Chapter 13: Rosamar
When Sima lets me go at noon to pack, I have a sudden urge to kiss the ground at her stool I'm so thankful. She could have saved faeries' lives just with that alone.
I pack quicker than a blink and rush off down the street as inconspicuously as I can. Darin's been so kind to me; I can't leave without giving him some warning at the very least.
"Darin?" I call as I walk inside his shop. It instantly reminds me of Tanssi Kuun; the heat wraps around me like a faerie's hug.
Of course, he doesn't hear me over the pounding of his hammer. I always forget that when I come to see him. Shaking my head at myself, I walk up, wait until his hammer comes down, and lay a hand still trembling from anticipation on his shoulder.
"Rose, what brings you here so early in the day?" He knows it's me; he always does. I can only guess that my hand on his shoulder is the most tentative. That must be it.
"I had to tell you, I'll be gone for about a month."
"A month? Where?" he asks, clearly a bit upset. Will he miss me so much?
And suddenly, I don't know what to say. It feels more wrong to lie to Darin than it did to Sima. Lying to friends, that's not something I can ignore. I wouldn't ignore it if it were done to me, I know that.
"I…I can't say."
"Can't say?" he repeats, somewhere between dubious and disappointed. Disappointed that I won't trust him? But how could he know that…
I get a wild idea, but perhaps it's one of my more sensible ones thus far. I don't need to tell him about Tanssi Kuun. But if something comes up here, like another letter or someone sneaking around my place, I need to have some way of knowing.
That's why I pull out the spare pendant from its place around my neck and hand it to him.
"You remember the engraving you helped me find on that tree?"
"Yes, but what does that-"
"And you remember how to find it? Where it is?"
"This pendant fits there, doesn't it?"
I blink a few times. He figured that out rather quickly. I recover and nod.
"It does. If you ever need me, write a letter. Match the pendant to the engraving and say 'kuu.' Leave the letter in the door you'll find. And, under no circumstance, utter a word of the pendant, the door, the tree, any of it, to a single soul, do you understand?" I stare him right in the eye so he can see how serious I am.
"You have my word I'll not breathe a syllable," he says softly.
"Good." I hold his gaze for a minute more, to be sure he understands. He seems to, and only when I'm entirely convinced do I look away.
"Simply drop the letter into the door?"
"Yes. Do not step through that door, unless someone's life depends on it. Understood?" It's much safer if he doesn't know, I know that. But that doesn't mean I can't have eyes and ears over here. I'd be wise to do so, since apparently someone's been following me at night. I'll have to make sure I'm not followed today.
"I understand, Rose," he murmurs, his face the picture of reassurance.
I nod, satisfied.
"Good. I'm glad to trust you with this. And do not lose that pendant! If you do nothing else, do not lose that pendant," I continue sternly. I keep remembering new things to make sure he knows, understands.
"I won't lose it, I promise."
Somehow, I feel I can trust that he won't break that promise. Though even if he might, I think he knows better than to mess with me when I'm this serious.
"Thank you," I say, as if it's that simple. As far as he should be concerned, it is that simple.
"Would you like one more lesson before you go?"
"Darin, it's the middle of the day, a work day. I can't ask you to stop working just for a lesson."
"Very good thing you didn't ask; I offered." Ah, his smirk is back on his face.
"Only if you can convince me it's no trouble."
He smiles, as if expecting this answer.
"I'll be done within the quarter hour."
"I'll be at the meadow."
We trade smiles and I leave a moment later. I can kill time just relaxing there while I wait. It'll be nice to have just a little bit of time to myself.
As I leave the city, I make good use of every reflective surface there is, just to make sure no one tries to follow me. Briefly, I wonder if I should have left a note for King Caspian, to tell him the truth.
No, Lilia would surely find it and perhaps even read it if she came inside my house for any reason. She has a curiosity streak that's a little too wide. King Caspian will just have to wonder.
But he offered to help, and surely it'll seem ungrateful of me to disappear into thin air. At the same time, he's sure to have at least a solid guess at where I've gone off to. He's smart, and I'm sure he'll figure it out. And once he does, he's stubborn enough to find a way to contact me, if he wishes to do so.
Oh bother it all, I suppose I'll have to tell Darin to let the king know about my letter system. Wait, no, then Caspian will know about the spare! I sigh heavily, since no one's around to hear me. I'll just have to write a quick note and give it to Darin to post at the entry tree for the king to see. I'm sure he'll look for me there once he figures out where I am.
By the time I finish running through the details and musings of this, the quarter hour has slipped by and Darin's approaching with a welcoming smile on his face. A slight one, but there's no mistaking it. It's one I return; I can't really help it. He was born with a contagious smile, too boyish to ignore.
"Ready, Rose?" He unsheathes the dagger he's brought with a glint in his eye to match that of the midday sun on the metal.
"Always." I quickly get to my feet and sink into my stance – the one both Caspian and Darin tried to perfect.
