Chapter 9: Rosamar
"Rose? Are you well?"
A sudden, loud banging jolts me from my comatose-like sleep and sends me tumbling to the floor rather gracelessly.
'Some dancer I am today,' I think dryly.
"Yes, why?" I grumble out.
"You are only three hours late to work. Sima's been having fits."
I take only half a second to process this before spouting the first curse I've ever spouted in my life.
"Damn! I'm coming!"
"Yes, I can hear that," Lilia answers through the door, presumably at the loud scuffling and crashing noises I'm making.
Inside a minute, I tumble outside, still tugging on my right stocking and shoving my left foot into its shoe.
"Why Rose, you look so put together! How do you do it?"
"Quiet Lilia, lest I bring up that boy you brought home a few nights ago."
Instantly, her face reddens.
"He never came inside, Rose!"
"And yet you blush," I answer with a knowing smirk as I sprint toward the workshop.
"That aside, I've something I've been meaning to ask you. What was it? Oh yes…"
I wait impatiently, unsure and yet wary.
"Where do you keep going, Rose? In the middle of the night, never coming back until it's morning. And today, you only got back after dawn! Yes, I noticed. What on earth are you up to?"
"I just enjoy walking at night, that's all," I try to say. But by Lilia's face, she's not convinced. So I add in another grain of truth. "Alright, alright, but don't say I didn't warn you. It's a bit silly."
Lilia just waits patiently with one eyebrow raised at me.
"You know I love to dance?"
"Only because you just now told me."
"Well, when I was a little girl my aunt used to take me out to the woods and dance with me all night long. It got to be a habit with me, and I've picked it up again since I've been here."
"Well, that is a bit odd, but it's also a relief. I was a mite worried, as you carry that dagger around with you all the time."
"I thought it a good idea, just in case I run into anything out of sorts in the woods. I'm still not entirely familiar with them."
"Then I applaud your foresight," Lilia answers simply as she turns and leads the way to the workshop. For a moment, I wonder if I've convinced her well enough, but her posture is relaxed, so I seem to have performed passably well.
"Oh, and the king stopped by today asking to see you."
"Is that so?" I ask off-handedly. Wait… "Hold on, the king?! As in the King of Narnia, king? King Caspian X?"
"Can you think of another king off the top of your head?"
For a few moments, my mouth can only hang open like a fish's.
"Well…er…what did he want?"
"He wouldn't say, he just wanted to see you."
My throat suddenly runs dry. Have I done something wrong? I scan through every action that could possibly have been taken the wrong way. I know my dancing at the faire was perfectly modest, I don't cause trouble, I stay out of people's way. I've done nothing, nothing that I know of. I'm very careful to go unnoticed at night. No one's ever suspected a thing, and even if they did, what harm is there in a few trips to the woods?
"You'd best find out, hm?"
For a moment, I almost choke on my fear, but then I see the smirk on Lilia's face. Instantly, I relax.
"Yes, I suppose so."
Lilia shakes her head for some reason and ushers me toward the wool shop.
"Come on then, let's not keep Sima waiting any longer."
Luckily for me, Sima's somehow in a sparkling mood, in spite of what Lilia said about her fits over my absence.
"Well child, I believe we owe you thanks!" she booms as soon as the tip of my foot steps inside the doorway.
"Were you so tickled to have the king of Narnia in your humble shop?" I tease.
"As a matter of fact, Rose, I was indeed! Who couldn't be proud of a royal behind sitting on a the self-same stool one sits on day in and day out?"
Where in the name of the Lion is this coming from? I'd never have suspected Sima to get excited over royalty, no matter its proximity.
"And of all the things to be tickled about, you chose the king's choice of seat?"
"Quiet, Lilia, and back to work!"
I reign in my snort and scuttle over to my work as well.
"Well you were right about one thing, Sima," I say as I take my seat on my well-loved stool.
She quirks an eyebrow.
"I have grown some impressive shoulders."
She just shakes her head at me and smiles fondly – well, fondly in a loose sense of the word. Perhaps patronizingly is a better word.
We buckle down for the day, but the entire time I card my wool I can't stop thinking about the light creatures of Tanssi Kuun. They're quite different than I was expecting – more serious, and even strange. Well, I suppose I'm in no position to call them strange because it's their land and I'm the stranger. They're very quiet. This agrees with my own quiet temperament well, but it still isn't what I expected.
