Chapter 16: Rosamar
After Darin finishes the basics, we all settle down for a very late dinner. When my guide asks after Caspian, I tell her he'll be here around midnight. The faeries that overhear are pleased, and they're not shy about letting me feel that.
Dinner passes quickly, but it passes with Darin at my side. I think I'd be half-insane by now if he weren't here to keep me calm and hopeful. Whenever he notices my shoulders hitching up around my ears, he gently lowers them with his hands and whispers in my ear that it'll be alright.
I barely realize that this is his first time here; he seems right at home. Perhaps that's because we have a job to do, or perhaps it's because he's simply very adaptable, but whatever the reason, I appreciate it more than I can communicate to him.
He seems to understand. I love that about him.
"I see why you kept this a secret," he whispers in my ear. His breath sends a shiver down my spine: a pleasant shiver.
"I just wanted to protect it. I have to," I answer as I look out at its beauty and the faeries that complete it. The moon will be rising soon.
"Tell me, how did this task come to you?"
"My aunt. She was in the line of protectors, and she passed the pendant to me only two years ago. It has mostly stayed in my family for generations, though sometimes it was given to a close family friend."
"Why did she pass it to you? Was she aging?"
"When she gave it to me, she was not too old to protect it, but she wanted to get me started and to teach me all she knew in the years she had left. I thought that would be a decade of learning at least, but…well, that's not how it worked out."
"I'm sorry," he says. Somehow, I didn't have to explain to him. He just knew. Maybe he's known sorrow like that too?
I let my head drop to rest comfortably on his shoulder.
"Thank you." I don't let tears drop from my eyes, but I can't stop them from misting a bit. I miss her so much, and I have no idea what I'm doing. I can't help but worry that I'm not going to be able to stop this, in the end.
"You have help, Rose. Don't despair, please," Darin whispers, cheek pressed against my hair.
"I can't afford to," I whisper back. "I can do nothing but try until I can't try any harder."
"Make sure you get your rest, alright? You won't be of any use to them if you're half-asleep."
"I know, I just don't know how much time we have to get ready."
"We could try and figure that out," he suddenly says.
"What do you mean?"
"Have you ever seen the attacker?"
"No, never. They or it stay hidden. We only ever see the aftermath."
"Perhaps it's time you looked for it."
I consider this for a minute or two before nodding. "You're right. I'll go look around first thing in the morning."
"Only after you've gotten at least a few hours of sleep, Rose."
"Yes Father," I grumble, fully intending to sneak off the minute he falls asleep himself.
"And don't think to sneak off," he reprimands with a twinkle in his eye.
"Wouldn't dream of it," I fire back, even as I plot to do just that. I wonder if there's a plant that induces sleep here.
I feel one of the faeries looking at me, and I don't miss the subtle smirk it gives me. Containing my own grin, I silently ask it with my hands to show me when Darin's not looking. I feel its amusement and consent at once, and I don't bother to hide my smile then.
"Rose?" Darin's voice holds a warning, but it's more playful than serious.
"We can communicate without words, and it was merely giving me encouragement," I answer mildly, kissing his cheek because I know it'll get that silent conversation right out of his mind.
"Ah," is all he can say.
I think he was expecting that kiss on the cheek I gave him before to be a one-time thing that came from stress and not affection. But as little as I want to admit it, I truly am fond of him. I can't take the time to decipher how yet, because this world comes before romance, but it's something I'll be sorting out once Tanssi Kuun is safe.
"Get some sleep now, alright?" he says. "I'll wake you when it's time to go searching."
"I'm okay," I try to insist, even as he gently leads me to a soft patch of moss and folds his jacket into a makeshift pillow for me.
"Sleep now, Rose," he murmurs as he smoothes my hair back.
"I have to meet the king at midnight," I argue.
"I will wake you then. You still have half an hour."
A half-hour wouldn't be enough time to search for this world's unknown enemy anyways. So I grudgingly agree and curl up on the far-too thick and comfortable moss bed. It doesn't help that Darin's jacket is warm from being worn recently. Before I know it, I'm gone.
I'm awoken by a steady shake of my shoulders.
