A young girl no older than ten quickly slips away from her usual place in the corner of the room she shares with her younger sister and rushes to the door.
The older woman's eyes light up at the sound of the girl's high-pitched voice. It annoys most of Rose's immediate family, but Aunt has always found it endearing.
"Come child, take a seat," she says as she steps inside and closes the door behind her.
"-Won't be bothering us for a few hours. It's only you and I in the house for now, Rose."
Immediately, the girl's slim shoulders relax. She's always been sure of her family's contempt, even though a small part of her feels silly for thinking they exist only to make her miserable. Even though her aunt chides her for the petty thoughts, they stay with a will of their own. In Rosamar's eyes, her aunt is one of the few decent apples of the bunch, the only one who was consistently and truly kind to her. Father often accuses her of seeking out Aunt's favor, but Rose has always been far too shy to consciously consider that. No, Aunt finds the girl's quiet and perhaps submissive demeanor refreshing. At least, that's what she's told her time and again.
"What's going on, Aunt?" Rosamar asks when Aunt starts fiddling with something hidden in her sleeve. Aunt never fiddles or fidgets.
"Rose, child, it's time you knew something about me, and your own future."
The girl scrunches her eyebrows together and tilts her head to one side. As far as she'd ever been told, the future was for taking care of a house and marrying some well-connected man and having kids of her own – sons, to keep the man happy.
"As I'm sure you know, the rest of this family is not quite...well, I could never trust any of them with this, save you. You must promise me to keep it a secret from them, do you understand?"
Rose's young, slightly-too-bushy eyebrows pinch together, but she nods.
"Very good. I am about to tell you a very big secret, Rose. But first, I need you to understand exactly how important it is. Listen carefully, child. You will need every word I say."
Slight trepidation runs warm through Rose's veins, but she inclines her head. If Aunt sees fit to trust her with something, who is she to object?
At the child's acceptance, Aunt reaches out and brushes the back of her hand against the young, soft cheek, her fond smile shining in her eyes.
"Bless you, child." Aunt starts to continue, but her mouth suddenly closes, and opens, and closes again. She lets out a short laugh and taps her forearm with two fingers, as she often does when frustrated with herself.
"Forgive me Rose, words suddenly failed me. I've never had to tell anyone of this before."
"Take all the time you need, aunt."
Her hand pats the side of Rose's head, and she closes her eyes to gather herself, or so the girl assumes.
"Rose, you are young yet, but you surely know how odd and, indeed, very cruel the world can be."
"Do you mean the old stories about the Narnians, aunt?"
"No, child. Your family is not too kind, is it?"
"No!" Rose surprises herself with the shout. She's never shouted before. But then, no one's asked her before.
"What if there could be a place where there was no unkindness such as this? Where people spent their days learning and growing and simply enjoying each other's company, without yelling or fighting? If disagreements were rare and civil and not as they are here in Beruna?"
"Aunt, what do you mean by 'civil'?" Rose hadn't learned that word in school yet.
"Civil? Civil disagreement means there is respect in the disagreeing. Two sides may think different things, but they both listen to each other and are willing to learn and come to an agreement with elements of what they each wanted. Does that explain it for you?"
"How could something like that work? It'd be so odd to see…" the child muses. In Beruna, she's only ever seen disagreeing sides tear each other to shreds, either with words or fists.
"But a good odd, no?"
Rosamar nods. That does sound nice.
"Bloody noses aren't pretty."
Aunt throws her head back and laughs at that, drawing one of Rose's rare smiles to her lips.
"No, indeed," she chuckles. "Now, where was I?"
"A place with respect and kindness?"
"Ah yes! And if this place was filled with magic and dance and every good and beautiful there is?"
"Why, that can't exist, aunt. Nothing so perfect can. It'd be destroyed, of course."
"Rose, child, there is such a place. It is called Tanssi Kuun, and it is another world entirely, in the most literal sense."
"Another world?" A sudden jolt of hope shoots a hole in the child's confusion. "May we go there, aunt?"
"I have been there many times, Rose. I protect it."
Young eyes gaze up at Aunt with an awed sort of respect.
"Is that why you sometimes swing kitchen knives around when Mother isn't looking?"
Aunt laughs briefly, and pats the black-haired head.
"Yes. Do you know why I protect it, Rose?"
The girl thinks on that for a few moments, but the answer comes easily.
"Because it's perfect, and everyone here would ruin it."
"Not everyone in this world would ruin it, but there are many who would. The beings of Tanssi Kuun, the faeries," Aunt pauses, tapping her fingers on her forearm again. "They have no skills with a blade or with protecting themselves. Thus, there must be someone who looks after their well-being and that of their world."
"And that's you, aunt."
"Yes. And someday, if you accept the role, it will be you."
The child's eyes widen visibly.
