Chapter 15: Rosamar

Three weeks of perfection and already I wish I never had to go back to Narnia. I've learned so many different ways of dancing I could never hope to name them all. I've learned to write, and to tell stories with words on a page and words on my tongue and even words with my hands. My singing hasn't progressed quite as rapidly, but that's only because I spend the time I should be using to practice my singing to practice dancing. I simply love the latter too much to do otherwise.

But most importantly, I've come to understand and know the faeries on a deeper level than I've ever known any being in my short life. I continue my lessons with Teacher in learning to see with my heart and not my eyes. My progress is good, or so they tell me. Nothing exceptional, but worthy of a protector. That relieves me. I don't like to stand out, but I do like to be in the happy medium. It's comfortable, and the middle is easy to hide in. I'm fond of neither praise nor criticism.

Here neither one rears its head to embarrass me, and I'm as content as I've ever been. I make sure to practice the things Darin and King Caspian taught me with my dagger every day for at least an hour, and as my third week here nears its close, I find my body is slowly getting accustomed to the strange positioning of my limbs.

I'm a bit surprised that nothing's come from either Darin or Caspian, but I can't deny that I'm glad for it. I appreciate their company, perhaps Darin's more than the king's, yet I've come to love the quiet solitude here. Even when the faeries are all around me, there's a serenity and individuality here that far surpasses the contentment that follows time spent with anyone in Narnia.

I never want to leave.

My guide comes and lies on the ground beside me, now fully recovered from the attack weeks ago, as if it could hear exactly what I was thinking. But I know it didn't need to. Understanding surpasses knowledge here.

"I wish you could stay for a lifetime."

"As do I."

My guide and I share a smile before sighing out the regret that accompanies this topic. I understand, when it shifts closer until its ever-moving ribbons tickle my bare arm, that it'd go with me back to Narnia if it could. It understands my loneliness there.

I purse my lips together and hold back the tenderness such sentiment stirs in me. Even here, I still have not learned to be vulnerable and completely open. They all accept that, in spite of the pain I know it sometimes causes them. Acceptance accompanies understanding here. I love that perhaps the most about this place.

A sudden flash of panic dissolves the peaceful atmosphere quicker than lightening, and I'm on my feet and running toward the source before I even know why.

"I thought the danger was gone!" my guide exclaims.

"So did I," I holler back as my feet fly over the ground.

We're already too late; I can feel it in my heart, my soul. I think my guide knows it too, but I'm not focused on connecting with it right now. By the time we finally get to the clearing, the older faeries are solemnly staring at me and sending out waves of sorrow. I don't even have to attempt to understand the depth; the force of it almost knocks me to the ground. As it is I clutch desperately at my chest in an attempt to ease the burning ache there. How do they survive sorrow so intense, if all of them share the pain?

"What's happened?" I cry out through gasps of pain, one hand grappling for the hilt of my dagger.

In a truly rare moment, they answer me with words.

"It struck a half dozen of us down at once. We are sorry to burden you with this, but we think you must know."

They use their ribbons to lead me along gently, the contact almost scorching me. Sorrow burns; I never realized this.

Truly, once I see the horrid sight before me, I fully understand the agony.

There, laid out at the edge of the forest, lie six corpses of faeries, barely recognizable in their deformation. Their ribbons lie dull and wilting on the ground, their natural light gone as if it never existed. I think the worst part is seeing everything under their skin. The skin itself seems to have shrunk and cracked until only rough and scabby patches of it remain, some with pus and blood still seeping from the corners. The muscle and bone lay exposed, the ground stained with the silver blood from these faeries' veins. If I was any less shocked, I think I might be sobbing, but it's so far from what I could have forseen that I can do nothing but stare and let lonely, salty tears drip down my cheeks one at a time.

"When did this…?" I don't think any of the faeries begrudge my inability to finish a sentence.

"Just moments ago, Protector. It happened quicker than lightning."

"We need to…to…" my guide can't finish either.

"We need to bury them," I finish gently, comforting it as best I am able with an arm around its shoulders.

"The ground has always covered our passed ones with flowering vines, but it has not done so this time."

"Then I will find vines and we will make do as best we can," I reply with surprising firmness. Maybe I am ready to be their Protector after all.

"Thank you, Rose. Thank you," they all chorus, with no other words able to pass through their lips.

"I will find who did this, I promise you. And neither they nor any other will ever dare harm this place again." It's as much a promise to myself as to this land and these faeries.