"Wake up, Rose. It's nearly midnight," Darin says near my ear.
I'm so tempted to roll over and ignore him, but Caspian can't get in here without out me, so I force myself to stand and stumble off toward Narnia after thanking Darin for waking me up.
Just as he promised, King Caspian's waiting for me right at the tree.
"Ready?" I ask.
With that, we go back through the entry tree. Almost instantly, the faeries swarm to welcome him. I'd thought they were asleep, but apparently not.
"How long are you to stay this time?" one asks.
"Only a day, I fear."
"A full day?" I question. "How did you manage even that?"
"My friends had been urging me to take a weekend to visit the countryside since last month, so I merely agreed to a day trip now."
"Escorts?" I press.
"None," he affirms.
No sooner have we finished this exchange than the faeries throw him ribbons. He catches them, but gives them back in a bit of a hurry.
"You must train. There will be time for play later," he says, sounding every inch a king.
They obey without question, and I turn to follow them to the meadow that they were learning in earlier. Caspian grabs my forearm before I get three steps.
"No, Rose. You need your rest. I know you've already practiced today. Sleep, and I will teach you in the morning."
"But I'm going out looking for these attackers in the morning," I protest.
"Regardless, my point still stands."
"You can learn tomorrow night," he insists. I think he may be as stubborn as I am.
"Yes Father," I grouch for the second time tonight.
Caspian rolls his eyes and shoos me toward the patch of moss with my indent still in it.
"I'm going, I'm going!"
He laughs a quiet, reserved laugh before patting my shoulder and starting off after the faeries.
I grudgingly pad over to my moss and curl up again. Darin appears next to me as soon as I've gotten comfortable and sits down.
"In case they attack again," he explains.
"You need sleep as well, Darin," I reply.
"I will get my share," he says with a slightly patronizing tone. I only roll my eyes before sleep overcomes me again.
When I wake up, the moon is high in the sky and Darin's snoring softly next to me.
I'm about to cry that it's an hour before noon and why didn't he wake me, but I realize how tired he must be and say nothing.
My guide flies up beside me as I start off toward the forest.
"Thank you," it says.
"You had to let go of your pride to ask for help. We are all grateful for all you've done for us, to keep us safe."
"I thought you all preferred to speak without using words," I mumble back, a little embarrassed by the recognition of what I did in bringing both the king and Darin back here.
"From you, I learned that sometimes words are just as meaningful. They can say more, sometimes, than just feelings."
I almost ask if we could introduce the system of names to this world, but I bite that back. Tanssi Kuun is wonderful the way it is; I wouldn't want to change it. But my guide picks up on my inquisitive inclination and asks what's on my mind.
"It's…I was only wondering about names and why you don't seem to have them," I finally admit. I'm a little ashamed I never thought to ask that over the previous three weeks.
"We may yet adopt names. They are a way of expressing identity."
I duck my head to hide my embarrassment.
"There is nothing to be ashamed of, Rose," it chides. "What do you think my name might be?"
"Bashar," I say without thinking. I'd read the name once in an old folk tale, and it stuck with me.
It comes in close until its light ribbons are swirling around me too.
"It's a beautiful name, and now it's mine. Thank you."
In a rare, but perhaps not so rare as before now, move, I initiate the hug. I'm pleased that Bashar still emits the same warmth. She's not sick.
"Caspian is over that way," Bashar says, changing the subject a bit abruptly when we end the embrace.
"I think he's right that you should not go alone."
"Remind me to grumble at you for that later," I say with a sigh.
Bashar just shakes her head, throws me a ribbon, and floats away so I can dance and toss it back. Instead, I let it fall from my arm down to Caspian. He wakes with a startled grunt, but soon relaxes when he sees that the warmth on his cheek was only a ribbon. He lets it wind around his arm before handing it back to me, and I in turn throw it back to Bashar. She smiles before floating off, presumably back to bed.
"Ready?" I ask the stretching Narnian king.
In answer, his stomach growls in sync with mine.
"Perhaps breakfast first?" he suggests in a slightly warbled voice.
