Moonrose

Chapter 10: Rosamar

That night, I go through my usual ritual of sneaking out of the city.

I take in a deep breath of the crisp night air as I slip along towards the trees. A quick check at my side assures me my small dagger is safely in its place. Smiling slightly to myself, I pick up my pace a little more.

As I hustle along, I glance up at the Narnian night sky. The moon here looks dull and pasty compared to the multicolored stars of Tanssi Kuun. In fact, the more time I spend in that secret patch of barely-flawed paradise, the less Narnia appeals to me. Oh it has its good points too, but it's just not where my heart is.

A sudden sound somewhere behind me snaps me from my thoughts as I enter the line of trees I was so anxiously hurrying towards. I'm smart enough to keep walking as nonchalantly as I can, but I keep both ears open and purposely step towards the part of the trail that has more than a few thin twigs waiting to be snapped. I know how to avoid them, even in the dark, but anyone behind me likely doesn't.

I can't help my grin of satisfaction when a resounding snap echoes through the forest when I'm barely a dozen steps in. Still, I make sure to keep going as if I never heard a thing. Until I find the perfect cover, that is. I round a turn and slip behind the large smattering of bushes as soon as I'm out of sight. Poor thing, it won't even know what hit it.

Well, poor person. I can hear the human footfalls. They really could use a few more lessons in sneaking. I'm certain they wouldn't be trying to get caught following me, not with the dagger on my hip. So the question is: why are they following me? Well, better to find out than go wondering, when it's Tanssi Kuun's safety at stake. It must stay a secret. And if they've followed me this far, I really can't be nice about it. And I have to ensure they don't get away from me either, or this will be even worse.

As I crouch in wait for the person to come into view, I put aside the gentle me who balks at the idea of pouncing on an unsuspecting stranger. Right now, I'm not Rosamar, the quiet girl in the corners; I'm Rosamar, protector of Tanssi Kuun.

A cramp creeps its way into my leg, a moth flits across my field of vision, a stiff breeze rustles the leaves of my hiding bush. Still I wait, forcing down my hesitation. Aunt trusted me to keep that world a secret. By the Lion, I will.

One, two, three footsteps crunch closer on the leaves scattered on the forest floor. I did well to lead them this way; it gives me plenty of warning. I wait.

Two very obvious strides later, the faint light of the moon shows me the outline of a man a bit closer to my bush than I'd anticipated. My heart threatens to fly from my throat, but I swallow it back down. He followed me, and I'm positive it's not Darin – the shoulders aren't as wide – and so I can't assume they mean well. By the way he tilts his head sideways, as if listening for my footsteps, I can't help but guess the opposite.

I keep perfectly still, as silent as the night itself. He lingers, scans the surrounding woods, body tense. He suspects.

Without another thought, I leap from my hiding place.

A low cry of surprise escapes his throat as the force of my jump sends us both crashing to the ground. His mouth opens as the breath is knocked from his body. My dagger at his throat cuts off any sound he might have made.

"You're been following me, stranger. Why?" My lips curl away from my teeth as I growl out my question. Vaguely, I wonder if I look as fierce as I feel.

He says nothing, trading words for struggling. I try my best to keep his shoulders down and press my blade closer against his throat. He stills.

"Why?" I snarl. The old Rosamar would be frightened of this new one.

Just then, the moonlight hits the man's face, and I have to fight to keep the dinner I had down.

"Your Majesty?"

"Yes, I am he," he drawls. I can't tell if he's amused or angry. For all I know, he could be both.

Oh Aslan, I just jumped the King of Narnia.

Quicker than a blink, I vault off of him and sheath my dagger. Of all the people I could have threatened, why, why in the name of all things did it have to be the king? Wait a moment…

Why was he following me in the first place?

"And you never answered my question," I fire back, my hand automatically going back to the hilt of my dagger.

"A question for a question: what are you doing out in the woods so late?"

"What right do you have to ask that?" Oh, right. He does just so happen to be King Caspian.

By the amused half-grin on his face, he's thinking the exact same thing.

"I've done no wrong," I amend.

"Is that so?"

"If you were suspicious of me, though I can't fathom why, why did you not use spies, or the like?"

"Because I knew you myself, I thought the excuse to get to know you better might work in favor of both my curiosity and suspicion."

"Interesting point of view, considering my dagger was just at your throat."

Why do I feel the need to remind him of that? It'll be a miracle if this little escapade doesn't earn me a one-way trip to the dungeon!

"Yes, it was."

