The central cast is filled, as Bree and Shasta meet another pair of escapees.
I’m not completely sure if I buy Bree’s excuse that using the Tarkaan’s money isn’t really stealing (more like “spoils of war”, according to him), but Shasta does, so he uses it to buy food for himself. The two of them actually have a fascinating relationship, since Bree is technically a “grown-up” while Shasta is still a child (not to mention that Shasta was raised in a far lower class environment). The issue of class becomes even more prominent when they meet the other escapees, but is still brought up even before then, when Bree worries that he’s picked up “bad habits” from the dumb Calormene horses. Shasta, being far more practical, tells him to worry about actually getting to Narnia before he starts worrying about that sort of thing.
Bree is a very proud creature, having been essentially a high-class slave, and what’s more, having grown up in that environment. He was always treated as an animal, not a slave, and horses are generally the most valuable of animals (hence his obvious disdain for the donkey last chapter).
Shasta, by comparison, has basically been in survival mode his whole life. He’s not exactly humble, just “ill-bred”, as it were: He doesn’t have any manners because his “father” never bothered to teach him any. The most important thing for him is avoiding hurt. Since Bree’s the sort of person who likes to be in charge, Shasta generally defers to him, rarely questioning.
It’s a unique situation even in this series, as up until this book, Talking Beasts have generally filled supporting roles for the main (human) characters, and aside from Aslan, they never really have authority.
Anyhow, they’re thrown together with Aravis (a Tarkheena) and Hwin (a mare) when the two pairs are chased by lions – a thing which Bree, at least, is deathly afraid of (having evidently had an encounter with one before). Once they escape the lion by swimming across an inlet, Bree overhears the two of them speaking to each other and promptly introduces himself.
“Broo-hoo-hah!” he snorted. “Steady there! I heard you, I did. There’s no good pretending, Ma’am. I heard you. You’re a Talking Horse, a Narnian horse just like me.”
“What’s it got to do with you if she is?” said the strange rider fiercely, laying hand on sword-hilt. But the voice in which the words were spoken had already told Shasta something.
“Why, it’s only a girl!” he exclaimed.
“And what business is it of yours if I am only a girl?” snapped the stranger. “You’re probably only a boy: a rude, common little boy – a slave probably, who’s stolen his master’s horse.”
Unlike Shasta, Aravis is used to being obeyed (by horses and humans alike), having been raised as essentially a princess, taught to view class as an essential part of one’s being. Which only leaves the question of why she wants to escape from that life.
“All right then,” said Aravis. “You’ve guessed it. Hwin and I are running away. We are trying to get to Narnia. And now, what about it?”
“Why, in that case, what is to prevent us all going together?” said Bree. “I trust, Madame Hwin, you will accept such assistance and protection as I may be able to give you on the journey?”
“Why do you keep talking to my horse instead of to me?” asked the girl.
“Excuse me, Tarkheena,” said Bree (with just the slightest backward tilt of his ears), “but that’s Calormene talk. We’re free Narnians, Hwin and I, and I suppose, if you’re running away to Narnia, you want to be one too. In that case Hwin isn’t your horse any longer. One might just as well say you’re her human.”
All four of them are simply people – people seeking to escape from slavery to freedom. Hwin hasn’t had a chance to say much yet (aside from urging Aravis to accept Bree’s help), but she’s much more humble than Bree, as one would expect from a Horse with a far more assertive rider.
The only person who’s really unhappy with the new situation is Shasta. No matter her intentions, Aravis can’t help looking down on Shasta for his poverty, and she really just wants Bree. Shasta’s awkwardness certainly doesn’t help matters.
He tried to put on what he thought to be very grand and stiff manners, but as a fisherman’s hut is not usually a good place for learning grand manners, the result was dreadful. And he half knew that it wasn’t a success and then became sulkier and more awkward than ever.
Once Bree and Hwin are a bit better acquainted, he asks for their story.
Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
Lewis takes another jab at contemporary schooling! Can you tell he had bad experiences with it?
Next time: Aravis tells her story…