"Yes, that might be a good idea. We wouldn't want to let them know we're coming," I grumble, more at my stomach than at Caspian.
After foraging for food and finding a fruit-laden tree, we head off toward the north where I remember the forest was burned down to the ground. It's at least someplace to start, though the enemy would be a fool if its base was there.
"Do you think we're even fighting something material?"
Caspian reminds me of the arrow attack, and it's enough proof to keep me quiet.
"It must be something with magic, however," he adds.
"The sickness, the forest? They both happened too quickly for it to be anything else."
"But how would evil magic get inside?"
"Did you ever hear the legend of Narnia's creation and the White Witch's arrival?"
"No," I answer, suddenly curious.
"Two children named Polly and Digory found rings that led to a place with pools that all led to different worlds. They went to Charn, where the White Witch, Jadis, was the queen of the destruction that was all that remained. They accidentally let her into their world, the world of the King and Queens of Old. She wreaked havoc, and they managed to get her into Narnia, which was only just being sung into being by the Great Aslan himself."
"A brief history, that was," I say. But still, I understand the point; it could have been sheer accident that let the evil inside here.
"If you return to the castle with me, you may read the legend. My old professor has it in his library."
"After Tanssi Kuun is out of danger, I will."
It's only after I've answered that I realize exactly what he said. What, precisely, did he mean about returning to the castle with him?
'Only in the visiting sense,' I silently reassure myself even as my insides turn themselves inside out. Of course only in that sense, of course. Just for a visit.
I'm almost grateful when we reach the plain of ash, just for the distraction.
Silence falls between us for a little bit as we just search for any signs of a malicious presence. I can't find anything, nor can Caspian, for a little while. Then, suddenly, as we're combing through the ash that remains of the burned part of the forest, I hear a muffled noise that sounds a bit like shouting, but not in any tongue I know.
"Caspian, do you hear that?"
He stops, listens, and nods.
"The sound is ugly enough to be suspect."
"Yes, nut where's it coming from?"
We look around and walk toward it, but we reach a spot where it's loudest and yet can't find its source.
Suddenly, Caspian's face lights up, as if he's realized something. He grabs my elbow and silently points at the ground.
I stare at him in confusion before I understand.
'Under the ground?' I mouth.
At his nod, we simultaneously lay down stomach-first on the ground and press our ears against it. I cringe when we have to sweep the ash away from our faces first.
The sound gets louder against our ears, but it remains unintelligible and ugly to the ear. Caspian's right; they do sound like evil things.
"We'll have to dig here," I whisper as quietly as I can.
Caspian shakes his head so quickly that ash blows away from the wind he generates.
"Not here. We don't know how many they are."
"There's only one way to find out," I argue, struggling to keep my voice to a whisper.
"In any case, we have no shovel. Mark this spot and we'll return to dig around here later, when they've gone."
"So if we hit a tunnel, we'll be able to drop down and sneak around unnoticed?"
Caspian's nod is all the confirmation I need. I don't want to wait, but I can at least see that it's wiser to do so. Even if everything in me is screaming to just dig and kill those vile things, whatever they are, I know that I'll be no good to the faeries if I'm dead.
Since we can't understand them anyway, we stand, brush ourselves off, and head back towards the main clearing where the faeries usually gather. We get back well before sunset, and I remind Caspian of our agreement.
"Teach me, and don't show me any mercy. Train me as if this is wartime," I say sternly.
"It is wartime," comes the sobering answer.
I only nod before getting into the default stance for fighting.
Caspian reviews the things I've practiced for the last three weeks quickly, and before I know it he's throwing all sorts of blocks and parries and lunges at me. I can barely keep up, but I force myself to absorb everything. Every piece of information counts, and I'm out of time to learn this leisurely. I can only speed through this, repeat, and pray my muscles have a better memory than my head.
By the time the moon sinks below the horizon, I'm ready to collapse, as is Caspian. We even got to sparring, though it was an easy win for him. I did tell him to do his worst though.
"Dinner?" I murmur, because I can't muster the energy to speak any louder.
"Yes, dinner," he answers wearily, though without as much swaying on his feet.
