Writings: Rabadash's Ride

Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with my Narnia deconstructions, which are currently on The Horse and His Boy right now. I'm not having the easiest time of it, to be honest. The text is incredibly racist, whether on purpose or not, and Lewis had gotten very sloppy indeed at this point in the series even as regards basic fundamentals of writing like "sensible plotting" and "consistent characterization". All of these problems--Bad Writing and Bad Racism--collide in the person of Prince Rabadash, the violent angry suitor (and man of color from a country literally called "Calormen") who wants to steal Queen Susan away from Narnia to be his "bride".

I won't go into the racism of this trope here because I've beat that particular dead horse heavily enough on my blog, but one thing I have noticed is how much more sense Rabadash would make as a victim of abuse rather than as a mustache-twirling villain. He doesn't make sense as a villain; he was supposedly able to pretend at honor and worthiness when he lived as a guest with the Pevensies in Narnia, yet couldn't keep up the act when Susan visited him in Tashbaan with the intent of hashing out their betrothal contract. In the book, the Narnians see his change in character at home as evidence of his 'true colors', but it seems so much more likely to me that Rabadash behaved well in Narnia because he was happy and he behaved badly back home in Tashbaan because his abusive father is in close proximity and Rabadash is therefore under considerable stress.

After Susan pretends to be on the verge of accepting his proposal as a bluff so the Narnians can flee on their boat under the cover of night, Rabadash instantly (and correctly) blames her despite this characterization not fitting with his ego or his supposed affection of Susan. Reader Anton Mates pointed out that this bad characterization (i.e., having a direct line to the author to know who did what when and how) also contributes to the underlying racism in the book:

(THAHB) "But I want her," cried the Prince. "I must have her. I shall die if I do not get her--false, proud, black-hearted daughter of a dog that she is! I cannot sleep and my food has no savor and my eyes are darkened because of her beauty. I must have the barbarian queen."

(Anton_Mates) I'm surprised that Rabadash loves Susan and yet automatically blames her for instigating the flight of the Narnian delegation. Why does he think that she's in charge? You'd think he'd prefer to assume that it was her jealous brother who spirited Susan off, while she totally wants him and is pining to be rescued. But I guess he's eviller this way.

This stuck with me, and I wanted to write a fic where Rabadash is a flawed victim of abuse who assumed Susan was carried away from him rather than fleeing him by choice. I also wanted to write a Susan with agency and the ability to recognize that though her choice to flee was the right one, the consequences of that choice are things she can manage as a competent and wise queen (rather than, as in the book, being left at Cair Paravel to never be heard from again while the men sort things out with violence). This fic was the result. I think it is a little rough around the edges, but I hope you enjoy reading my "fix" for these events.

Rabadash's Ride


He flies past Anvard, leaning hard into the neck of his horse as he urges her on. The gates to the castle are closed, a fact he notes with relief as they race onward. Thank Tash.

Rabadash had never planned to take Anvard. He'd offered the tiny walled home of the Archenland kings as a jewel to dangle before his greedy father, knowing that without the lure of acquired land and looted riches the Tisroc (may he live forever and his gout plague him eternally) wouldn't approve this expedition into Narnia. Rescuing the woman Rabadash loved from the hands of her treacherous brother wasn't enough reason to rouse the Calormene army into action. So Rabadash promised a castle he never planned to deliver and now Tash granted him justification for the actions he'd already decided upon: the castle must be passed by for there was no way to breach the walls once the gates were close. On now to Narnia.

Narnia. The word was ginger on his tongue: sweet, but followed by a burn that left him scalded and craving more. Barbarians, all of them; they had only the most basic amenities and lived like children who had grown to maturity without the slightest inkling of civilized living. They drank murky water drawn from their courtyard well at dinner, and didn't know to wash their soiled hands with cloths dipped in boiled and scented water before eating. Their food was simple: dark, crusty breads and game meat they hunted themselves, with only a pitiful selection of fruits or pastries. Wind sliced through the rough stone walls of their castle during the long harsh northern winters, and though the freezing air was hardly a bother to the strange Animals who inhabited the court, it cut to the bone any human not wrapped in a thousand layers of fur.