'Stunning words, Your Majesty.'

I can't think of anything else to say, oddly enough. And King Caspian doesn't say anything either, so we end up staring at each other with equal amounts of distrust.

"Well, this wasn't how I imagined my night going," says the king after a very long and very uncomfortable silence.

"Nor I mine. Shall we part ways then?"

Tackling or no, I've got somewhere to be, and I've no intention of waiting. I think I'd prefer the company of the faeries to the king's.

"Where do you intend to go?"

"Why must you know?"

"Rosamar, you're doing nothing to help your cause."

"And what cause might that be? I've done nothing!" Ignoring the night's most recent events, that is.

For a few moments, King Caspian looks rather conflicted. For my part, I wait as patiently as I can.

"Then please, explain this," he takes a carefully folded piece of parchment from his pocket and holds it out, "to me."

I stare at the parchment like it could be tipped with poison. I suppose it's a bit ironic how I'm portraying more apprehension between the two of us, even though King Caspian was the one tackled and not I.

"What is it?" I ask carefully. My hand still rests lightly on the hilt of my dagger.

"Read it, if you wish to know," the king replies, his tone suddenly heavy and exhausted.

Perhaps that's the reason I take the parchment and unfold it. When I read it, my jaw threatens to unhinge. I was so careful! So so careful, I was sure no one suspected, no one even…Have I put Tanssi Kuun in danger? I have to choke back a cry of fear. Oh what have I done?! I ought to have been so much more careful!

"Is it true?"

"Which part of it?" It's the only thing I can think to say.

"Any of it, Rose."

Did I tell him he could call me Rose?

"Yes, I come out to the woods very often, and yes I carry a dagger with me at all times. I've been trying to get used to it. But no, I'm not meeting anyone out here. I have no plans against you or your reign, and that, by the Lion, is the pure truth." I hope he can hear the sincerity in my voice. I hope he believes it.

What if he doesn't?

"If you have no plans, what do you do here in the woods, and so late?"

I credit him for his decidedly reduced suspicion. But I don't know how to answer that.

"It's not something I can tell you, Majesty. I hope you can understand."

By his face, he absolutely does not.

"And I am to simply trust your word that you mean no ill will?"

"Yes," I answer in a strained whisper.

"And if I cannot?"

Then I don't know. I can't tell him, I can't show him; no one must know of Tanssi Kuun's existence, most especially not the king of Narnia! Kings keep few secrets, with their advisors and their generals and their delegates and the list goes on. Even if he might mean well, it would likely slip out, would it not? Certainly, it would!

"Then I would beg you to consider that perhaps this secret of mine is not my own to share. Perhaps I trust you as little as you trust me." It's a feeble argument, but it's the best I have right now, with my fear clouding my logic.

The king studies me for far longer than I'd have liked, and I have to fight myself to keep from shifting from foot to foot in my discomfort. Does he scrutinize everyone he suspects of something this directly? It's unnerving. His brown eyes could be warm and welcoming, as they were at the faire, but now they're unyielding in their calculation, no warmth to be had.

"Am I frightening you?"

"I was always taught never to stare, Your Majesty. Most find it quite rude."

I'm not the only one shocked at my audacity.

"A fair point, Rose."

Even more shocking, he seems to concede; granted, it's only on a point of etiquette, but still, it manages to set me more at ease.

And that's exactly what he's going for, I realize with a start.

"Don't you even try it, Your Majesty," I spit back suddenly, relishing the subtle jerk his head makes at my vehemence.

However, he's smart enough to refrain from playing the innocent.

"I've told you I can't share this, and you will honor that."

And now I'm ordering the king around. What a beautiful night this is. But still, I can't deny the slight adrenaline rush that comes from defying the monarch.

"And I am expected to simply let you go? You forget that you could be accused of treason, on suspicion alone."

"You are king; why don't you change that tenant?"

King Caspian just laughs. I scowl. I see nothing funny about any of this. I've been told before that my sense of humor is a bit lacking, but I really don't think this particular situation would speak to it even were it more abundant.

"You really are quite different from how I thought you to be, Rosamar."

I raise an eyebrow, but I wait for him to continue. I need another moment to come up with a snarky reply.

"You seemed much less confrontational and much more reserved at the previous times we've met."

"I was not protecting anything just then. Now you are a threat, and so I've no qualms about treating you as such."

"A threat?" he echoes, amused curiosity taking over his face. Why does he continue to find humor in this?!

