Chapter 12: Rosamar
I only turn to face the voice so I can give its owner a withering glare.
"Did I not say, in very clear speech, not to follow me?"
"I did not intend to," he answers slowly, cautiously.
I send him another glare before turning my back on him.
"Go away, Caspian. I'd like to be alone."
Careful footsteps approach me, and I have to bit my tongue against a biting remark. I don't want to hurt him, I just want to be left alone. I have to get rid of these poisonous thoughts on my own.
"I won't keep you long. But please, understand you are not worthless."
"I know that, it was just…a weak moment." I hate that he saw that weak moment.
I can't see him, but I think he nods. The ground under his boots crunches as he turns to go. But how did he know?
"Why do you care, what I think of myself?"
That was not what I meant to ask. I was supposed to ask how he knew that's what I was thinking!
"I have felt the same things. I would not wish them on anyone."
How convenient; his reply answered both of my questions.
"Thank you." It slips out before I can stop it, but I can't completely regret it. It's a nice sentiment, the one he just expressed.
For a moment, the king's hand rests on my shoulder. I try not to like the warmth it gives. And then he leaves me be, just like I asked.
"Thank you," I whisper when he's gone. If nothing else, he seems to understand, even if he doesn't know the particulars.
No, it's not my fault. It's not my fault the flint sparks went too wide, that there was rum on the table, that the drunk tavern-goer spilled all of his drink on the sputtering flame there. I could have done nothing. Even if I had warned everyone loud enough, who would have listened? No one. There really was nothing to be done.
But that's not right; Aunt would have listened. She would have heard. But then, she was always so kind. Might she have tried to save someone? And have died in the process?
There are simply too many what-ifs, and it hurts my head to try and resolve all of them. There is only one simple, painful truth: Aunt is dead, and I'll continue to live without her as I've done for the past year and a half. Placing blame won't do anything; it won't bring her back, and it won't change what happened that day. There's nothing to be done. So I'll be better off if I put it from my mind and concentrate on the task at hand.
Now composed, I quickly make my way back to the clearing in the grass.
Thankfully, the faeries have kept themselves busy in my absence, and they only look up for a moment before returning to their dancing and singing. They must have understood not to ask after me. King Caspian seems to understand this too, even though he keeps my gaze for just a few moments longer than the faeries. But the moment I look away, so does he. I'm grateful for that.
I'm just about to join in the dancing when I notice something odd toward the horizon. There is no sun here, so why did there seem to be a light just now? Surely it's nothing to be worried with, but after an attack out of nowhere only hours ago, I'd much rather make doubly sure. I don't want to take any chances. So I slip away again, and if anyone notices they say nothing. Even the king leaves me be.
Just in case, I make sure my dagger is secure on my hip before I go any further.
Even though the odd flash of light vanishes long before I make much headway, I keep my eyes fixed on the spot on the horizon it happened. I hope it's nothing to be worried about…
In my heart, I know I only hope that so much because I know there is still plenty of worry to be had.
I walk steadily, and I thank the Lion that Tanssi Kuun doesn't seem to be very big. I'll be gone for hours as it is, but at least it won't take days to get there.
But even so, I arrive far sooner than I'd have liked. Yes, I was curious and wary, but that didn't prepare me for this. What place does death have here?
Yet here it is. Everywhere.
The trees come suddenly to an end, and I'm greeted instead with a smoldering grey plain where the rest of the forest ought to have been.
At first, I want to ask what happened out loud, but I think I already know the answer. This is retaliation for the small fight earlier. Whoever it was, this is their way of telling us that they're still here and just waiting for the next opportunity. I'm staring at the proof and kneeling in the ash. It's a thick carpet under my knees, and it feels soft when my fingertips brush over it. They leave shallow tracks, and I have the odd thought that if I sneeze, it might look like it's snowing.
"Tanssi Kuun, what's happening to you?" I whisper to the wind that gusts through my hair and sends up a cloud of ash. I can't help but cough when I try to breathe in and instead get a lungful of the tiny flakes.
I wish Aunt was here. She'd know what to do much better than me. Would she have been able to stop this before it started?
"Hush," I whisper. I can't afford to doubt myself, not now.
I let a handful of grey sift through my fingers as I calm my threateningly dark thoughts. They fall away just like the ashes, and I stand quickly and brush myself off. It doesn't matter what might have happened; only right now and what could happen matters. And self-doubt or not, it's still my job to protect this world. It's time I stopped pitying myself.