He should hate the backwoods little country, so shabby in comparison with his home. Yet he had found unexpected peace when he stayed there. The deprivation of all luxury grated on him, yes, but in many ways it was like camping with his soldiers on campaign: rough, but a roughness that made him stronger for surviving it. Every morning after a restful night's sleep, he woke praising Tash for the blessed quiet of the court. In Narnia he was far from his father's prodding words laying snares around him, far from cringing servants who spied on him, far from grasping nobles who carried tales about him. For the first time in his life Rabadash felt able to relax, laughing as the mood took him and cheering for the other fighters at the jousts held in his honor. No enemies angled knives for his back in Narnia, for there was no point to be had in killing or disgracing him. He was a guest, and with that came freedom unlike anything he'd ever tasted.

Then, too, there were the Animals! They had unsettled him at first, the way the Horses spoke back when he admired their beautiful fine flesh. One saucy mare had even made him blush when she told him to keep his eyes to himself. Rabadash was not accustomed to being addressed in such a manner, yet that was the way here--Animals spoke as freely to kings and queens as though they were equals. Perhaps, in the logic of fairytales, they were. He came to like them all: the Tortoise who bested him at every chess game; the Cat who spun stories into the dark winter nights; the Squirrel who served as court jester and squeaked truths no one else dared utter from the ceiling beams. The creatures were lords and ladies in their own right, and Rabadash could only stare and admire. He liked the Animals, even when he did not understand them.

This land, the land his horse's hooves now pound furiously over, welcomed him into its heart. He had come to love the emerald hills as much as he loved their queen. And her brother--her treacherous, traitorous, scheming brother--had stolen his love from him, stolen Susan and all of Narnia in one fell swoop, carrying Rabadash's hopes with him across the sea. Fury blinds him for a heartbeat, red spots dancing in front of his eyes. It's the same fury he felt when the Tisroc (may he live forever in a barrel of nails) executed his favorite servant just to relish the impotent pain in Rabadash's face, and for much the same reason now.

He has spent a lifetime letting corrupt kings rob him of his joy. He won't stand aside now and lose Susan and Narnia.


The ship is in his sights as the gangplank hits the dock. He urges his horse forward, breaking away from the host of riders thundering behind him. His mare is exhausted, he can feel her flanks heaving under him panting for breath, but he's so close. He's not a moment too soon, he must get to Susan before they can lock her up in that dreary castle. She hates confinement, she's never happier than when she's riding with the wind whipping through her hair, he can't bear to imagine her trapped in one of those cold stone towers.

Rabadash is set to swing her into the saddle behind him and ride, ride, ride back to Tashbaan and freedom, when the delicate royal foot that steps out onto the gangplank he gallops towards isn't hers at all but her brother's. He can't pull up short; his momentum is too great. For a moment he's tempted to draw his sword and lop off Edmund's head in a heartbeat but he knows if he does that Susan will never be his. King Peter would demand satisfaction for the death of his brother, and Susan could never look at him the same way. If the blackguard is to be engaged on the field, he must be captured and not killed.

Any element of surprise is gone; Edmund is close enough to see the whites of his eyes as Rabadash wheels his mare around in a tight arc. The sound of his troops behind him is a glorious orchestra of strength; beating hooves and gleaming metal song as swords are drawn. When his mare pulls up short he dismounts in a single fluid movement, his own blade leaping to his hand and meeting Edmund's sword in the air between them. They hold, steel kissing steel, and lock eyes as Calormene troops and Narnian warriors array themselves on either side. A tense almost-silence fills the valley, broken only by the snorting of horses and a single tiny gasp as Susan--his beautiful, perfect Susan--leans over the railing of the ship and glimpses him.

