Shasta meets some faces familiar to the reader, but not to him, as he is separated from the others and mistaken for a missing prince.
As the four of them travel through Tashbaan, Hwin is the only one that really manages to remain inconspicuous – Bree refuses to look anything less than his magnificent self, causing Shasta a bit of trouble, and Aravis, while looking the part well enough, is still stuck on how she “ought” to be treated in Tashbaan (never mind that if she really were treated that way, she would also have to be married to an old man).
[In] Tashbaan there is only one traffic regulation, which is that everyone who is less important has to get out of the way for everyone who is more important; unless you want a cut from a whip or punch from the butt end of a spear.
Everything in Calormen is built on class – even the city itself literally has the poor living in squalor at the bottom and the wealthy at the top (with the Tisroc’s palace being the highest point of all, naturally). There is an element of religion to it, however, as evidenced by Aravis’s genealogy last chapter: Most of the Tarkaans are apparently related to the Tisrocs, who claim a divine lineage.
Anyhow, there’s evidently a little embassy from Narnia visiting Tashbaan, and Shasta is caught by King Edmund and a couple other (human) Narnian lords.
“Shame on you, my lord! Fie for shame! Queen Susan’s eyes are red with weeping because of you. What! Truant for a whole night! Where have you been?”
Edmund continues to interrogate him and gently berate him, mistaking him for a prince of Archenland (which, if you’ll recall, is the country just south of Narnia).
And Shasta said nothing in answer, because he couldn’t think of anything to say that would not be dangerous. […] This was very unpleasant, for Shasta felt all the time that this young king was the very nicest kind of grown-up and would have liked to make a good impression on him.
Susan greets him fondly (apparently she befriended the prince after his mother died some years ago), but it’s not until Tumnus suggests that the “prince” is simply dazed that Shasta finally gets a break (read: a sofa and sherbet).
Once they’ve shifted their focus away from their little prince, Edmund and Susan talk about their reason for coming to Tashbaan: That is, an invitation from Prince Rabidash, who is clearly smitten with Queen Susan and seeking her hand in marriage. Apparently she was seriously considering him after seeing him at a tournament held in Narnia, but after three weeks in Tashbaan, she discovered that he wasn’t nearly as noble as she had thought him.
“Truly, sister,” said the King, “I should have loved you the less if you had taken him. And I tell you that at the first coming of the Tisroc’s ambassadors into Narnia to treat of marriage, and later when the Prince was our guest at Cair Paravel, it was a wonder to me that ever you could find it in your heart to show him favor.”
It’s very interesting to see Edmund and Susan as grown up Kings and Queens – alternate versions of themselves, as it were. Edmund is clearly a better judge of character than Susan, who evidently was initially swayed by Rabadash’s manners and physical prowess.
“We have now seen him for what he is: that is, a most proud, bloody, luxurious, cruel, and self-pleasing tyrant.”
“Then in the name of Aslan,” said Susan, “let us leave Tashbaan this very day.”
“There’s the rub, sister,” said Edmund. “For now I must open to you all that has been growing in my mind these last two days and more. […]”
Everyone had begun to look very serious. Queen Susan jumped up and ran to her brother. “Oh, Edmund,” she cried. “What is it? There is something dreadful in your face.”
Next time: The plot thickens…