Chapter 17: Caspian
Caspian finds that he's grateful for the watch; he has many thoughts in need of sorting, and before now he's not had the time to show them that favor.
When Rose came to him in the castle, he'd felt a strange warmth that she came to ask for his help at all. She'd only asked for aid once before, and that had been after he'd pressured her. This time, she had come and asked of her own free will.
And he wasn't the only one she'd gone to, apparently. Caspian found that he held respect for Darin even after so short a time of knowing him. Rose chose her friends well. Though if he had been the only person she'd gone to...well, that'd have been alright too. Darin clearly held feelings of some substance for Rose, much like Caspian himself.
Somewhere in the back of Caspian's mind, something whispers that the note accusing her of treason was one of the best things to happen all year, because it has led him to this tentative friendship he has with her. He is lucky indeed.
Unfortunately, Tanssi Kuun is not so lucky. Some evil is clearly worming its way in, and Caspian can't help but wonder if him and Rose and Darin will be enough to keep it at bay. He'll not be able to voice this concern to her for a little while yet, naturally, but it's there just the same. She won't like hearing that. Yet, as protector of this land, he knows she'll have no choice but to listen to him.
So many things happening at once. Caspian used to think his life before he knew Rose was chaotic. Now? He sometimes wonders if his head might spin itself clean off his weary shoulders. Helping Rose and the faeries is already taking its toll on him, but he knows he wouldn't have it any other way. Even though he's never had quite so much stress, and he was really only prepared to deal with one world at a time, it's all somehow worth the strain.
And now that it's his watch and she's already gone to bed, Caspian feels safe enough looking over at her. He quickly finds that a smile's crept onto his face, but he doesn't stop to wonder why. Why shouldn't he smile? She's a friend, and he admires her. It's as simple as that.
A faint flash off in the distance quickly draws him from his own mind. It's gone as quickly as it came, and something tells him not to dismiss it. He wants to go and investigate, but he knows he can't leave his watch.
Another glance at the sleeping protector provides him with a regrettable solution. Caspian's loathe to wake her, because he knows she needs her rest, but there's nothing else to do. Anyhow, she'd be furious if he didn't.
So he rises from his perch on the rock and walks over to her already fast-asleep form as quietly as he can. He only hesitates a moment before leaning down and gently shaking her awake.
"What's happened?" she asks immediately, with a voice heavy from the webs of sleep.
"There was a faint flash of light in the distance, near the edge of the forest. I do not think it bodes well," he whispers, all but forgetting that his hand still rests on her shoulder.
"Not again," she murmurs, clearly to her own ears rather than his.
In less than a second, she's scrambled to her feet and belted her dagger around her hip. Only Caspian seems to notice how quickly his hand slips from her shoulder.
"This is how it happened before?" he questions as he follows her swift footsteps toward the rock he kept watch from.
"Yes," she answers shortly. "The forest was burned to nothing but a carpet of ash when I arrived."
He wonders why she did not mention the extent of the damage before, but one look at her and he understands. She wanted to handle it on her own, both out of independence and a need for her own closure. Any such blatant destruction of Tanssi Kuun was bound to cause her pain, even if she never admitted it.
"I'm sorry," he finally says, though whether for waking her or for the destruction, he's not entirely sure.
"Stay and keep watch. I'll go," she replies, barely looking at him as she starts off toward where he pointed.
"You could continue the watch and I could investigate," he offers quietly, though he already knows her answer.
As he suspected she would, she shakes her head.
"No, you keep watch. If something more happens before I return, wake Darin."
"Are you certain it's wise to pursue this on your own?"
"I don't have a choice. You need to stay and keep watch, and Darin's even more exhausted than I am. Besides, you're King of Narnia. Your life is a bit more valuable than either of ours, especially because you have no heir as of yet."
He hates how casually she says that, as if it doesn't matter. He finds the idea of his life having more value than anyone else's, particularly hers, repulsive, but he can't find the words to tell her this. She's already walking away without a second glance back.
Caspian knows it'll be of little use to follow her, so he continues his watch. When hours pass and she's not yet returned, he begins to worry. And when another faint flash bursts across the horizon very close to where the first on his watch occurred, he knows he can't stay here any longer.
With determined strides, he crosses the clearing, wakes Darin and explains all.
"She went alone?" the blacksmith asks incredulously.
Caspian can only nod and look worriedly off at the horizon.
Darin sighs and rubs the last traces of sleep from his eyes.
"She'd have it no other way. I'll go after her."