"Have you been practicing?" he asks as he approaches, blade ready.
"A little." It seems like less than a good idea to tell him that I had extra training with the king. I'm not ready for the barrage of questions that might follow that kind of a statement, however flippantly it'd be made.
"Keep practicing then."
I allow myself a brief moment of pride before I settle again. There's no need to get cocky, and it'll do me much more harm than good if I let that sort of mindset in.
"I'm ready when you are, Darin," I prod when he doesn't make a move to teach me anything just yet.
"In a few minutes. I think your muscles could still use a bit of memory, don't you?"
I swallow my grumbles of protest and force a nod. My arms will be screaming after this, surely, but it'll be worth it. Tanssi Kuun's worth it. The faeries are worth it. So I bite my impudent tongue and try to think about other things as the minutes drag on.
"What are you thinking of?" Darin whispers at some point.
"Nothing really," I hum back.
"You looked deep in thought."
"I was peaceful, no thought required."
An almost awkward silence falls, and I return to thinking about the dances the faeries have shown me already. It's the best distraction in the world. When Darin releases me from my stock-still pose, I almost laugh that the minutes flew by. However, the moment I move my arms, that comment completely flies from my head.
"So much for peaceful?"
"Do not laugh at me," I growl in reply to Darin's coughs that barely disguise his chuckles.
"I would never-"
"You already are," I point out.
Darin just shakes his head, the picture of innocence, and proceeds to give me my lesson for the next two hours.
At the end of them, I'm sweaty and exhausted, but it's been well worth it. He saw fit to teach an actual defense maneuver, and even an attacking one as well. They're very basic, but in a pinch they might save a life. Or several.
"Thank you, Darin," I say sincerely as we pack up to go our separate ways. I can't help but think how much in his debt I am. There may be a way to remedy that, now that I think of it.
"It's nothing," he says, shrugging it away.
"Not to me." I give him one of my rare smiles and resolve to take care of at least a small piece of that debt. I can at least pay him for the dagger.
He dips his head in what must be a form of 'you're welcome' and starts to walk away. I surprise him, though perhaps pleasantly judging by his smile, by walking beside him back toward the city.
"Did you change your mind about leaving?"
"Naturally, no. But I do have to let you know about something. I need your word again, if that's alright."
At his gesture for me to continue, I explain that I have a good friend who might come looking for me and to whom I'm going to leave a letter attached to the engraved tree. I make him promise to let it be and not read it. There will certainly be nothing that personal in the letter, but once again, I don't want him to find out that I know the king. I don't want to answer the questions, especially because I already tried to answer them for Lilia.
To my pleasant surprise, he agrees, though deep in his eyes I can see a little hesitation. Nonetheless, I thank him and hurry inside my house because we've arrived. Suppressing a tell-tale satisfied grin, I grab the small purse of coins I'd set aside for the dagger and hide it in my sleeve. Time to say my goodbyes for a month, and time to repay a little of the debt I owe him.
"I'll miss you," I say as I step back outside to a waiting Darin.
He starts for a moment, clearly caught off guard by the unusual expression of affection. I feel a little bad for using that against him, but at least I really am telling the truth. I'm not lying to get him distracted; I'm simply admitting something.
"Take care of yourself, Rose. You'll have a lot of catching up to do in your training when you return." When he tucks a stray piece of hair behind my ear, I seize my chance and lean in for a hug. I'm not in the practice of hugging anything but the faeries, but I need him distracted enough for me to get him the blasted money. I slip it into his pocket with one hand while I distract him by fiddling with the ends of his hair with the other.
My task completed, I release him from the unexpected embrace, burying my smirk of satisfaction for another time. I can't have him suspecting, can I? That'd defeat the purpose of slipping him the coins in the first place.
I just smile at the pleased confusion on his face and wave goodbye as I step inside my house. It takes him a moment to walk away, and now that I'm out of sight I indulge in that smirk. Though it was completely uncharacteristic of me to hug him, I can't deny that I enjoyed throwing him off guard.
At the same time I muse on that, I realize that exactly how much trust I put in him by giving him the spare pendant.
"Darin, you better not break that trust," I mutter to the air.
To no one's surprise, the air says nothing back as I hurry around looking for a scrap of parchment and something to write with. I don't often have anything that needs to be written down, so it's the work of more than a few minutes. I itch with impatience the entire time. I don't want to waste a minute of my month-long visit to Tanssi Kuun!
At last, the scraggly old feather quill is between my fingertips, and I scrawl out a quick message to King Caspian. It's a courtesy that I somehow don't mind, in spite of my rush. Kings deserve courtesy, don't they? I spend more than a mere moment repeating that and making sure that's the only reason I'm leaving this blasted note. Yes, it is. I nod when I'm satisfied, with both the note and myself.