"Yes, a threat! You would have me tell you of something I cannot, and in the telling I'd put it in a good deal of danger! Kings cannot keep secrets, and even if you could, why in all the worlds would I trust you?" Oh, it feels good to vent, even so vaguely.

King Caspian raises his hands, palms toward me. I suppose he means to set me more at ease, but instead, it only fuels my frustration with him. No means no! If I've said I won't open my mouth, then by the Lion, I won't!

"You need only prove your innocence, that's all."

Damn him for his soothing voice.

"And just how might I go about doing that?"

"Tell me what you are doing out here every night, and I won't bother you again." His eyes somehow lose their calculating stare and soften a good deal as they search my face again and again.

"Have I not told you a hundred times? I cannot!" Honestly, how many times must I say it before he understands?

"Very well."

Wait…that's it?

King Caspian starts to back up, palms still facing me. I keep a wary eye on his every step. What is he up to? I know he's got some plan here, and I don't intend to go along with it.

"I do hope you find someone to trust." With that, he turns around and begins to walk away through the trees. I hate how his voice, suddenly gentle and caring, echoes through my mind. I hate it so much.

I wait, and I watch. He continues to walk steadily along, steadily away from me and my secret, from Tanssi Kuun. I should be relieved. Why am I not?

'Kings know how to fight, don't they?'

I hush that tiny, insolent little voice in my head.

'He could be of great help.'

"Yes, and he'd also fail to keep it a secret," I mumble back. And here I am, talking to myself. How lovely.

I wait longer, until I can barely see the king's back as it disappears into the trees.

Damn it all.

"Your Majesty!" I call, before I can clap my hands over my idiot mouth.

He turns, ever so slightly. And he walks back toward me, as steadily as he left. I refuse to meet his eye.

Finally, he stands square before me, and I let my face paint itself into a perfect picture of stern. I meet his eye with a fierce glare and twist my lips into a scowl.

"If you tell a single soul, living or dead or anything in between, of this, rest assured I will prove that concerned citizen's letter truer than true," I snarl, pointing my dagger at his neck for extra effect. And I mean it, too.

King Caspian's eyes widen just the slightest bit, and I'm fully expecting him to try and arrest me, or something of the like. When he nods once, both curtly and respectfully, it's my turn to let my eyes widen. I never expected him to agree; at least, I don't think I did.

Or maybe I did. Maybe I do need the help a king can give.

I'm a fool! He has plenty to do in Narnia alone!

No, I'll just have to see. He may well fall in love with Tanssi Kuun, as I have. How could anyone not?

His mouth opens to say something, but I shush him with the same shortness I've displayed this entire meeting.

"Come with me. And don't speak; I've yet to decide if I like your company or not." With that, I grab his wrist with a demanding hand and tug him after me. To his credit, he only stumbles once, and he never wrenches his arm from my bruising grip.

How amusing this may be later on; here he is, a king of Narnia, and I'm pulling him along like a parent hauls a naughty child.

Amusing indeed.

"I do hope, for your sake, that you can keep a secret until your grave, Majesty," I grumble as the entry tree comes into view.

"Caspian."

"Beg pardon?"

"You may call me Caspian. I believe I already asked it of you, during a dance."

I remember that dance, and my cheeks gain a slight dusting of pink warmth to prove it. I keep my face facing forward and away from him.

"What did I tell you about speaking?"

The king doesn't say anything else, but I get the slightest feeling he's entertained by my shortness.

We come to the tree, and I stop a few feet away.

"Stay back here, Majesty." I don't want him to hear the password.

His nod comes quickly, but from the corner of my eye it almost seems patronizing. I save my snarl for a later date and purposely stand so he can't see what I'm doing. I press my pendant into the engraving and mumble "kuu" as quietly as I can. When the tree opens, the king's gasp of surprise brings a smirk to my face.

"Come along now."

"Am I still to remain silent?" he asks as he comes to stand beside me. Is he supposed to stand so close?

I cast a glance sideways. His shoulders are in a tense line, and his face betrays his slight fear. And yet, his eyes are wondering at the same time. Instantly, I warm to him the slightest bit.

"Do not say too much," I still warn. I willfully ignore the lopsided smile that quirks his mouth upward.

I grab his wrist again, though perhaps not as firmly as before, and guide us both through the glowing door and into Tanssi Kuun.

His face is completely worth the doubt that still plagues me. Perhaps I'm deluded, but I can't imagine a king often loses control of his jaw and his eyes at once. I have to contain a laugh at his blatant gaping.

"Welcome to Tanssi Kuun, Your Majesty," I say with a little bow.