My eyes sweep over the gray wasteland in front of me once more as I give a resolute nod. I have to find out who this enemy is. And when I find who it is, then I will end them. I have no choice.
I turn on my heel and walk back the way I came, my brow in what could be a permanent furrow. I'll be putting in a lot of training hours with my dagger – a lot.
By the time I get back to the faeries, the night is coming to a close, and the moon is rising. Every faerie is looking to the moonrise, and I happily join them. I haven't seen daytime here yet. My guide comes to float beside me, bringing a smile to my face and easing the tension in my brow. I offer my hand for holding, an offer it gladly takes. I feel as warm as I did on my first night here. It seems so long ago since then... How much I've learned, already. Maybe Aunt was right to give me this charge.
Right or no, I'll make her proud.
"As I think you have been told before, you already do," my guide murmurs just loud enough for me to hear. A tiny hand rests on my shoulder, and I give my guide and my teacher equally grateful smiles. Who could understand as well as these creatures do? My gratitude only fuels my protective determination. I think I'd gladly die for them; no, I know I would.
The moon slowly inches up until it peeks out at us. I smile at the tiny sliver of pure white. I look closer, and I'm surprised to see that the white is actually a mish-mosh of every color there is, all blended into one.
"Where does the moon get its light?" I whisper.
"From us," answers my teacher.
As some of the faeries move, the white of the moon deepens and brightens accordingly.
I'm not ashamed of my gasp of wonder. I still have so much to learn about this world, and its creatures.
We all watch the rest of the moonrise in almost-silence, with only soft humming of welcome to break the quiet. Only when it's fully above the horizon do I notice the person missing.
"Where is King Caspian?"
My guide uses a light ribbon to point toward a patch of moss at the edge of the forest. There he lies, fast asleep – turned away from us, but I can tell he's not awake. He's far too still, his breathing too quiet, for him to be otherwise.
I'm tempted to let him be, but I know I have to get back soon. I'll be hard-pressed enough to return on time as it is. Sima will have every right to be more than put out with me if I'm late again. I'm loathe to do it, but I separate from the massive cluster of faeries and make my way to the sleeping king.
"Your Majesty?" I say softly. He doesn't even stir.
"Your Majesty?" I try again, this time gently giving his shoulder a shake. Still nothing.
"Caspian?" Another shake. Still nothing.
"Caspian!" More shaking. He grumbles and rolls onto his stomach.
"CASPIAN!" This time, I jab him in the ribs with my finger.
With a startled yelp, he's up and wide awake.
"Rosamar! What is it?"
I fight back my amused smile at his grumpiness.
"It's morning, and it's also high time we returned to Narnia. Sima will have a fit if I'm even a minute late, and I can't have the entire castle searching for you," I explain quickly from my crouch beside him.
He looks like he's about to say something, but he just nods and stands up quickly. I accept the hand he offers me and pretend not to notice that he holds on for just a second longer than he has to.
I say my goodbyes to the faeries, and he does the same. A few ask if he'll be coming back again, but he just smiles and says that it's up to me. I act like I'm too busy to hear him, because I don't know what to say to that. I'm afraid to make plans, if I'm honest with myself. The faerie I'm currently bidding a temporary goodbye to gives me an extra hug, as if it knows. Of course it does.
Then why are they looking at me like there's something I don't know?
Never mind that. There's enough to worry with. My job is to keep them safe, first and foremost.
I finish my goodbyes in a little bit of a hurry and take off toward the entry tree as soon as it's polite to do so. At this rate, I really will be late. I'd be wise come up with a cover story on the way back.
"You truly are in a hurry."
"I'm very happy this isn't supposed to be an intelligent conversation," I retort. I regret it the instant it leaves my lips. I had no right to be so short with him.
"I'm sorry," I immediately say, trying not to look at him. But apologies don't mean nearly as much without eye contact. I meet his eyes for just long enough as we walk along. I'm grateful that the entry tree is steps away. We pass through and into Narnia.
"Home for you, Majesty."
"And not for you?" he asks. I can feel his gaze burning quasi-pleasantly into my back.
"I think you know that answer without a word from me." I don't turn around to answer; I just keep walking because I'm in a hurry and I'm worried and tense and…I don't want him to see too much. He's difficult to fool, this Narnian king. He understands me far more than I'd like. I can only guess that he's felt similarly to me many times before, but it doesn't set me any more at ease. I like to deal with myself in private.
"You're afraid," he states simply.
Even with my back to him, I still can't hide.
"Leave it lie, please."