I feel their concern then, and I have to admit that they're most likely right.

"If King Caspian is able, I will ask his help. If he cannot, I have another friend I can yet go to."

They all encircle me with their ribbons, to thank me and to wish me luck. It hardens my resolve not to fail them. In this moment, I know I would do anything to get rid of this evil.

I was looking forward to my last few days here, but after this I know I can't wait even another hour. I have to go back to Narnia, to ask for the king's help and Darin's help. Yes, both will be better. Every person counts, and I'll need someone to help me look for the evil and someone to watch over the faeries. I can switch between the two, but I can't leave them alone now.

"We will bury them now, and as soon as they are paid due respect I'm returning to Narnia. I won't be gone long, only an hour if I can," I say as I try to give feelings of reassurance and love to all of them at once.

"Be careful, please," my guide whispers against my ear.

"The danger is not in Narnia," I reply quietly, touching my forehead to its own.

At my silent direction, all the faeries but two return to the group, and the others come with me to find a suitable place to bury the passed.

It takes less time than I'd thought. I think we're all relieved to have the painfully unrecognizable corpses under the ground and out of sight.

We trek back to the meadow where all the faeries have gathered now and beckon them to come with us to pay their last respects. No one's yet explained to me how funerals work here, but I have a distinct feeling it's something far more wild and exquisite than I could imagine on my own.

In actuality, it turns out to be quite simple. They all file up to each 'grave' and lay one of the ribbons of light constantly orbiting them on top of the vines woven over the bodies. By the time all of them have done so, the graves are so bright I can barely look at them.

At first they all just seem to stand and wait, but I don't understand why until the lights on each body merge into one blinding beam of white and engulf the grave. A shape floats upward, a shape that can only be the body. Then they begin to sing, a tune so soft and forlorn that my heart can barely stand it without giving out entirely. Tears roll freely down my cheeks as the six pillars of white around the bodies brighten with each note, and then it's over. The light compacts into each body, only to suddenly fade from sight without a trace, leaving behind no evidence that there ever was any body at all.

For a few moments, I can only stare at the empty air in front of me. I have to keep blinking my eyes free of the water rapidly accumulating in them. Logically, it makes no sense, but it was a beautiful goodbye.

But after those few moments, I kick into action.

"I'm going back to Narnia now," I announce. "I have to talk to my two friends. At least one of them will be here soon."

They all say their goodbyes without words, and I return the mental gestures before taking off running. I don't have any time to waste.

Luckily for me, Tanssi Kuun isn't a remarkably big world, so I'm back in Narnia before I'm utterly out of breath from running. I keep up my torrid pace for another two minutes or so before the stitch in my side is unbearable and I have to slow to a jog. Even then, I push my body's limits. I don't want to leave the faeries unprotected for longer than absolutely necessary. And while I go to the castle and try to get an audience with King Caspian, Darin can go and look after them. Now I understand why there's a spare pendant.

Thankfully, it's getting to be close to sunset here in Narnia, so Darin should be almost done with his work by the time I get to his shop. My mind goes through so many routes as I race out of the forest and towards the city, one of my hands kneading my side to try and make the worsening cramps so away. I can't afford to slow down!

I burst into Darin's shop just as he's putting his tools away and dumping a bucket of water on the fire. He looks up at my commotion and rushes over when he sees my frantic face.

"Rose? What on earth's the matter? You weren't to be back for another few days-"

"Darin, I'm so sorry to ask this of you, but do you remember the pendant I gave you and what I said to do?" He nods, and I rush to continue. "I need you to go to the tree, say 'Kuu,' and go into the door you'll see there. Please Darin, it's very important."

"I'll go immediately Rose, but what's going on?" he asks as he hurries to finish closing.

"Take a sword and dagger at minimum," I tell him as he starts to rush out the door.

He looks at me in confusion, but he does as I say.

"I have to go talk to a friend of mine about that place beyond the door, and I need someone I can trust there to protect the faeries," I explain, still gasping for breath.

"The faeries?"

"They live there, in that place. Oh to Tash with it! There's a whole other world beyond that door, and it's name is Tanssi Kuun and the faeries are in danger and I'm their protector but I need to talk to the king and I need you to go there and make sure they're safe," I blurt out all in one breath.

"The king?" he asks as he quickly finishes cleaning up from the day's work. Somehow, he doesn't look as flabbergasted as I imagined he would.