"This…this is your secret?" he breathes out reverently.

"I rarely see kings so shocked," I tease in reply.

"This is where you come at night?"

I nod, once. But I need to make him understand this.

"You are king of Narnia, yes?"

He nods a confused sort of nod, his eyes still taking in the softly glowing trees, the stars too numerous to ever attempt to count, the wild grasses cloaked in shadows from the trees: all of the beauty that is Tanssi Kuun.

"And it is your job to protect it, yes?"

He nods again, more surely, as he turns his head to look steadily at me.

"Just as you protect Narnia, I protect Tanssi Kuun. My aunt charged me with this, and I swore to keep this place and its creatures safe."

King Caspian's gaze begins to unnerve me, simply because of its intensity. But somehow, I keep my train of thought.

"Now do you understand why I threatened you? Why I was so wary for you to know?"

"Why must it be kept secret?" His eyes bore into mine.

I answer with a question I know he'll understand. "What did the Telmarines do to Narnia?"

His gaze hardens, just a little. Yes, he understands.

"Aunt was afraid of the same happening here, and I share that fear. Who can be trusted with all of this wonder?" I sweep my arms around, gesturing to our surroundings. "So many could, and would, ruin it, change it. I can't let that happen. Can you understand that?"

King Caspian nods.

"Your secret will remain so."

I dip my head in thanks and turn to lead him out of this world. Immediately, his face turns confused.

"You didn't expect to stay and explore, did you?" I ask, gentle in my reprimand.

By the slight slouch in his shoulders, yes, he was.

I'm about to grab his wrist again and lead him out regardless, but the creature who welcomed me yesterday suddenly appears.

We exchange words of greeting, and for a moment I forget all about the king.

"I've missed you!" it greets while enveloping me in a warm and light-filled hug.

"And I, you. Even in the single day I've been gone," I laugh.

"And tonight, your lessons begin! If you are willing, that is."

"I couldn't be more so."

Then its gaze shifts to look over my shoulder, and it quirks its head to the side.

"Who is this? A friend?"

"We can hope, especially as he has no other choice."

King Caspian's gracious smile churns something in my belly. I ignore it.

"I am King Caspian the Tenth, of Narnia." His introduction is brief, and it has me a little confused. And then I realize; he's on edge. He's unsure. Another something stirs, this time in my chest. I ignore that, too.

"He's alright," I add. His shoulders relax a bit at my subtle acceptance.

"Friends of the Protector are always welcome," it says in reply. "Won't you join us?"

"What's happening tonight?" I don't remember any of them mentioning something.

"Come and see!" With that, it dances off toward the clearing, but not before tossing one of its ribbons back toward me.

I don't try to hide my grin as I catch it with ease and wind it around my arm. It pulses with a silent beat as it follows my movements. King Caspian's eyes warm with something I can't identify, so I turn my focus to the little ribbon that's my dance partner. It winds around my neck before returning to my arm. After sliding it from one hand to the other, I toss it back to the faerie gliding ahead of me. My smile seems too large for my face, but it quickly freezes in surprise when my guide tosses the ribbon to King Caspian.

He's just as shocked as me; he freezes for a moment, unsure and unprepared. But he was definitely watching me, so he knows the basics of what to do. Well, sort of. He's no natural dancer, but for what he lacks in grace he mostly makes up for in presence. His regal manner translates into movement more nicely than I'd like to admit.

He spends less time toying with the ribbon than I did, but by the time he gives it back to the creature watching us both carefully, a smile's found its way onto his face as well. I refuse to think about how well it looks on him. Nor do I acknowledge the happy glow that lights his brown eyes. I have no place to make such observations.

"So it's to be a surprise, then?" I ask my guide.

"It was to be, yes. I suppose it still is, as you don't know what precisely it is."

I keep my gaze focused on my guiding friend and follow it through the tall grass.

At some point, the king lets out a hiss, and I can only guess that he was careless with the grass blades.

"Do take care, Majesty. The grass has a bit of an edge to it here." I don't attempt to hide my slight amusement.

"It would seem so," comes the mild-mannered answer. Perhaps the king is more polite here because it's in my comfort zone and not his own. Oddly enough, I quite like the feeling of power that thought brings.

"Take care, Caspian!"

I can't decide whether to smile at my guide's concern or to purse my lips at the familiarity. But it wouldn't be my place to disapprove; everything is friendly and welcoming here.

"I think I see why you protect this place so fiercely," he murmurs close to my ear.