"Aunt, I could never-"
"You do not wish to?" A slight color of fear tinges her voice and jolts Rosamar from her reverie.
"I would be honored, aunt, but I have no skills with blades or protecting, or with words either. I could not negotiate for them or fight for them."
"Rose, I will teach you, you needn't worry. But you must understand that it won't be easy."
"I'm young, Aunt, but I know that," answers the young girl serenely, as if it's the most obvious thing she's ever heard in the entire world.
Aunt laughs once more before pulling two disk-like things from her sleeve, the things she's been fidgeting with this whole time.
"I'm getting old, Rose, and soon I won't be able to protect Tanssi Kuun as it needs to be protected. Will you accept the role in my place?"
Rose don't even have to think. Her head bobs up and down in the most enthusiastic nod she thinks she's ever given.
"Teach me everything you know."
"There is more I need to tell you before I give you these pendants."
Immediately, the excited young girl settles down and fixes her eager gaze on the older woman once more.
"Ever the attentive listener," she says fondly.
Small and rounded shoulders hitch up slightly in embarrassment, but Rose waits semi-patiently for her to continue.
"To get to Tanssi Kuun, you must find the tree with the engraving to match this," here she holds up the pendants, "and speak the word 'Kuu.' In their language, it means 'moon.' A fitting phrase, and you'll see why when you go there yourself."
"When can I go there, aunt?"
"I was getting to that. Every time this pendant changes ownership, and this is the original of the two," she holds up the older-looking one, "the new owner must find his or her own tree. When I give this to you, the tree I use to enter Tanssi Kuun will no longer be the door, and you'll have to find the tree that is yours. You understand, thus far?"
Hesitantly, the girl nods, even as she thinks to herself that there are a great many trees in Narnia, even in only Beruna, and isn't that a little excessive, to scour every tree in the world?
"Good. You must keep this with you at all times, do you understand? If anyone were to find it without you giving them ownership, they could find your tree and enter Tanssi Kuun."
"Would it be so bad if they were a friend?"
"Even friends can't be fully trusted, Rose. A best friend one day may be an enemy the next. You must be very, very careful to whom you entrust this secret."
"Did you tell anyone about Tanssi Kuun, aunt? Other than me?"
"No. You are the first."
The girl's curiosity continues to run away with her, and she can't help but blurt out, "Who gave it to you? The original pendant?"
"My grandmother gave it to me, when she was on her deathbed."
"Why are you telling me about this now?"
"I've told you, Rose, I'm getting older. I don't want to take the chance on something happening."
Rose accepts this quietly and continues her eager interrogation.
"Why are there two pendants?"
"A good question. The second is a spare, and if it changes hands the entry tree will not change. The spare is yours to do with as you will. Some owners find someone they trust with their lives and more, and they give that person the spare, in case something should happen to them. I never found one I could trust that much."
"Will I?" Rose wonders aloud. It seems a strange thought, and a dangerous one at that. She certainly don't have someone she trust like that now.
"You may, you may not. Giving away the spare isn't the norm, but it is by no means unheard of."
"What happens if someone else gets hold of the spare?"
"You pray, and you fight to get it back."
The suddenly grave answer sobers the girl's exuberance a good bit. Caution enters her enthusiasm, and by the slight smile on Aunt's face, she approves.
The woman regards her niece for a moment, her eyes softening at the innocence shining in the young face. Yes, she has chosen a worthy successor.
Rose, however, isn't so inclined to keep silence.
"What's it like there? What kinds of dances do they dance? Do they play music? Do they sing? Do they-"
"Ah, now that I cannot tell you," Aunt answers, tweaking the young nose fondly. "It's tradition for the protector to tell the protector-to-be only the minimal information."
"We often value things much more if we discover them for ourselves."
There's a wisdom to the older woman's words that quiets Rose's abundant questions.
"Thank you for trusting me with this, aunt."
"You're welcome, Rose. Promise me, you will always be painstakingly cautious?"
"Always," the girl answers sincerely, head bowing slightly of its own will.
As soon as the words leave her mouth, Aunt straightens and turns to face her soon-to-be successor straight on, the pendants resting in her palms.
"Rosamar, do you swear on the Nine Great Lights that you will protect Tanssi Kuun to the best of your ability, and even beyond?"
"I swear it."
With that, Aunt presses the pendants into the girl's open hands, and instantly they warm almost to burning. For a few frightening moments, Rose begins to fear they'll catch fire as they brighten from dull copper to the deep red of coal embers.
"Kuu," Aunt says, looking at her niece expectantly.
"Kuu," repeats the stunned girl.
A flash of deep red later, the pendants return to their normal color.
"Your training starts tomorrow," Aunt states.
"I'll make you proud, I promise," the new successor whispers.
"Yes, Rose, I believe you will."...