"Prince Rabadash." Edmund's voice is cold and haughty, his eyes filled with the self-righteous indignation he thinks makes him seem older than he is. Rabadash is not impressed; the Tashbaan court is filled with aging patriarchs who wear the look better. "To what do we owe the honor of your... visit?"

He lingers over the last word as though they won't all catch his sarcasm otherwise; if Rabadash weren't so angry he'd be tempted to roll his eyes. The youngest Narnian king is always so certain his veiled insults are too subtle to catch if he doesn't call attention to them. Rabadash presses his sword harder against his opponent's, trying to steady his breathing. "I'm here for my bride, dog."

Anger flashes in the younger man's eyes. "She's not yours, Rabadash. She will never be yours. Our sister isn't a prize for you to claim as your own."

The muscles in his sword arm tense with the need to lash out. So the Narnian king thinks Rabadash isn't good enough for his sister? He's just another worm who thinks the sun shines from his ass. Bad enough that the Tisroc belittles him, baits him, longs for him to die on campaign so he can elevate one of his brothers in his place; for this low-born upstart to call Rabadash his inferior is too much to bear.

"You treacherous, two-faced villain!" He spits the words in the barbarian king's face. "To take her from me when she was on the cusp of signing our betrothal. I will teach you--"


Her voice, clear as a ringing bell, calls down to him from the ship above. He'd been waiting to hear her without realizing he was doing so, ears strained for her cry of joy on being rescued. Yet even as his heart leaps to hear his name in her mouth, he notes with some confusion that the joy is missing. Understandable worry fills her voice, but something else; more like anger. Surely her anger isn't directed at him?

He tilts his head to show he's heard her, though his eyes never leave the treacherous snake whose sword touches his own. "My lady, be brave! My men and I are here to rescue you."

"I don't need rescuing!" Her voice is a sharp shout, then a softer call as she struggles to compose herself. "Rabadash, I left you. Edmund didn't carry me away. I thought-- I thought you'd realize!"

Impossible. He can't fathom it, can't begin to believe her for even a moment. For her to be the instigator of all this, everything he knew and believed until now must be wrong. She would have had to lie to him, to put on an act, to pretend their betrothal was all she longed for even while she plotted to fly from him forever. He would never have fallen for so many lies: the dozens of falsehoods in her face, her carriage, her smiles and laughs and tilts of her head. She's lying to him now, she must be; a single lie in this moment against impossible hundreds in their shared past.

"It's not true!" His voice cracks and he struggles to shove all emotion away, anxious that his men not see. "They're making you say it. He's making you say it." Murder flashes behind his eyes, the hot red spots that block out the rest of the world, the rage his father brings out in him, rage now focused on Edmund the betrayer.

No one is certain who moves first. The assembled Narnians roar as Rabadash lunges for their king, while the Calormen shout as Edmund strikes out with his naked blade. Metal clashes with metal and the sound of combat rings over the valley, battle sweeping out in the wake of the two princes as Calormen troops surge forward and Narnian guards leap to meet them. Above it all, Susan yells words lost on the wind.

Rabadash fights with an intensity his opponent cannot match, the face arrayed against him blurring through a sheen of tears the prince can never admit to shedding. He strikes and parries and strikes again, throwing himself into battle against the father who has hurt him, abused him, dominated him since he was old enough to walk. Not this time, he silently swears with every stroke. Not this time. Edmund is driven back under the ferocity of his attacks, giving ground until his foot slips and he sprawls on grass and mud and heather, sword upraised against the flurry of blows.

Above the duelists, fair hands clutch a drawn bow as another set of tearful eyes watch the fight below. Queen Susan waits until the last possible moment to release the missile that will kill her suitor and save her brother. Her fingers tighten before release, and she feels a breeze stir her hair and kiss her cheek. Years of practice cause her to adjust for the breeze even knowing it makes no difference at this short distance; the arrow she looses will skewer the Calormene crown prince in the span of a single heartbeat. Their countries will go to war, people will die, and a man she liked--and, at least for a time, had thought to love--will die at her hand.