Just like clockwork, Darin and the faeries approach looking every bit as dead-tired as Caspian and I. I suddenly realize that Darin and Caspian haven't been introduced, so I tug Caspian toward the approaching group.
"Darin, this's Caspian. Caspian, Darin. Friend meet friend," I manage. It's likely the worst introduction I've ever done, but at least they have been introduced now, however horribly it was executed.
They shake hands as if trapped in molasses and I leave them to it while I head off with some of the faeries to gather and prepare dinner.
Bashar's acceptance of a name has given the others some want of their own, and by the time dinner's being passed around, I've named three others Shara, Gathi, and Mesaba. They each preen a bit when I give them names, and soon enough others are willing to adopt one too. I promise to name more of them tomorrow, because I barely have the energy to lift my food to my mouth.
"Get some sleep, Rose. I'll take the first watch," Darin says as I force my eyes to stay open.
"No, you need the rest more," I insist.
"Rose, go and sleep."
When I still protest, Darin literally picks me up and carries me to my moss patch of yesterday, even as I half-heartedly swing at him.
"I'll wake you in a few hours so I can sleep too, alright?" By his tone, he's really doing more telling than asking, but I'm half asleep already so I can't do anything but nod.
When he wakes me, the bags under his eyes are so dark that I just push him down into the moss without saying anything. He's gone before I even walk two steps away.
In my sleepy haze, I remember that I need to wake Caspian for the last watch. He'll be leaving in the morning, so it made sense for him to take the last one.
My watch is uneventful, happily. I take the extra time to practice the many things Caspian taught me today, both to stay awake and to make sure I remember them. This keeps me busy enough that I finish the watch without trouble.
Halfway through my turn, Mesaba, my teacher in seeing, rises and joins me.
"We have not danced in too long," it says.
"Let's dance now, then. I'd welcome the change from practicing."
Just like that, we begin. Mesaba flings two ribbons at me, one white and warm and the other silver and cool. Goosebumps pop up on my skin from the conflicting sensations, and I have fun experimenting with a new spin I thought up the other day.
"You have incorporated some of Caspian's style, I see," Mesaba whispers while dancing back-to-back with me.
"I need to practice it. As you can tell, it does not come as easily."
"You improve each time."
"If only swordfighting was so quick to sink into my muscles," I sigh.
"Yes, it is rather different. But your friend Darin is a skilled teacher."
A fond smile makes its way onto my face at the mention of him.
"Yes, he is."
"He is very fond of you."
I feel the undertone and the deeper meaning behind 'fond,' but I don't acknowledge it. I have no time for such things now.
"He's a good man," is all I say back.
"And you are fond of him in the same way, Rose. You may not see it, but we do."
"Is it so obvious?" I grumble as I feel my cheeks and ears tinge pink.
"I fear it is. The way you look at each other is far from discreet."
"What? How do I look at him?" I'm startled; I didn't think I looked at him any differently.
I feel Mesaba's amusement, and I let it feel my sheepishness and indignance.
"When you think no one is looking, both of you sneak a special look at one another," Mesaba explains, though it's not really much of an explanation at all.
"What special look, for heaven's sake?" I sigh, clearly exasperated.
"You look at him as though you admire him more than any other, and he looks at you with a deep and steady affection. But you share mistrust and apprehension, though for very different reasons."
Admiring Darin makes sense; there is much to admire about him. I suppose the mistrust on my end is due to my natural inability to fully trust anyone. This has been a major downfall in my relationships with the faeries more than I'd like to admit. But why would Darin- oh. Perhaps he has been hurt too in his life, or perhaps the rumors that reached Caspian's castle reached his ears as well. If I combine the two, his reservation makes perfect sense.
Mesaba smiles, pleased that I seem to have figured it out. I start to return the gesture, but it freezes on my lips when I get the silent urging to speak with him to advance the state of things between us.
"No!" I shriek.
I clap a hand over my mouth when Caspian groans in his sleep and rolls over. Darin lets out a quick grunt, and I freeze because he's the one I'm more worried about waking up and hearing this conversation. When no one gets up to see what my unintentional shout was about, I breathe a gentle sigh of relief. No need to broadcast my concerns.