"I need help training the faeries in combat, and I have to train myself too."

"Do you want me to start training them when I get there?"

Either he's humoring me or he believes me, but if it's the former then he'll figure it out soon enough.

"Yes, thank you, that'd be wonderful! Be careful, and if anything or anyone attacks get them into the forest so they can hide in the trees, okay? They know nothing of fighting or weapons."

"I'll teach them all that I can, alright?"

Is he truly sincere? I search his steady gaze for any sign that he is not, but I only find a vague flicker of...relief? Why?

"Thank you," I gasp out. I can get my answers later.

"Go. I'll meet you there," he says, pulling me into a quick hug as a goodbye.

I return the hug and give him a peck on the cheek before taking off down the street toward the castle. Weaving this way and that to avoid people and children and an overturned cart, I race through the streets like Tash himself is at my heels.

As soon as I arrive at the gate, I tell the guards that I need to see the king right away. Naturally, they're hesitant, but with a few flirty winks that are completely out of character, I get them to let me in. Ah, the advantage of the castle having Telmarine guards.

However, I am stopped in the courtyard by a stern-looking centaur. He introduces himself as Glenstorm, and I have to come up with some excuse and explanation as to who I am. After a few repeated exclamations that I need to see the king because it's very, very urgent and people are in danger, he agrees to take me to him, though on the condition that he goes with me. I agree in a heartbeat and try to take off running, but he only clops along at a steady walk.

"Please, someone could die if we take too long!" I cry as discreetly as possible so I attract as few looks as possible.

That, coupled with the nauseated worry in my eyes must convince him, because he passes me at a trot, and then I'm the one trying to keep up.

"His Majesty is likely at dinner, Miss Rosamar," he chides.

"He'll understand, just please hurry," I pant, hand still kneading my side.

"Any faster and I fear you will fall behind, my lady."

"I'll run as fast as I have to," I protest, speeding up just to prove my point. Still, I let him lead the way because this castle is a huge labyrinth and I can't afford to get lost; rather, the faeries can't afford for me to get lost. I know Darin's more capable of protecting them than I am, but he's only one person, and if there are too many of this mysterious enemy…I can't let myself finish that thought lest I hyperventilate even more.

At last, we approach two double doors. It's then that I remember why I tried not to make a scene.

"Wait! Perhaps you should go in quietly, and simply tell him that Rosamar requests to see him urgently," I say.

Glenstorm just nods and does as I ask. I'm grateful he doesn't ask why I don't want to make a scene. Maybe he just understands and I'm just frantic enough that he's concerned too.

I wait outside impatiently, and it takes all of my will not to pace and wring my hands. How long does it take to say one sentence to the king?

Finally, finally finally finally, King Caspian emerges ahead of Glenstorm, looking both perplexed and mildly annoyed. Annoyed, that is, until he catches sight of me. I must look half mad, because he rushes over asking what in the name of the Lion is the matter.

"Is there someplace private?" I ask, shooting Glenstorm an apologetic glance.

"Come with me," is all he says before thanking Glenstorm and taking off down the hallway with long and powerful strides.

"Thank you, my lord."

"Rose, it's Caspian, remember?"

"Sorry, Caspian," I say with a roll of my eyes. Now, of all times, he's getting picky about what I call him?

"It's Tanssi Kuun, isn't it?" he asks.

"Why else would I race into your castle while there's still daylight and demand to see you while you were eating dinner?" I retort. "For that matter, why else would I even seek you out?"

"That was cold," he chides, though he sounds more amused than hurt.

"Do I look like I'm feeling warm and fuzzy right now?" I hiss. "And don't call it by name! Someone might hear!"

Before he can say anything back, he leads me inside a room with shelves of books and a desk with a comfortable-looking armchair.

"Please, sit," he says with a gentlemanly air.

"Now is not the time for manners and etiquette!" I cry, my voice higher in pitch than it's been since I was a little girl.

"Shh, Rose, as you've said someone may hear."

I'm about to fire back a retort, but the thought of the faeries and the realization that he's actually being serious get rid of that idea.

"Things were fine there for the past three weeks or so, and then something killed a half dozen of the faeries. It was like a sickness, but it was instant. Caspian, it was awful. They were dead in minutes."

"A sickness?" he echoes, clearly not connecting the dots.

"Not like any other! It was not a natural sickness; they don't even have sickness there. No, this was another attack. Just like the forest."