"I understand your concern. However, I was going to ask that you look after things here while I go. As she left under my watch and direction, I feel responsible."
For a moment, it looks as though Darin will argue, but after a minute of tense silence, the blacksmith nods and walks to the rock. Caspian calls a quick 'thank you' over his shoulder as he bolts off toward where Rose headed.
The run seems to take a lifetime, but at long last he smells the smoke and knows he must be close. He runs for another few minutes before he bursts into a field of ash. Some parts of it still smolder, and he notices that it's warm even through his boots.
A quick scan of the area he can see shows him no sign of Rose. He scans again, and then once more, just to be certain. He checks his worry and continues into the ash remains of the forest. Only when he's deep into the soft flakes that now come up to his knees does he hear the faint sounds of swords clashing.
Caspian has to bite his tongue to keep from yelling out her name, but he's running toward the sound before he even has time to consider any other options. All he knows is that it must be her fighting something evil, and she's had so little training and she's too important to die now.
After long minutes, he finally finds the skirmish. Sure enough, there she is, swinging her sword at two grotesque creatures that look to be a sick cross between a human and a goblin of some sort. Even in his panic to protect her, he can't help but admire how well she's absorbed her lessons. And when the tip of her sword nicks one of the creatures in the arm, he finds that she's never been more beautiful than she is now, fierce and unyielding in battle.
Then all thoughts cease as he throws himself into the fray, easily disarming the first creature to attack him and fending the second away from Rose, even though he knows she could likely take it on. He's sure the second will surrender any moment, but a bleat of pain right behind him takes a bit of his focus.
He knocks the creature's crude sword away and whirls around to see the tip of Rose's sword poking through the other creature's chest. But there's no time to thank her now; he finishes the second one and only then does he turn to face her.
"Why did you follow me?" she asks, before he can say 'thank you.'
"You were gone for hours, and there was another flash close by."
He knows she's quite taciturn, but somehow her brusqueness hurts a bit this time.
"You left your watch?"
"I awoke Darin. He agreed to take over while I went after you."
Caspian can't look at her as he sheathes his sword. She doesn't look at him either, from what he can tell.
She still won't meet his eyes, even when he looks at her to see if she's angry or simply indifferent. No, not indifferent; but she would have him believe so.
He swallows whatever he was going to say and quietly leans down to examine the now-dead creatures.
"Are they similar to any Narnian creature?" she asks.
"Not in appearance, though their stench is similar to that of the Goblins. I have not seen their likeness before."
"Perfect," she sighs.
He doesn't know what to tell her.
"There's nothing for it. We should return to the faeries. It's almost dawn anyhow, and you've got to get back to Narnia."
She takes one last look at the creatures that so clearly don't belong in so pure a land and marches off, as determined and composed as ever.
Caspian knows to keep his silence. Nothing he can say will ease her troubles, and now is not the time to mention his worries regarding their ability to stop Tanssi Kuun's destruction.
When they finally return to the clearing near the edge of the forest, the moon has just started to peek over the horizon. Caspian wants to stay and watch the moonrise, but he knows he'll be missed if he stays any longer. He'll be lucky to arrive inconspicuously as it is.
"I apologize, Rose, but I must leave you now. I will return in a few days."
"I'll be back in Narnia in a few days' time. If you wish to join up with me at the wool shop, you may. Otherwise I'll be ready for you at the tree every night at midnight starting three days from now."
He nods once and politely takes his leave of them. A barely-audible sigh of relief whooshes from Caspian's lips when Darin indicates that he'll be here with Rose while Caspian's gone. She can handle things on her own, but neither of them want it to be necessary.
The whole walk back from the entry tree, all at once all Caspian can think of is how he can help Rose without letting his country down. And the moment he steps foot back in Narnia, that question burns at his mind until his forehead feels as though it's being crushed under a Minotaur's hoof.
For the time he spends in Tanssi Kuun, he can almost forget his other responsibilities, can almost pretend his life could be simple and uncomplicated. Then he returns to Narnia and to his life as king. Caspian wouldn't give up his position, but he's found that even after merely two visits to Rose's world, he misses it when he's not there. He misses the peaceable freedom, the simplicity.
And yet Caspian knows that he simply can't afford to do this; he can't go pining away after some world other than Narnia, not when he has to try so very hard as it is to keep the country united and peaceful. Moreover, he'd just gotten news of the Northern giants stirring up trouble the previous morning, and there was a good chance he'd be going up there with an army to try and put out the encroachment.