I hold back a squeak. I didn't realize he was so close.

"You've yet to see more. Believe me, you can barely understand right now." I try not to let him see how unnerved his nearness makes me.

"You must know how to do your job very well, then."

I hate the sudden shame I feel.

My lips purse as my brow pinches together. I'm relieved the king's behind me, so he can't see the telltale signs of discomfort on my face.

"I'm learning, Majesty. Thank you for the concern, if that's what it was meant to be," I finally answer frostily.

He says nothing in reply, at least at first. When he does answer, he manages to catch me off guard again.

"I meant it as a compliment, not as disrespect."

The gentle tone to his voice kills any biting words I might have thought of on my lips. Luckily, he doesn't seem to require an answer.

"Forgive any intrusion on my part, but I must assume then that you are trusting someone? Surely you can't keep this secret on your own."

"And why not?" I wish he would stand just a little farther away.

"If anything were to happen, your shoulders should not bear the weight alone."

"You speak as if you know of such things." Does he?

"Perhaps I do." He suddenly moves past me rather quickly, his face purposely turned away from my hesitantly curious gaze.

I should let him go. I shouldn't pry. I shouldn't care, or at the very least I shouldn't act on any caring I might feel. But I've always hated to see someone suffer, save perhaps my father. Even then, it only went so far as to smirk behind my hand when he came home sporting a black eye from some 'disagreement.'

'Heavens forgive my breach of conduct,' I think. And before I can change my mind, I reach out and grab his wrist before he leaves my reach.

"I'm sorry," I say simply. His arm is tense under my gentle hold, and I remember that I held his wrist to haul him along earlier. I let my hand slide down to his, ignoring the screaming protests in my head.

For several long moments, the king stays quiet and keeps his face turned away. Vaguely, I notice my guide hovering and looking on in curiosity. I just barely manage to keep myself from pulling away and bolting ahead.

"Thank you."

He can't see, but I nod. A small, tiny smile flickers across my face. Maybe he can see, because his fingers tighten around mine for the briefest moment. It's only then that I notice his eyes peeking back at me through the hair hanging over most of his face. Something warm stirs in my chest, and I promptly force it down. I only wanted to apologize for stirring up some obviously bad memories. Nothing more, and I won't pretend otherwise.

I stare back at him for a few more moments before letting my hand slide free of his. His own hand quickly falls back to his side. It almost seems like he's waiting for me to take the lead again, but I wait. I'd like the chance to scrutinize him, for once. He seems to take the hint, and I suppress a sudden sigh of relief. That moment got a bit too…I'm not sure, close? Intimate? than I'd have liked.

For the rest of the way to the clearing, my guide chatters on about random nothings, King Caspian keeps the conversation flowing, and I study him as closely as I can get away with. If I'm to have an edge over this man, I need to know everything about him I can. Granted, I can't tell an abundance about him from his back and shoulders, but every little bit could prove enlightening in the future.

His shoulders seem to be much more relaxed, though they still aren't completely carefree. How could they be? He's a king, and he's in a strange land with a girl who was perfectly willing to slit his throat not an hour earlier. And said girl clearly stirred up some unpleasant memory minutes ago; why wouldn't he be tense? His back echoes his shoulders' sentiment, though its slightly bowed posture suggests that he's a bit tired. It is rather late, and his days must be very busy. His stride is long and regal, unarguably so. He has a steady stride, one that he probably draws his facial masks from. Nothing speaks confidence and leadership like a determined gait; well, if it's coupled with a face to match. He's almost completely mastered both; only his eyes can betray him fully. Which is convenient for me.

"Here we are. I am sure you remember, Rose," my guide says warmly as we emerge from the impossibly tall grass.

"Very well," I answer politely. Truthfully, my mind's not thinking about last time. Yet it should be! I'm here to learn and protect, not worry with a king and try to read his body language! What on earth have I been doing for the last bit of this walk?

I fight the flush that threatens to take over my face. I really can be such a fool sometimes.

"I remember the dance especially well," I add, both to prove my interest and to remind myself of it.

"You did very well. We were all impressed."

I smile my thanks and try to ignore King Caspian's curious glance that lasts a few seconds too long.

"I hope I can continue to impress, then. Though I do have a lot to live up to."

"Your aunt would be proud. She already was proud of you, before you ever set foot here."

I can't help but notice the king's reaction. He hides it well, but I don't miss the brief flash of pain across his features.

He's lost someone dear to him too.

And I hate how much I want to hold his hand for that.


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