Chapter 14: Darin

She surprised him today. She still surprises him, even now that he's gotten to know her a little. Darin can't help but admire that.

As he slowly walks back to his shop – is it strange that he's unaffected by the notion of working after sundown, if he took the time to help her? – he can't help but think of that embrace over and over again. Rose was no hugging aficionado; or at least, that was what he'd guessed. She seemed surprisingly comfortable hugging him, even if inexperienced. Her chin had bumped his shoulder before she realized her head was too low and rested the side of her forehead against his shoulder.

Was it wrong of him to wish for a hug like that every day of every week of every month of every year?

She'd run from him if she knew that thought just entered his head, he knew. But she would never know unless he turned fool and told her, which he had absolutely no intention of doing. He had only just gotten to befriend her; spoiling that was the last thing on his mind.

How did she do it? She remained guarded, as always, but she exuded such an honesty that he didn't know what to make of it. If he watched her closely, her body language would give away her true feelings on whatever matter he was curious about, but never her words, and almost never her face. Even her eyes seemed cold at times. Darin wonders if that should bother him more than it does, because it really doesn't at all.

He's had to hide himself before; he thinks he understands. She was afraid to be open, vulnerable. He couldn't say he blamed her; Narnia had its flaws, and many of them lay in the Telmarines occupying it. Now, he couldn't speak too much on that, as he was a Telmarine himself. But he never was able to quite see his fellow Telmarines as completely in the right. He'd known too many harsh and foul ones to hold them in the high regard he perhaps should as a member of the nationality. If he could venture a guess, he'd say she probably had too.

But the rumors had gotten worse, and he kept finding it more and more difficult to ignore them. He could see no evidence of their truth; but neither could he find concrete evidence of their falsehood. He'd wanted to ask her about them tonight, but alas, things had worked out rather differently. What would they say in a month's time? He hoped he wouldn't have even worse questions to ask her. But he had to be sure. Before he allowed himself to fall, he had to be sure. Surely she would understand that. She seemed fond enough of him; she would listen, would she not?

Against his will, his mind takes him back to their first lesson with that dagger. Her rather obvious lack of skill with a blade was, admittedly, a little amusing, but that wasn't what had made the memory stick. No, what he could not forget, no matter how hard he tried, was her dance. He'd thought she could be a dancer from the way her body naturally moved, but she'd surged past all his expectations. The grace in her movements, the sheer love of them, refused to leave him be.

That was it. This was why he had been feeling more drawn to her than ever after her dance; it was honest. Honesty in its purest, yet, to him, most unexpected form. With her dance, she showed him who she really was. The beauty of that and of her had left him spellbound.

But he really shouldn't allow himself to get involved. Not when she confused him at every turn. At times the confusion outmatched the admiration, though said times were rare. She had a tendency to take him outside his circle of comfort without ever having meant to, and he was sure she was completely unaware of this. He tried to be kind to others, yes, but the innocence she seemed to possess made him do more for her. He could barely control the impulses, if he could control them at all.

That frightened him.

He'd never admit it, but it did just the same. Darin was not a man to allow his heart to override his cool head. But with her, it couldn't be helped. That was dangerous. And whether she knew what she was doing or not, her effect remained the same.

So why was it that he only wished to draw himself closer, when he knew he should put a stop to this, whatever 'this' was? Had his common sense completely flown out of the window? Did that matter?

Darin knew she was hiding something though, and he knew she needed lessons in handling a blade for some important reason. She might come to tell him, in time, but he couldn't be sure. He couldn't be sure of anything with her. The uncertainty was exhilarating and terrifying.

Rose simply wasn't the kind to do anything traitorous or against the law, was she? He was so sure her reason was a damn good one. So what kept her from telling him? If it was lack of trust, he could understand a little bit, but what secret could be so bad that she would clam up whenever he even blinked before asking about it?

She was frightened, he realizes. Whatever her secret, it was something she was protecting it like a mother bear her cub. But was it a dangerous secret? A danger to Narnia, to the city, to anyone? He hoped not, he prayed not, even though a less than honorable piece of him muttered that if she turned out to be a danger he might find it easier to let the idea of her go. He couldn't claim to have feelings for her, not yet. But the idea of it, well…he was already there, and had been for some time. And no rumors, however nasty, had managed to change that.

Darin simply didn't know what to do.

Were he to force or coerce her into telling him her all-important secret, she could well flee from him and never so much as look at him again. Or she could grow to hate him for pulling it out of her; she might grow to blame him. The chances, he reasoned, for her to actually be thankful she'd told him were somewhere in the margin of zero and nothing. If she protected this secret so vigilantly, even against a friend, then he could almost count on a very negative reaction were he to weasel it from her before she's ready to tell him.

He couldn't do that. More importantly, he wouldn't. He wouldn't risk a blossoming friendship for a secret, not when he couldn't be absolutely sure whether the secret was completely innocent. It could be something completely safe that she simply had to keep from him, just as it could be something dangerous.

What had she done to him? He almost wonders if she is some sort of sorceress. But he recognizes the musing for its ridiculousness, and quickly discards the outlandish theory. She is no more a sorceress than he a mouse. He could only blame this odd turn in himself on his own foolishness.

Why did he suddenly have to think that none of this was foolish?

How she'd laugh at him if she knew his thoughts now.

Darin takes out his frustration on his smithing hammer as soon as he returns to his shop, and soon the pounding of metal drowns his thoughts out. But when the heat of the furnace hits his chest and it reminds him of how warm she felt as she embraced him, he has to put a bit more effort into keeping his mind a blank canvas. He needs to rest. Yes, he needs rest. He needs to rest and forget these silly thoughts. They do him no good.