Fewer than five minutes later, I'm out of the city and walking as quickly as I can without seeming suspicious. I remember to keep a careful eye out for anyone trailing me, an easier task to go about when I walk through the field that separates the city walls from the forest. No one's there, and I'm so certain of that I feel safe enough to break into a careful jog. The faeries will be so pleased at the abundance of time we'll have to get to know each other. Aunt would be proud of this, I think.
A sudden thought hits me, so strongly and so suddenly that if it'd been an actual blow I'd be on my seat in the short grass under my feet. Am I protecting Tanssi Kuun for my aunt, or because I truly want to?
A knot instantly forms in my throat, and I swallow several times to try and get rid of it. But it's no use. The idea that I'm doing this only to feel some sense of self-worth is enough to make my stomach churn. I'm not like that, surely I'm not like that…am I?
Somehow I notice that I've gone stock still, standing there in the field like a plank planted there. I force myself to move, just in case anyone can see me from the road that leads to the city.
'How odd,' they'd think, 'a girl standing alone in the middle of that meadow. Very peculiar. Do you think she's lost?' And from there it'd be all flurries of concern and 'Miss, are you alright?' and 'Miss, are you lost?' and 'Come now, miss, out of the sun. You really are quite dark enough' from the more matronly ones. All in all, that's the farthest thing I'd like to be doing today. So I move.
My trek to the entry tree suddenly seems longer than it ever has before, and I have to stop and catch my breath from the heavy pack on my shoulder several times. I had to bring enough clothes for a week or so, as well as a bit of food and my writing supplies in case Darin does write to me. It adds up, especially with my wool cloak in there as well. I'm not sure if the nights in Tanssi Kuun are warming or chilling, but I intend to be prepared either way.
Finally, after perhaps the longest-seeming hike in my life, I stumble to the tree, match the pendant, post the note, and mumble "Kuu." The moment I step into the door of light, I wipe all traces of discord from my face. I've got to pull myself together now; I'm here with a job to do, and I'll do it if it's the death of me.
For the first time, I'm greeted by only the still air. The moon's high in the sky, and my heart lifts at the marbled pastels that make it so white. I can't be upset in a place of such beauty. That could be sacrilege, to sully this with a bad mood. I straighten my shoulders and start off into the grass, but not the way my guide's taken me before. I veer off to my left. I'd rather sleep out in the grass than in the forest, though I'm not entirely sure why. I'm fond of this sharp, slightly dangerous grass. I like the raw wildness.
I spin on my heel to face the incoming vice-hug I know will be greeting me. My guide does love to squeeze the breath right out of me.
"Hello! I have good news, wonderful news!" I answer quickly, just before its arms and light ribbons encircle me, effectively taking my breath away, in a very literal sense.
It stays still and pulls back from its greeting hug to look into my eyes. I stay still and gaze back, making sure I keep my 'walls,' as my teacher called them, down.
"A month? What's a month?" it asks, tipping its head to the side until its ear is almost parallel with the ground.
"It's a measurement of time back in Narnia, and it's a good slot of it as well."
"And you have all of it to spend with us? Here?"
"Every moment," I promise. I can't say anything more because I can't breathe.
Squeezing back as much as can be expected considering my limited supply of oxygen, I feel the happiness radiating off of my guide in waves. It's easily one of my favorite faeries, if one could even have favorites. They all seem so wonderful, but I have spent the most time with my guide. I suppose it's excusable, then, to have favorites while I'm still new here.
"We will teach you so much!" it squeals, the slight gravel in its voice peeking out a bit more than usual.
"And I'll learn everything you wish me to. I want to know everything about all of you, and about this place," I answer honestly. Spending a month here won't even compare to my life in Narnia.
"Where is Caspian?" it asks out of the blue.
"He was…busy?" I offer. What else can I say? That question was not exactly something I could forsee.
"Oh. Will he visit again? He did leave it up to you, you know."
"Oh I know, and I have no shame in admitting that I relish that power."
It looks me deeply in the eyes once more, and I know it's trying to see what my answer is. It'll be disappointed; I have none, because I don't know. I never even thought about bringing King Caspian here again, if I have to be honest about it. I wished only to learn his fighting skills, and that was the extent of my interest and my fondness. I'm not so fond of his skill for reading me, I know that much. Perhaps that's harsh, but I'm too focused on Tanssi Kuun, on the faeries, to think about the Narnian king.
My guide seems to find all this in my eyes, and it nods in acceptance.
"I hope we see him again sometime, if you think it wise."
"I'll think on it, I promise." They did take a bit of a shine to him, if my memory serves me correctly. Or a lot of a shine, but I don't want to admit that. I still don't trust him, not entirely. One night did not change that, even if he saved my life. It was the honorable thing to do, and I know any Narnian knight would have done the same.
Enough of this, really. I can think on all that later.
More faeries appear out of the grass, and I smile as I understand that they're here to welcome.
"What shall you teach me first?"