But Aunt was right, it's a gem of a world, and I'm honored to protect it. And then I remember.
I haven't the faintest idea how.
Frantically, my mind sifts through possibilities.
'Perhaps the king will teach you, when he next calls.'
The idea is so absurd I almost snort. I contain myself, but Lilia shoots me a questioning sideways glance anyway. I shrug it off.
'Or Darin could teach you. He makes weapons; why wouldn't he know how to use them?' my mind posits.
Now I can live with that idea. I'll stop by first thing after I finish the carding for today.
And luckily for me, the day does fly by rather quickly. I practically jump off my stool and almost spill the wool in my haste to get myself to Darin's. He seemed to like me well enough, so the gamble is good that he'll consent to teach me what he knows. Even if he only knows very little, it'll be something. I can barely wield a kitchen knife well enough to chop vegetables for stew!
"Slow down, child, lest you spill everything!"
"Sorry Sima!" I call as I toss the bag of wool at her and bolt out the door. I don't know when Darin stops work for the day, and since I have no idea where he lives, naturally, I can only hope to catch him before he retires for the day. Almost everyone stops at sundown, so I'd best hurry.
And hurry I do. I shy away from several sour looks as my shoes pitter patter down the street a bit faster than is safe. I almost run into several people, and I think I trample a fallen tomato at some point. I call an apology over my shoulder, but the only answer is a curled lip and a less-than-friendly scowl. I shrug it off because it's more important that I catch Darin than cry over a squashed vegetable.
And I'm in luck! Darin's workshop door is still open. A wall of heat blasts in my face as I skid to a stop at his doorstep. He's pounding away on a frighteningly long thing that looks to be the beginnings of a sword, so he doesn't hear me.
I clear my throat, a bit timidly. After all, what if he finds my request odd? And then there's the whole bit about me owing him enough as it is…right then and there I decide to sneak a few coins into his pocket or something to pay for my exquisite dagger. That I still don't know how to use.
I square my shoulders and clear my throat a little louder.
Of course, he still doesn't hear me.
I resist the urge to look up at the ceiling in exasperation and instead open my mouth to call to him. It's not my habit, nor is it comfortable for me to do, but it seems necessary. I don't intend to wait here all night.
"Good evening," I call politely.
Instantly, his hammering stops and he turns to face me.
"Rosamar! I wasn't expecting you."
"Neither was I."
He laughs, and I can't help but smile too. His laugh is contagious, rumbling from some place deep in his chest and spilling out temptingly into the air.
"Well, Rosamar, what brings you here this fine evening?"
Now that I have to say why I've come, it seems so absurd. Surely I can make up some excuse –
The light creatures of Tanssi Kuun enter my mind. I gather my courage and spit it out.
"Do you know how to wield a sword? Er, a dagger?"
A corner of his mouth tugs a bit higher toward his ear as he regards me.
"Why would you need to know a thing like that?"
"For the same reason I needed this dagger in the first place."
"And what might that reason be?"
"I fail to see why I must tell you."
Where in the name of the heavens did that sass come from? Very smart, Rose, to be sassy with your hopeful teacher. Very smart indeed.
But there's no trace of anger or indigence in Darin's face; rather, his eyes seem to twinkle with amusement.
"Very well. When do you wish to start?"
I blink a few times and look him over carefully. Why did he agree so quickly? Suspicion instantly colors my thoughts.
"As soon as may be," I answer as casually as I can. Better to not let him see my suspicion. "How much?"
Now it seems it's his turn to look surprised.
"There's no need for that," he answers with a wave of his hand.
That was the wrong thing to say. Once again I say, do I not look perfectly capable of paying him? Surely I don't look so like a beggar or a pauper!
"You waived the price of the dagger; do not think to waive this as well," I finally say.
I pride myself on hiding my anger well.
My eyebrows jump just the slightest bit when he takes a visible step back, face the picture of shock.
"I meant no offense, Rose, I swear."
"How did you know I took it?" That slips out before I can stop it, and I instantly wish I could throw the words back in my mouth.
