We see more of King Edmund and Queen Susan (and learn the severity of their predicament), and Shasta meets his royal lookalike.
“I have been with the Prince this morning,” continued Edmund. “He is little used (more’s the pity) to having his will crossed. And he is very chafed at your long delays and doubtful answers. This morning he pressed very hard to know your mind. I put it aside – meaning at the same time to diminish his hopes – with some light common jests about women’s fancies, and hinted that his suit was likely cold. He grew angry and dangerous. […]”
“Yes,” said Tumnus. “And when I supped with the Grand Vizier last night, it was the same. […] He gave a smile that meant no good and said, ‘There is nothing to hinder you from dancing there [in Narnia] again, little goatfoot; always provided you leave us in exchange a bride for our prince.’”
“Do you mean he would make me his wife by force?” exclaimed Susan.
“That’s my fear, Susan,” said Edmund. “Wife: or slave which is worse.”
And this is the real reason Aravis is a Tarkheena instead of a slave: Because even Lewis couldn’t make the subject of sex trafficking remotely palatable in a children’s story, which would inevitably arise from a scenario with a (human) female slave. This isn’t even creepy subtext like the situation with the White Witch and Edmund, this is actual literal text – and a significant plot point, no less!
Anyhow, Rabadash’s behavior cements the general Calormene attitude toward women: They’re considered objects to be used as bargaining chips (at best). Even Aravis had a low opinion of other women in her household (she only trusted a male servant to help with her escape), and she treats Bree with much more respect than she gives to Hwin, even though Hwin has not only proven herself loyal, but saved her life. And generally shown more intelligence and common sense than anyone else in the crew. Yeah.
It’s also quite interesting to contrast Susan’s situation here with Lucy and the Duffers in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In both situations, Edmund & co. are trying to preserve the Queen’s honor, but Lucy’s “honor” didn’t need any help preserving itself (even though she was much younger than Susan is here); however, Susan’s situation is much more delicate. I’ve mentioned before that Susan is much more conscious of how she’s perceived by society, and it not only makes sense here, but it might actually be a good trait for a ruling Queen to have. When you’re receiving overtures from powerful Princes hailing from every corner of the world, you must take into account how you’re viewed by society (both in your home country and abroad), otherwise…well, otherwise you get exactly this scenario. A jilted but powerful suitor is essentially holding her and her friends captive until she agrees to marry him. This actually goes a long way toward explaining her behavior in chronologically later books. What’s positive for a ruling Queen isn’t necessarily healthy in an ordinary schoolgirl. I can’t really blame her for getting stuck here, though; she’s only a teenager (if probably an older one) testing the waters of romance, Queen or not. But in this particular society, there’s no room for error on that front.
Now we had a main character in here somewhere, didn’t we?
Shasta perks up when they discuss a secret way across the desert separating Calormen from Archenland and Narnia, but doesn’t contribute anything to the conversation. Tumnus, however, has a stroke of genius: Pretend to set up a party on their galleon, the Splendor Hyaline, to give them an excuse to provision their ship and generally traverse freely between the ship and their quarters.
Once the Narnians set to work on Tumnus’s plan, Shasta is left alone with his thoughts (and a splendid meal) for a bit.
He only hoped now that the real Prince Corin would not turn up until it was too late and that he would be taken away to Narnia by ship. I am afraid he did not think at all of what might happen to the real Corin when he was left behind in Tashbaan. He was a little worried about Aravis and Bree waiting for him at the Tombs. But then he said to himself, “Well, how can I help it?” and, “Anyway, that Aravis thinks she’s too good to go about with me, so she can jolly well go alone,” and at the same time he couldn’t help feeling that it would be much nicer going to Narnia by sea than toiling across the desert.
Of course, he never even considers telling the Narnians what’s going on with him, because he acquired the habit of not telling adults anything, believing them all to be as close-minded as his “father” (even if the Narnians are clearly not as cruel as most of the adults he’s encountered, he still comes from a Calormene mindset, so “not cruel” only extends to “might not kill me for impersonating royalty, maybe”). Note also how quick Shasta is to take advantage of privilege when it’s offered to him, shunning the people who had shunned him.
But the story must go on! And so he meets the real Prince Corin, breaking into his own quarters through a window. When Shasta asks him where he’d been, this is what we get:
“A boy in the street made a beastly joke about Queen Susan,” said Prince Corin, “so I knocked him down. He ran howling into a house and his big brother came out. So I knocked the big brother down. Then they all followed me until we ran into three old men with spears who are called the Watch. So I fought the Watch and they knocked me down. […] Then the Watch took me along to lock me up somewhere. So I asked them if they’d like a stoup of wine and they said they didn’t mind if they did. Then I took them to a wine shop and got them some and they all sat down and drank till they fell asleep. I thought it was high time for me to be off so I came out quietly and then I found the first boy – the one who had started all the trouble – still hanging about. So I knocked him down again.”
Corin is such an outspoken character, and he’s kind of impossible not to love. Yet another of Lewis’s brilliant character sketches – and all in two pages or less!
Anyhow, he tells Shasta how to get out and to look him up whenever he gets to Archenland/Narnia. So Shasta is finally on his way to the designated meeting place at the Tombs.
Until next time…