Yet the wind picks up, stirring her hair until it slaps her neck and twists around her bowstring. Strange weather, when before the skies had been so clear. On the wind came a scent--a smell she hasn't caught in years but would know anywhere; a rich blend of sunlight and meadows and youth and strength and warmth and love and fur. No, not fur but a mane. Her frantic eyes abandon her target, leaving her brother to his fate without conscious thought, driven to search the hills rimming the valley for a glimpse of gold. Where is he?

She isn't the only one seeking. Beneath her, the battle stills and the clashing sounds die away as soldiers leave off from the fight to twist their heads this way and that in search of the scent. It is everywhere: undeniable, powerful, and demanding undivided attention. Edmund struggles to his feet while Rabadash twists to look behind him, his curved sword lowered and forgotten in his hand. "What is that? What... is that smell?"

There! A flash of golden fur, the hint of a mane. And then, oh he stands there. Aslan, the lion king. Framed in the morning sunlight, gold and glowing, as regal and real and perfect as she remembers. His eyes gaze over the field, seeming to look upon each creature there, his expression calm. Was that judgment in his eyes or love? Susan isn't sure, and the stab of emotion in her heart on seeing him is as much pain as pleasure. She feels laid bare before him, all her fears and hopes naked for the world to see. Her ears hear the clatter of her forgotten bow and arrow falling to the deck; on the field below her, swords lower and drop from shaking hands.

"What... what is it?" Rabadash's astonished whisper reaches her on the wind even as his own sword droops to drag the ground. The king of all Animals stares them down, then turns and walks into the bright sun. Yet even in his absence that sweet poignant scent lingers over the field.


The Calormen are ushered into Cair Paravel as "honored guests" until a solution to the problem at hand can be found. No one has the heart to fight after that fleeting glimpse of Aslan, not when their hearts still pound and their hands shake, but attempts at negotiations break down almost immediately after he leaves.

Rabadash is angry and confused, asking a thousand questions about the strange lion he saw on the cresting ridge. He is unsatisfied by the offered answers: "king" means little to him in a country which already has an extravagance of two, and "king of kings" is a flowery appellation that means even less. Edmund is little help, turning introspective and quiet in the wake of the lord who crowned him so long ago when he was but a child and--or so some called him--a traitor of Narnia. His eyes occasionally flick to the Calormene prince who argues with the Narnian courtiers, as if measuring the differences between them and unsure of his own scales.

Susan is silent as well, but in grief; she withdraws to her rooms as soon as she can respectably do so without causing more offense than has already been given. When she fled Tashbaan with joy in her heart at being free, she'd been so sure she was doing the right thing. Now, in the face of the lion she has longed for and yet not seen since her childhood, she feels adrift. Could she have made another choice? She can't see one in the tangle of politics and snares of men, but perhaps she has been an adult far too long. Maybe it takes the mind of a child to cut through what is polite and political to arrive at the truth. Perhaps at long last she understands why she and her siblings were crowned as children: not in spite of their youth but because of it.

Lucy is left to play host to the visitors, but this is a part she plays well and gaily. She chats happily with Rabadash, expresses delighted amazement at hearing how Edmund and Susan fled Tashbaan under the cover of night, and is so thoroughly determined to view the entire thing as a wonderful adventure that anyone at the table with a lingering grievance is forced to give way to her passionate cheer. Lucy the tomboy, the prankster; her persona as the merry gay queen comes naturally to her, but it has political value of its own; what man of nobility can continue to frown and take offense when so fine a lady laughs and claps and cheers at what has occurred? She finds sport in everything, and thus turns grievous political missteps into a shared joke.