"I mean, I don't think that's such a good idea," I whisper to a slightly smirking Mesaba.
"Fear will get you nowhere, Rose."
"This neither the time nor the place for any discussion resembling things of that nature. Pester me about it if you must, but only after we have taken care of Tanssi Kuun."
I allow myself a quick glance over at Darin before continuing, ignoring the slight twinge in my heart.
"This world and everyone in it come before all else. Even him."
Mesaba nods, though its eyes still speak of mischief. It's as good as a promise that it'll not let this rest so easily in a time of peace.
With a start, I jump to face the owner of the hand that lands suddenly on my shoulder.
Caspian backs up quickly, hands up in a gesture of peace. I almost smile when I wonder if that's left over from my rather successful pounce on him the first time he followed me to the forest.
"I believe my turn for the watch has arrived?" he whispers in a voice so quiet that I have to strain to understand the words.
"Not for another hour," I finally reply.
"Then may I join you?"
"Can't sleep?" I ask while I pat the ground beside me.
"For most of the night, all was well," is all he says.
I can't help but wonder if my untimely shriek woke him.
"If you have need of rest, I know of a tea that might aid you," Mesaba offers.
Caspian somehow makes the shake of his head look gracious. A king's training, I suppose.
"I have only an hour before my watch, if Rose tells me true. I fear any sleeping aid would cause me to sleep straight through it."
Mesaba nods, dips her head in farewell to us both, and floats away to a favorite tree. I'm sorry to see it go. I'll have to ask later why it left King Caspian and I alone together like that.
We sit in silence for at least half of the remaining hour of my watch, though whether it's because there is little to say or there's little we'd like to say, I'm not quite sure.
"Thank you," I finally say, when it's almost time for his watch.
At his questioning glance, I have to elaborate. I ignore the churning in my stomach that showing too much emotion tends to create and press on.
"For coming to help. I know you are unspeakably busy."
The ground under my feet is now the most interesting thing in the world to me.
"No less could I do for a friend," he replies.
I somehow keep myself from jumping in surprise when his hand brushes against mine. I'm about to make the effort to return the gesture, but his hand is gone so quickly that I can't help but wonder if I only imagined the whole thing.
The rest of my watch passes in a silence that manages to be both companionable and slightly uncomfortable. But for some reason, even when the time for Caspian's watch starts, I don't return to my mossy bed.
"Go to bed, Rose. You need your sleep more than any of us," Caspian tells me after another hour passes.
"I'm not tired, oddly."
"Perhaps you will sleep in spite of that when you lie down."
"I'll go in a bit. I'm not done pestering you with my solemn presence yet."
Both of our eyebrows jump at my small attempt at humor. I'm pleasantly shocked when Caspian actually chuckles, albeit quietly.
"If you truly wish to pester me, you are doing a rather poor job."
I decide to put some of my lessons with Mesaba to practical use, and I'm surprised for the third time tonight when I find that he actually enjoys my presence. I had an inkling he didn't mind it, but I was not expecting such…fondness? Is that the right word for it?
"I suppose I'll have to think up something then," I finally stutter out, rather uncharacteristically for me. I don't stutter, just like I don't ask for help. What is it about King Caspian that makes me act so contrary to myself?
"It may be more difficult than you think."
I feel the slightest heat rise to my cheeks, though I have no idea why. He's not even looking at me, and his voice was only a few touches closer to affectionate than normal.
"I might just follow your advice about that lying down," I say after a few minutes of a quiet that's just shy of comfortable.
"Sleep well," is all Caspian says, eyes still scanning the surrounding land dutifully.
"Wake me when you leave, so we all can say goodbye."
He nods once, still keeping watch. My gaze lingers on him for just a moment too long for my comfort as I rise and walk back to my mossy patch. I bite my lip in slight annoyance when I remember that I shoved Darin down onto my patch of moss when he came to wake me for my watch. Luckily, it doesn't take me long to find another equally comfortable patch.
The only irksome thing is that Caspian's suggestion holds true; I fall asleep within minutes of lying down.