"You can be easier to read than you think," he answers with a reconciliatory smirk, if there is indeed such a thing.
"When can we start?"
I've no desire to discuss how easy he finds it to 'read' me.
"Within the quarter hour, if you wish."
"Better to start sooner than late, don't you think?"
Can he see my urgency too, or is he only guessing or is he trying to be charming? I can't tell. I hate that.
"Then finish your sword there, and I'll wait."
"You have no desire to learn blacksmithing as well?"
"No." In spite of my firm answer, the corners of my mouth lift ever so slightly. Hopefully, Darin doesn't notice that. He's noticed enough about me as it is.
He just laughs and resumes his hammering.
And I? Well, I stand there and wait, patient as you please. I'm not to return to Tanssi Kuun until after nightfall anyhow, and I've nowhere else to be.
"Did any good come of the engraving we found the other night?" he calls over his deafening pounding of metal.
I'm expecting him to ask something else, to try and get the details, but either he refrains or he has no interest. Something tells me it's the former, but I don't press him. He's extending that courtesy to me, after all. I can't owe him any more than I already do.
What I guess to be a quarter hour passes slower than I thought it would, but it gives me the perfect opportunity to study him, learn about him.
His arms are as I'd expect a blacksmith's to be: well-formed and well-muscled, bulky in their build. Well, perhaps not bulky. His build is toward the leaner side, but even I can't dismiss his shoulders. They're as well-built as any I've ever seen, perhaps even better so. I quickly shift my gaze.
His back is rounded as he leans ever so slightly toward his project, as if he's fascinated by the hammer connecting with the red-hot steel. He seems to enjoy his work; there are no lines of tension anywhere in his body, not that I can see. His shoulders are taught with effort when he raises the hammer, but they have an ease about them, even when they're straining. The idea of loving one's work keeps my gaze on him. I card my wool faithfully, but I would never say I outright enjoy it.
My gaze wants to continue surveying him, but I'm afraid to look on any more. I'm not a blusher, and yet I can only blame so much on the heat of the smithing fire. I grind my teeth and look anywhere but Darin.
Then I've an idea. I turn my gaze back and try to pick out one thing that doesn't agree with me. Yet the instant I decide on that, guilt swarms in my gut. That's not like me. I don't look for faults in people.
I look away again, this time in shame. What's the matter with me? It's not his fault if I'm drawn to him, however slightly. I'll admit no more, not when my pride and reservations keep screaming at me to regain control of myself.
Where is the strong young woman who left Beruna? Where is the Rose Aunt saw?
I scoff silently at myself and straighten my shoulders. Enough of this foolishness; I've a duty to Tanssi Kuun, and I'm here trying to fulfill it. Nothing more. I'm not here to admire or to ponder or to do anything but learn to wield the dagger at my hip. Once I learn that, then perhaps I can move to swords, or throwing knives, or something of the like. I really must learn more about weaponry in general. I'm Tanssi Kuun's protector, for the Lion's sake!
Only when Darin clears his throat quietly do I jolt from my reverie.
"Are you finished?"
"I am. And are you ready to learn?"
I lift my chin a touch higher and square my shoulders as subtly as shoulders can be squared.
Darin nods once, clearly having expected this from me, and grabs a dagger similar in size to mine from a shelf.
"Then follow me."
"We don't learn in here?"
"No, it's much too small and cramped. We'll go just outside the city, if that's alright."
I suppose he knows better, in this instance.
"Lead the way then, Darin."
"If you'll be content to follow."
I hate that the sparkle in his eye makes my stomach jump.
I simply raise one eyebrow and motion for him to go on. With a smirk, he obliges. Our bodies pass closer together than I might like when he reaches behind me to close the door. His gaze locks with mine for just a moment before he starts off. I blink twice to erase the moment from my mind and scuttle after him.
"I promise, Rose, you will get better in time."
Darin's words and my own loyalty to Tanssi Kuun are the only things keeping me from throwing my dagger in the river. It'd be quite a throw, but I'm more than sure I could make it at the moment.
"That is much easier to say than to hear," I grind out past gritted teeth. My attitude won't help me any faster, but stamping it down isn't so simple as I'd like. Still, I have to keep trying. I'll learn this, if for no other reason than to spite the voice in my head telling me I can't.