He finishes his work a little quicker than he thought he could and plods happily from his shop when the sun's only been down for an hour or so. His arms are a bit tense from the more intense work today, but he finds he rather likes the twinge if he moves his shoulder the wrong way. It keeps him grounded, in the here and now, and out of his foolish head.

Just when he's sure he'll be able to rest within moments, he catches sight of a little girl skipping over the street cobblestones and around the lampposts. It's Nina. The girl Rose taught a ditty to, almost a year ago by this time.

Darin has to shake his head to keep from staring at the vibrant little girl. Even then, he can't help but replay the memory in his mind's eye as he slips inside the creaking and splintered door of his abode.

A smaller girl no older than twelve tries to sing a popular ditty, though sadly more than a few notes off pitch. Darin starts to chuckle to himself and continue on home, now that the sun'd set, but nearly silent footsteps keep him from hurrying along quite so quickly.

"Do you like to sing?"

Ah, so that's what her voice sounds like. It was a bit lower in pitch than he'd thought it might be, but Darin finds that he doesn't mind that at all. Her voice is pleasing to his ears nonetheless.

"Very much!" the twelve-year-old girl chirps, face alight with a child's enthusiasm.

"May I sing with you?" the young woman asks as she kneels next to the short girl.

"Oh would you? I can't seem to get the tune right, even though my momma tried to teach me. My big brother says I'm a lost cause, but I want to prove him wrong!"

From his place across the street, Darin sees a line form on the young woman's forehead as her eyebrows press together. A sore subject, the topic of big brothers? He'd be sure to avoid it.

"You're very right to do so. What's your name?"

"Nina. And who are you?"


"Like the flower?"

The young woman, Rose, laughs a little and nods sheepishly. Why sheepishly?

"I suppose so, yes. Though I think my mother wasn't thinking of flowers when I was born."

"What was she thinking of then?" Nina questions, her curly-haired head tipping sideways.

Rose stiffens; he can see her spine go rigid. Another sore spot? Perhaps better to avoid the topic of her family altogether, when he finally got up the nerve to talk to her.

As the door screeches shut behind him and he stubs his toe on a stray pebble on the floor, enlightenment seems to hit him right in the face.

'Was her secret a family affair?' he wonders as he shakes the pain from his foot. Was that why she stiffened when Nina asked about her family, even in so innocent a way?

He'd be sure to look into that. His curiosity was aroused again, in spite of his better judgment's ranting to stop this obsession. Darin thinks back that it's not obsession, it's only slight infatuation. What else could be expected, considering the object of said infatuation?

Yes, that was it, he realizes. He's infatuated. With luck, time would help him be rid of that. Infatuations never lasted very long, especially not for Darin. His heart would be free in a few months' time.

He wanted it to be, didn't he?

Of course he did, Darin tells himself sternly. Feelings of substance for anyone were dangerous; he'd learned that lesson the difficult way. And he had no desire to learn it again, and most especially not with Rose. She might grow to be a good friend, a sister-figure perhaps, in time. He could be content with that. Platonic caring, he could do. That was a lot safer. That didn't unnerve him nearly as much. He could quite easily be her brother.

Couldn't he?

Why did the idea make his stomach flip over, even if just once? He really needed to straighten himself out.

The next day when he sees a lady dressed in the greenest robes he's ever seen whispering with one of the city's many busybodies, he can't help but listen just a little more closely, out of sheer curiosity. He's not sorry he did; they bring up Rosamar. Why does his heart do that strange squeezing when he hears her name? That had to be the infatuation.

"No, my dear…Beruna? Don't be silly, she…why of course!" The lady in green has a slippery voice that slides right over his nerves. He shivers, without knowing why.

"But, Sima…family troubles…?" the busybody whispers back, back hunched to keep her ear as close to the green-robed lady's gossiping mouth as possible.

Were the situation about anyone but Rose, Darin might have been amused at the comedic arc the busybody's neck was craned into. But he can only feel disgust at her appetite for rumors. The woman gobbles up gossip like a starved dog wolfs down scraps in the street thrown from some benevolent's hand.

He keeps from shaking his head and walks on down the street to work. He tries to ignore the small pang of worry in his chest all day. But it remains, stubborn as anything. Would Rose laugh at his worry or comfort it?

He hopes she'd comfort. He's sure she would. He can't help but think he'd like to be comforted, if she was the one doing it. And he was not one to accept comfort; he was the type to hide his pain behind an impenetrable mask. A little like her, now that he thought of it. Perhaps they really were more alike than he'd first thought. Oddly, the idea comforts him. He can understand her better if they are similar.

But now his curiosity is shifting to concern, as he absently misses the dagger lesson he would have had with her yesterday were she here. Family troubles? Surely she could have told him if it was so...Yet, he knows she isn't the type to confess to that. She seems to be like him in that she hides anything unpleasant in her life. Perhaps, like him, she despises pity.

A light flicks on in Darin's head. Of course! She'd gotten angry, when he gave her the dagger and waived the price. He'd seen the telltale spark in her eyes, and the intensity of it had put his hands in the air in a peacemaking gesture. That had insulted her, somehow. It explained the appearance of a purse of coins in his pocket as well. He'd failed to notice it for days, until he heard it jingle as he dressed this morning. He'd been confused then, but now he understood. Rose had put it there. She must have, and he understood why. He also knew that he could not give the money back, not if he wanted to keep the peace.

'Well done, Rose. Well done.'

She's done it yet again – surprised him. Will she ever cease to do so?

Darin already knows the answer.

No. Of course she won't.

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