Friday, June 16, 2017

The Horse can talk -- The Matter of Aravis

[This was supposed to go up yesterday, fucking auto-posting-schedule-thing failed me]
[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings, but it would have gone with this post if not for the fact comments are long since closed.]
[You know the content notes for these by now, slavery, child abuse, lack of self worth, stuff like that.]

The donkey was laying down, as it always did when a horse was in the stable.  The donkey knew that it meant Shasta would be sleeping with it, and so it made it easy on Shasta, whom the donkey knew could not sleep standing up.

That was where Shasta found the donkey when he ran into the stable.

Shasta moved to the ground near the donkey in something that was part lunge and part collapse and threw his arms around the donkey's neck.  For a time Shasta just hugged the donkey and cried.

When he finally could manage it he said, "Father is-- I mean Arsheesh, apparently he isn't my father, is . . . he's selling me.  Right now.  He's selling me to the one who owns the horse.  The man, Arsheesh calls him Tarkaan, said when he came that he only needed to stay the night so in the morning I'll be taken away from you.

"I don't want to lose you," Shasta said, he kissed the coarse fur on the donkey's neck, then cried even more.

"If I'm lucky this Tarkaan will be good, I'll have a better life, and . . ." Shasta buried his face his the fur of the donkey's neck.  It was a while before he spoke again: "Just, just hope that I'm happy when you think of me and--"

"You won't be."

Shasta's entire body jolted.

"Who said that?" he asked releasing the donkey and trying to sound brave.

"I did."

Whoever it was was right behind him.  He stood slowly and turned around. "There's an armed man in the house and--" having turned completely around Shasta saw no one. "Where are you!?"

"I'm right here."

The horse's mouth had moved.  The sound had come from the direction of the horse.  There was no space for anyone to be hiding behind the horse saying those words.  No sense was made.

"What are you?" Shasta asked, trying at once to hide his fear and to avoid offending this creature.

"I'm a Horse, obviously," the Horse said.

"Horses don't talk," Shasta said uneasily.  Then he felt comfort, the donkey had stood up too and gently rubbed against his left side.

"The unthinking animals you're used to here don't talk," the Horse said, "but where I come from nearly all the animals talk."

Without even thinking Shasta had rested his left elbow on the donkey and was stroking it with his left hand.

"Where do you come from?"

"Narnia," the horse said.  "The happy land of Narnia—Narnia of the heathery mountains and the thymy downs, Narnia of the many rivers, the plashing glens, the mossy caverns and the deep forests ringing with the hammers of the Dwarfs.  Oh the sweet air of Narnia!  An hour’s life there is better than a thousand years in Calormen."

Then it made a whinny that sounded a lot like a sigh.

Shasta's first thought was to ask where Narnia was, but then he remembered the first thing the horse had said to him.

"What did you mean: I won't be?"

"You won't be happy," the Horse said. "My master is bad.  Not too bad to me, for a war horse costs too much--"

"You're a war horse?" Shasta asked with a kind of awe.  There really were wars?  There were enough people in the world to have wars?  There were special horses for wars?

"Yes, and we mustn't waste time with idle questions," the Horse answered.  "Human slaves are not expensive, and so it would be better for you to die tonight than to be a human slave in his house tomorrow."

Shasta didn't respond.

"Things will get much worse for you if he becomes your master."

"Things things really can be worse?" Shasta asked.  It felt like all his strength had left him and he'd collapse right there."

"Yes," the Horse said, "they can."

"I-- I have to go," Shasta said, "I have to leave."

"Yes, you had better do that," the Horse said, "but why not leave with me?"

"You're going to run away?"

"All of these years I have been a slave to foreign humans, pretending to be dumb and witless like their horses," the Horse said.  "I've been waiting for a chance to escape and this is the best chance for both of us.

"You see, if I run away without a rider any human who sees me will say, 'Stray Horse,' and be after me as quick as he can.  With a human I've got a chance to get through.  That's where you can help me.  On the other hand you can't get very far on those two silly legs of yours --what absurd legs humans have-- without being overtaken.  But on me you can outdistance any other horse in this country.  That's where I can help you.  By the way, I suppose you know how to ride?"

"Oh yes, of course," said Shasta.  "I've ridden the donkey many--"

"Ridden the wha-ha-ha-ha!?" the Horse said with such contempt he was unable to finish the final word.

Shasta looked at the donkey and said, "Don't listen to him."

"It can't understand me," the Horse said.

"You've ridden the donkey," the Horse said, again speaking with contempt.  "In other words: you can't ride.  That's a drawback.  I'll have to teach you as we go along.  If you can't ride, can you fall?"

Shasta was confused by the question, "Anyone can fall."

"I mean can you fall, get up again without crying, mount again, and fall again, all without being afraid of falling."

"I-- I'll try," Shasta said.

"Poor little beast," the Horse said in a gentler tone, "I forgot you're only a foal."

---

While I reserve the title "Bree the Liar" for a horse that will be like the Bree described in gehayi's wonderful rendition, Bree here is lying his ass off. He's not a war horse, he's not the fastest horse in Calormen, and the Tarkaan isn't notably horrible. He's not a saint either --he lives in a slave holding culture and isn't exactly hosting abolitionist strategy meetings-- but Shasta's life would have been much improved had the sale gone through.

(And I also take issue with Bree's claim that nearly all the animals in Narnia talk.  Maybe it's just me, but I really don't see that working for an ecosystem.)

Bree happens to be a slave who is completely willing to lie if it'll help him escape.  Which, I think, is a completely reasonable position to take.  Mind you this Bree is still an asshole, but that's complete separate from lying to Shasta as part of his escape attempt here.
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