making a great whinge about them. As far as she was concerned, he should just shut up and eat the salad and stop his excruciating scenes played out at dinner on a daily basis, or just silently eat everything else and leave the stupid salad where it was. If her older brother had been present, he would have found a way to humour the boy. Either way, just shut up! Didn't he know what she was going through? Perhaps he guessed very well and was scared of losing his big sister.
If her plans went through, she might never see him again. That thought did not carry quite the pleasure she had imagined and she found herself tearing up as she forced herself to eat the delicious spiced goat meat that was her personal favourite, her stomach twisting with anxiety...