To my surprise he does. Maybe he's learning after all. He's a quick learner.
Silence stretches as we hustle through the trees, and I only break it because I want to make sure I'm in the clear now.
"My innocence is proven, yes?"
King Caspian sighs almost too quietly to hear, but he doesn't deny it.
"Yes," he says.
"You sound disappointed."
"I had hoped for some time to get to know you."
Now why would he want to do that?
I want to joke and tell him that I'm boring company anyway, but something else entirely comes out of my mouth.
"You still may, if you insist on it."
"I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I don't wish to make you uncomfortable."
I decide I like the dry humor in his tone.
"You are the king. You may do as you please," I say matter-of-factly. It's true, isn't it? Why not say so?
"And what would you have me do?"
Why is he asking that? But since he asked, I do have quite the answer for him.
I'd like very much for him to let me be, but I need his training. I'd like for him to stop understanding me so well, to stop knowing what I think and feel with just a glance. I'd like that privacy back. I'd like to no longer need his help, because it would be ever so much easier to be left to myself. I work best alone. I'd like for him to leave me alone, really.
And yet, that isn't what I'd like at all.
What I really want isn't that, but I won't let myself even think the words. So it remains a mystery to me, simply because I refuse to acknowledge it, at least for now. There are much more important things to worry with. So what would I have him do?
"I would have your help in protecting that world and everything in it."
'Nothing more,' I add silently.
If he sees that second, unspoken sentiment in my eyes as I turn and look at him, he doesn't speak anything on the matter. He leaves it lie, as I asked. Is that understanding or does he truly not see it? I hope for the latter. I think a piece of me doesn't like being understood.
"You will have it."
Even stubborn me can appreciate the sincerity in his voice.
"Thank you," I reply, with just as much earnestness in mine.
He nods once, and we continue brusquely on.
"Did you walk the whole way?" I ask. Somehow the silence feels too intimate.
Thankfully, we're rapidly nearing the end of the forest, and I pick up the pace even more. The sun's about to rise, and I'm going to be late. I'll have to run full speed once I get to the city if I want to have a prayer of making it on time. I don't want Sima or Lilia asking any more questions. Lying and evading can get tiresome after so much of it.
We hurry out of the woods, and almost before I know it, we're inside the city walls.
"Thank you for your help, Your Majesty," I say with a tiny curtsy for my goodbye.
"Be safe, Rosamar," he says. I'm left blinking in the street when he gives my hand a small squeeze. Then, just like that, he's gone.
I shake myself and race through the streets until I finally burst inside Sima's shop. I've only just made it, and my rather raucous entry has both Sima and Lilia regarding me curiously.
"I'm sorry, but I am on time!" I gasp out, kneading a stitch in my side as I take my seat on my stool. I don't waste any time in getting to work.
"Child, is something the matter?"
"Why do you ask?" I sputter out, playing it off of my lack of breath.
"Why does she ask? Rose, honestly, you can't deny that you've been acting very odd lately, odd even for you," Lilia instantly cuts in.
For a moment, I start to panic. And then I get an idea. A wonderful, brilliant idea.
"I've only been worried, that's all." I know, without a doubt, that both of them will take the bait.
"What of, child?" Sima's concern leaks through, and for a moment I feel bad for the lie I'm about to tell. Just for a moment.
"Sima, I know this is a lot to ask, but might I have a few days off?"
"And what would you do with those days?"
"My family's in trouble, or so their letters tell me. My little sister is very sick, and she may not have much time left. I'd like to say my goodbyes, in person."
"Oh! Why of course, Rose, child! You may have all the time you need, a month even."
A month?! This is better than I ever dreamed! A month, to spend in Tanssi Kuun? What could possibly be better? A small stab of guilt almost lowers my enthusiasm, but I remind myself of the attack and the ash in place of the eastern side of the forest. That world needs me, and needs me there all the time, not just at night. This is for the best.
"Th-thank you, Sima. I can't express how grateful I am," I stutter out, rather uncharacteristically. I, Rosamar, do not stutter. But it has the desired effect, at least.
"Rose, how could I do anything less?"
For the first time in the many months I've known her, Sima shows a kind side free of her usual sarcasm or gruffness.
"Thank you," I say again, because once doesn't seem to be enough, especially not with that twinge of guilt still lingering in my chest. But it really is for the best. Lion knows I couldn't tell the truth!
"When do you leave?" Lilia asks. She'll miss me, I can see it in her face that she will. It puts a gentle, fond smile on my face.