After an unsatisfying dinner ends on cool terms for all involved, Rabadash gazes around the guest room they have left him in and wonders if this is to be his prison. It would make a better prison than a guest room, at least by the standards of guest rooms in the palace of his father, but as a prison it is far from the worst he's seen in Tashbaan. Perhaps he can convince his father to pay the Narnians to keep him here in exile, paving the way for the succession of his younger brother; the Tisroc (may Rabadash never see him again) might warm to that idea. Then again, when paying for a problem to go away, he's more likely to opt for a permanent solution. Rabadash would prefer not to be assassinated in his sleep.

He is startled from his reverie when a knock on the doors to his suite of rooms is followed by the announcement "Queen Susan of Narnia" and she walks in. Her hair is loose and unbound and beautiful; she is as lovely as the day she left him, the evening of the morning when she all but promised to marry him and his heart had soared with happiness for one of the few times he could count in his life. She is also alone.

"Susan?" He takes a step towards her before stopping, the tiny flinch in her eyes like a backhand to his face. Hands at his sides, trying not to tremble, he waits and pushes down his fear, his anger, his anxiety. She left him, she lied to him, so why does he feel so guilty?

"Rabadash." She uses his name at least, not the formal "Prince Rabadash" falling from Edmund's tongue when he deigned to speak at dinner. "I believe I owe you an apology. When I left you-- When we sailed away, I thought you would understand why. I realize now you did not, and I am sorry for the pain I caused."

He's angry with her, he wants to be angry with her when anger is so much less painful than sorrow, but his heart twists at her gently halting tone. Has someone made her say this, or does her conscience drive her so terribly as to fill those soft eyes with guilt? He wants to comfort her but the distance between them makes that seem impossible. "I don't need an apology, Susan, I need to understand why. I was so sure Edmund stole you away. To keep us apart." Fresh anger rises in him. "I rode across the desert to rescue you."

Susan nods, weariness in her eyes mingling with the guilt; the tired look of one who feels bereft of the words to explain her pain, a look he knows well. "I know, Rabadash. I am sorry. I appreciate the thought, I do. But you should have known-- Surely you must have realized I am not my brother's pawn. Edmund is my dear younger sibling, but he could never have carried me off. In your passion for me, you have underestimated who I am and what I am capable of."

Ire ripples in his heart. "Better that I should overestimate your virtue," he points out, his voice taut. "I did not imagine you would lie to me, deceive me like that! Why, Susan? Tell me! Why leave me on the eve of our betrothal?"

"Because I do not want to marry you!" The words burst from her throat, frustration overriding her gentility. "Rabadash, I thought that would be obvious! When a woman flees her lover rather than marry him, that tends to mean she does not wish to marry him, yes? Or are things different in your country?"

He blinks at her, astonished and unseated, like a man thrown from the saddle. "But you did," he protests, one hand making helpless little gestures in the air. "I know you did. You came to Tashbaan with marriage in mind. You loved me. What changed?"

She sighs and sinks into a chair by the fireplace in these cold rooms. "You did, Rabadash. You changed. I did love you when you were in Narnia. When you were here, you were kind and gallant and pleasing in all things. I saw a man I could respect and cherish, one I thought I could love until the day I died. A kindred soul I could share a lifetime of joys with. But when we came to Tashbaan to settle the contract, I saw--we all saw--your casual cruelty, your unkindness. I could not contract to you any more than I could with your father."

The comparison sends him reeling, stumbling back a step and falling to sit on the massive bed that strikes his legs from behind. "My father? I am nothing like my father."

She studies him from her chair, those gentle eyes seeming to strip his skin away to bare his soul. "You are not him," she murmurs, almost unwillingly, "but you seem to share much in common with him, Rabadash. I... I thought you had deceived us all, playing a game of pretend here and returning to your true self in Tashbaan. Now, I am not so sure."

"Because I rode to save you?" Hope can't kindle in his heart so hard on the heels of her accusations, but he can remember what hope feels like and imagine he might feel it again one day. Yet she shakes her head.