I raise my blade again, even as my arms tremble in protest.
"That's the spirit," Darin praises.
I gesticulate my thank you and jerk my head to let him know I'm ready to continue. I may be frustrated, but maybe I can use that to my advantage, somehow.
"Your stance, Rose," he corrects, far more gently than I'd have corrected myself.
"Remind me how it goes again?" My feet are much better at dancing than at making sword fighting stances, that's for sure.
"Think of it like a dance."
'This is nothing like any dance I'm used to.'
I bite back the thought and try to relate the two. Alright, foot placement can be important in dance. But I've never had to think about it; it always came so naturally to me, like breathing. I suppose it's time I started paying attention to details like that. If Darin's right, they may help.
So I try. I focus on every feeling, every surface of my body I can connect to.
I sigh out my satisfaction and commit this position to muscle memory.
"Widen your feet just a little."
I do so, and he nods his approval.
"And keep your elbows closer to your body."
I do this as well, and I receive another nod.
"Now, keep your dagger up and watch me."
Next thing I know, Darin's dagger is flashing towards me, and I start to shy away. But I remember my stance, and I trust that Darin knows what he's doing. I hold my stance, keep my blade up, and I'm rewarded with the clang of metal meeting metal.
"You may open your eyes now. And I might not recommend shutting them, in future."
The smile in Darin's voice coaxes my eyes open.
He shakes his head.
"No thanks yet. We've only just begun."
My eyes flash over to his face.
He's willing to do this with me on a regular basis?
Darin just smiles, almost as if he can guess my thoughts.
"Thank you," I blurt out. This time though, I don't want to eat my words.
A tip of his head suffices for a 'you're welcome', and luckily for my composure he wastes no time in returning to the lesson. I admire his patience; in his position, even my reserves would be tested. I'm such a beginner, and it's already been a solid hour or two.
"Remember your stance," he corrects for possibly the twentieth time.
I fight off a grumble and do as he says. I'm expecting him to attack me again, but he just stands there.
Long, painful minutes pass, and my muscles begin to shake with complaint.
After a while, I make a small sound of impatience, to which Darin replies:
"Muscle memory will serve you well in future. Don't worry, you've only a few minutes more before I release you."
The explanation placates me, but my arms still shake with effort. Dancing was never so hard as this.
"You use different muscles for wielding a blade."
Oh, did I say that last part out loud? Wonderful, now I have no control over my mouth.
I firmly press my lips closed to keep anything else from slipping out without my consent and endure the next few minutes in silence.
I asked for this, I know, but at the moment, the idea of pushing Darin into the nearest pond certainly has its appeal. Even the polite and reserved part of me snickers a little at the mean thought. In my defense, I can't imagine many people would take very kindly to anyone telling them to stand in this uncomfortable position either.
At last, at long long last, Darin gives me the nod that I can relax. I fight back a sudden, inexplicable urge to kiss his feet.
There goes my runaway mouth again, always at the worst of times. It's not been this bad before. My mouth seems to have a habit of running away with me when I'm with Darin. I resist an urge to blame him. It's not his fault if I can't seem to button my lip.
"I promise, you will thank me someday."
"As long as that day need not be today, I can live with that."
One of his now-trademark smirks comes as my answer.
Without further ado, he continues to teach me the very simplest of the basics. Yet my stance continues to suffer. I just don't know what to do with my feet.
Suddenly, he stops. I tip my head to look at him with my question written on my face, this time of my own will.
"I think that's enough swordplay for today."
I let my head hang, because I know my failure to fix my footwork is holding us – or rather, me – back.
Darin surprises me when he holds out his hand.
I stare at a bit stupidly. This isn't part of swordplay, is it? Some other kind of combat training?
"Perhaps dancing will remind you of how to move your feet."
I can't stop the smile from breaking out on my face. Taking his hand comes without thought. I'm too eager to dance to even think about inhibitions or anything of the sort. A laugh escapes my control too when Darin gives me a quick spin.
"Remember, pay attention to your feet."
I try and do as he says, but it feels so good to dance that I almost forget.
"Concentrate, Rose," he whispers right next to my ear. I curse the goosebumps that pop up on my arms and bless my sleeves for covering them.