"Forest? What happened in the forest?"

"A massive stretch of it is gone. It happened the same night you were first there."

"You never told me," he says.

"I had no need to. Now I do. I need your help for a few hours, Caspian, if you have the time to give it."

"It is safest for me to go at night, lest my absence go noticed."

"You'll really help?" I ask, incredulous. I was so afraid he'd say he didn't have the time, but I knew I had to ask.

"Of course. You would do the same if our situations were reversed." He says it like it's the simplest thing in the world, and I fling my arms around him in one of my rare hugs.

"Caspian, thank you," I gasp out.

"What is it you need of me?"

"One of my friends is there already, looking after them while I'm gone and starting their training. I still have to train myself."

"Of course, Rose. And if the need arises, I will help you protect them as well."

"You will?"

The gravity of what he just said flickers at the edges of my remaining rationale, but I quickly decide we can discuss that later. I'm distracted the next moment anyhow - quicker than I can blink, Caspian's swept me into a tight hug and planted a kiss on my hair.

"As I said, you would do no less for me."

"There's something else," I realize aloud.

"You trusted me with the knowledge of that world and your role in it. I wish to protect it with you."

"Did anyone tell you that you have a stunning moral compass?"

"No," he answers, sounding a bit amused.

"Then I'll tell you myself: you do." I squeeze my arms around him a little tighter before letting go. "I need to get back there, but I'll be waiting for you at the tree at midnight."

"I will be there not a minute later than that time."

"Thank you." I turn to go before remembering that I have no idea how to get out of here.

"Follow this hallway until you get to the dining room, then take the first left and the third right after that. You'll be at the main doors."

"Thank you again," I say.

"No, Rose," he replies. "Thank you."

I nod without knowing entirely what he means, and then I'm off again and trying to keep up a steady jog even though my legs and lungs are screaming for a respite. Needless to say, I ignore them. I don't have time for rest, and I probably won't for a while. I don't care.

With that, I have no extra brain to think; I can only push on and pray my legs don't give out. My stomach protests the lack of dinner, but I simply ignore it too. I can eat when I'm back in Tanssi Kuun and ready to train until I can't hold myself off the ground.

When I can't jog another step, I slow to the quickest walk I'm capable of. My impatience grows as the trek to my entry tree seems to grow longer and longer with each step. I'm half mad by the time I get to the edge of the forest. Soon enough, my body's taken in enough air to allow me to at least jog again, and when I get to the tree and stumble into Tanssi Kuun, my legs finally give out. I sink to the ground and just focus on getting air into my lungs.

My guide doesn't come to greet me, but that only makes me smile. I can hear Darin in the distance, already teaching them the basics. I'm too grateful to come up with the words to express it, so I settle for crawling toward the sound and gasping in breath after painful breath. I'll have to remember to thank him profusely. Maybe I can get him dinner now.

I nod my head at myself, pleased with the idea. I've no doubt he didn't even grab a bite to eat on the way here. I detour off to the side of the field and grab berries and edible leaves. It's not much, but it'll hold him until the faeries eat their meal.

My breath now approaching normal range, I stand on wobbly legs and rush to the sound of Darin's kind yet firm voice. He gets much more authoritative when teaching. It sounds like he's teaching them close combat. Teaching them last minute resorts, in other words.

It occurs to me that rotating who teaches who might be a really good idea. While Caspian teaches me, Darin can teach the faeries, and then they could switch later. It's always better to have several perspectives, and each of them probably has his own tips and useful advice.

"Hello, Rose!" my guide calls out as I come into view.

Darin turns from his blocking position and holds out his hand to me. I happily walk forward and take it as a wordless sort of hello.

'Thank you,' I mouth.

He dips his head, as if embarrassed. I tip his chin up with my finger and hand him the food I found.

This time, he mouths his thanks and pauses to take a few bites. I offer him the rest, but he shakes his head and points at me. I return the shake, only to have him hold up a leaf to my mouth. With food in such close proximity, my stomach rumbles loud enough for even the faeries a little ways away to hear. A spark of amusement appears in Darin's eye, and I can't help but accept the rest of the food.

"Dinner will be soon," I mutter as my cheeks threaten to turn pink with sheepishness.

"We'll finish the basics first," he says. I give him a one-armed hug as my thanks.

With that, he returns to teaching and I join the semi-circle of faeries to learn myself. I can't learn fast enough.

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