"Because Aslan reminded me of something long ago. Of another young man everyone said was evil, but who'd been hurt and twisted by someone with power over him. A boy who needed saving." Her voice softens and she seems faraway, and somehow terribly lonely. "Aslan was willing to die for that boy. That's how much he believed in him."

Rabadash doesn't know what to say to this. He knows little more than the name of Aslan the lion king, embodied in the shape of the creature he saw on the ridge. Queen Lucy spoke much over dinner about the lion, declaring his sighting to be a great blessing and a mark of favor for their visit--but he can't see how an Animal, and a stranger at that!, has anything to do with him or his character. "Susan, I'm... not a little boy," he points out, almost gently, not wanting to intrude on her reverie yet compelled to honesty with this woman he loves so much.

Her beautiful lips curve in a smile, rueful and laughing. "No," she agrees, her voice almost merry beneath her lingering sadness. "You are not. But... Rabadash? Were you... happy here? Before, when you stayed as our guest? I thought you were, but then I came to convince myself that was an act. Can you tell me the truth of your feelings for-- for us? For me?"

Breath catches in his throat so hard he almost chokes. "I love you, Susan." That is easy; that has never been in doubt in his mind. "I wanted to marry you. And this land. I know I don't understand it, all the Animals and your Lions and your dozens of kings, but I love it anyway. I love the weird, wild, tangled beauty of it." He bites his lower lip. "And I love the way it curves around your gentle perfection, as much as part of you as your hands, your hair. I... yes, I was happy here." Away from his father, away from the court of Tashbaan, away from a million plots and judgments and cruelties. A whispered desire that he didn't know until it reaches his ears: "I... wanted to stay here. As long as I could, anyway."

Tears glisten in her eyes and she hesitates, the fearful pause of someone who isn't sure of their decision. But when her lips part, the words are freely given, an offer that plants the tiniest seed of hope in his heart. "Rabadash, why don't you stay with us now?"


There are not volumes enough to record the history of Rabadash the Peaceful, the most beloved of Narnian consorts. After his famous ride across the desert and meeting face to face with Aslan, he settled into the Narnian court and became friend and advisor to High King Peter. A war with Calormen was briefly risked when the Tisroc ordered his son home and Rabadash refused, but tensions defused when the prince renounced his claim to the Calormen throne in public to many high and noble witnesses. A younger brother was elevated in his place and the Calormene people regarded their lost prince with a mixture of pity and romanticism; it was said that none who met Queen Susan of Narnia could truly denounce the lovelorn boy's choice.

Queen Susan and Lord Rabadash were betrothed two years after his ride, and wed on the following summer to much joy in their kingdoms. The children anticipated from their union would settle the question of Narnia succession once and for all, and relations with Calormen improved when the Tisroc recognized the value of his royal grandchildren as heirs to the northern kingdom. Archenland, too, drew closer in bonds of friendship to their northern ally, for their Queen Aravis was also of good Calormene stock and on close terms of friendship with Lord Rabadash.

The other Pevensies--Peter, Edmund, and Lucy--professed themselves pleased with Susan's choice. Peter greatly relied on his advisor for help navigating the customs of the southern kingdom, and Edmund came to consider Rabadash a good friend and beloved brother in time. Lucy adored him most of all, and was fond of taking rides with him; a pastime she demanded early and often, since Susan's pregnancies kept the four monarchs from their previous habits of hunting together on the borders of the western forest. But though Susan's happy condition kept the monarchs close to home at Cair Paravel, the country seemed the better for it and were grateful that the addition of Lord Rabadash to the family caused their kings and queens to settle more gracefully into adulthood.

The firstborn child of Queen Susan and Lord Rabadash, Princess Rasaleen, would succeed her mother many years later, when Queen Susan died peacefully in her bed at the celebrated age of 101. But that, dear reader, is the subject of another volume entirely.


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