"You make it no easier," I grumble. Instantly, I wish I could take the words back. Even I don't know what they're supposed to mean.
Darin probably doesn't mean to laugh, but since he's dancing with me, I hear the small huff of air.
"Happy to be of amusement."
"I beg your pardon-"
"You may not have it."
I feel, rather than see, him start and pause. He leans forward over my shoulder, and I quickly spin away. I don't like proximity, not that close. But I catch a glimpse of his face as I do, and I'm surprised to see genuine concern there. Darin looks remarkably like a kicked puppy, even if he's attempting to hide it by scratching the back of his neck and looking away from me.
I wait a few moments before gracing him with a smile – a joking smile, so he knows I was only teasing.
Our gazes lock for a moment, like they did when he closed the shop door. And like before, I'm the first to break it.
"Alright, I'll concentrate."
And I do, by the heavens I do. I concentrate as I've never concentrated before. When my mind whispers that I'm just afraid of looking at Darin, I hush it and focus a bit harder.
If Darin notices my inner dialogue, or rather the lack thereof, he says nothing. He, who often reads me far more accurately than I'd like. How does he know me so well, or at least seem to? We've only just met; where does his understanding of me come from?
Those are questions I suddenly realize I'm entirely unwilling to answer. I'm here to learn, not to flirt and go weak at the knees. Not that I'm currently doing either. I'm not a romantic, and I have no intention of ever becoming one; I have much more important things to worry with.
Take my footwork, for instance.
So I start to really take stock of my own body. Hoping Darin isn't watching me too closely, I stand on my tiptoes and twirl, noting how my weight shifts from the ball of one foot to the other, and how my toes curl to grip the ground through my soft-soled shoes. I feel how my ribcage has to stay open and tall, so I don't topple. My arms naturally open and close, and I take stock of that too. Even how my fingers naturally fall – the thumb and middle finger slightly more toward my palm than my other fingers. I remember I'm supposed to focus on my feet. I work my way up from the tips of my toes to my heels and to my legs. My thighs tense and untense as my weight shifts. Perhaps there's a similar motion in my swordfighting stance? Yes, I think I remember that.
I stop dancing, with no little disappointment, and take stock of myself, my natural way of standing. My weight tends to rest over the balls of my feet, away from my heels. Very often dancers stand like this – forward with their weight. So this isn't uncommon. Yet I think I may have to make an effort to rock more into my heels, let them support more of my weight. It might steady me, when I'm wielding a blade.
I draw my dagger and Darin draws his. He seems to understand that I'm ready to try again. This time, I copy one of his lunges. When I let my whole foot support me, rather than just my toes, I don't feel perfectly at ease but I feel much better than before. From Darin's grin, I did something right. He lunges back once I've recovered, and I block. This time, I keep my balance, let my back foot absorb more of the impact. I stay on my feet, and Darin doesn't have to pull back to keep his blade from colliding with my skin.
"Better?" I ask, chancing a small and hopeful grin.
"A good deal better, yes. Much to learn still, but you can keep your footing now. That's a good start."
I have to try very hard to keep from fluffing up with pride.
"So it's really just a dance? A strange one, but a dance nonetheless?"
"I suppose it is. I never thought of it that way, not until you needed me to."
Somehow, that makes me smile a bit broader.
We stand in silence for a moment before I look away. Is that going to be a regular thing now? It's happened three times today alone. What on earth?
"I suppose we ought to be getting back," Darin says, finally breaking the slightly uncomfortable quiet.
"Yes, we should. The sun's long set now."
Of course, I'll be coming right back out here in the middle of the night, but Darin doesn't need to know that.
The walk back passes with surprising ease. Darin even walks with me back to my home, or to the door at least. I make sure to thank him for the courtesy, especially now that it's quite dark.
"Thank you, for the training today."
"You're welcome. Shall we continue tomorrow, at the same time?"
"I'd like that, yes. Thank you, again."
"It's nothing," he says with a shrug.
"Not to me."
Where did that even come from?
"Until tomorrow," he says, jolting me from my thoughts.
For the briefest of moments, our hands brush, and I suspect not entirely by accident. His fingers briefly close around mine, and then he's turning away and I'm on my own at my door, staring in confusion at his retreating back.