Strange, that his first thought is if he goes off to war, he won't see Tanssi Kuun for a while. More specifically, he won't see Rose for quite a while. Why in the Lion's name does that bother him so much? He hasn't known her that long.
Caspian makes a point of ignoring any other thoughts like that the rest of the way back to the castle.
Just as the sun is rising, he makes it to the front gates. The guards look more curious than he'd like, raising their eyebrows not-so-discreetly at his dirtied clothes and the bags under his eyes. Caspian wants to tell them to please mind their business, for goodness' sake, but the words die on his tongue when he realizes that such a comment would only worsen the curiosity. So instead, he nods once and strides past them, making a note to bring Destrier the next time. The horse was large and intimidating; no one would question him so openly if he rode up.
As he enters the Telmarine castle, Caspian finds he wants nothing more than to talk to Professor Cornelius again, just to try and get his bearings. He doesn't want to admit it, but half his mind is still with Rose. He can't get the picture of her wielding that sword so gracefully out of his head.
Without another thought, Caspian makes for the library. The servants he passes in the hallway notice his slightly disheveled state, though they're more discreet than the guards were. Still, Caspian makes a note of this, if only to remind himself what he must try to avoid the next time he spends so much time in Tanssi Kuun.
By this time, Caspian has arrived at his old Professor's haven of books. Without thinking, he strides in, dodging scrolls that have spilled from the table onto the floor.
"Professor!" he calls, bending down to pick up the scrolls as he looks for the old man. The task is easier now than it was last he visited; the Professor's cleaning endeavor has certainly made great strides, though some haphazard stacks of tomes remain still.
A crash instantly sounds from a far corner of the room, and a resounding "By the Lion!" quickly follows. Caspian winces; he'd forgotten to knock.
The Professor appears from behind one of the stacks with his spectacles askew and his hand over his heart.
"My dear boy, you've forgotten to knock," the elderly scholar chides a sheepish Caspian.
"I'm sorry Professor, I…" Caspian trails off, suddenly unsure what exactly his excuse is.
At once, Professor Cornelius smirks under his beard and his eyes get those merry little creases at the corners.
"Professor," Caspian starts, though they both know the warning is less than half-hearted. "Stop that."
"Stop what, my king?" the Professor replies, still smiling that almost-infuriating smirk.
"It's not about Rose."
The instant Caspian says that, he knows it's not true, and the Professor knows it too. But the old man just smiles a little wider and gestures to the armchairs behind the scroll-strewn desk. Caspian doesn't hesitate a single second before plopping down and enjoying the rare occasion of being permitted to slump in his seat.
"Ah, so Rosamar is now simply Rose. Very intriguing, very intriguing indeed." Professor Cornelius's smile grows even more, if such a thing were possible.
"You take entirely too much delight in teasing me, Professor." Caspian tries to sound serious but fails quite miserably indeed; a smile tugs at the corners of his mouth before he even gets to the third word. By the end of the attempted rebuke, both the king and the professor are grinning widely with mischief twinkling in the latter's eye.
The two indulge in a brief moment of laughter before the Professor sobers and crosses his hands over his belly.
"But in all seriousness my boy, what troubles you?"
Caspian hesitates; he's not spoken of Rose and her secret yet, and he isn't sure how much he should say.
"Begin with the most uplifting news, and then proceed to the difficulty," Professor Cornelius gently prompts, eyes peeking out from over his spectacles.
"Rose is no threat," Caspian instantly replies, allowing himself a relieved smile. "Well, she can be threatening when she wishes to be, but I have nothing to fear from her."
"Yet you had something to fear hitherto?"
Professor Cornelius is either teasing him again or genuinely confused.
"Only when I became a threat to something very precious to her. Quite on accident, of course."
The Professor raises his bushy eyebrows at that, adjusting his hands as he does so.
"I'm afraid I can't say precisely what I inadvertently threatened; it is Rose's secret, and she has not given me permission to share it." Caspian starts to continue on, but the twinkle in his professor's eye has him pursing his lips in mock annoyance. "Professor," he starts to say, even as another smile tugs at his mouth.
"Go on, my boy."
This time, Caspian ignores the lingering hint of mischief in the scholar's eye in favor of finishing the somewhat fantastic tale.
"In short, we've become…that is, we are…"
"Friends?" Professor Cornelius finishes, his mustache twitching with merriment.
Caspian nods, keenly aware that he's oddly embarrassed. Why should talking about Rose and their friendship make his face heat up? The last time he felt like this was…well, it was Queen Susan. The only comfort Caspian can claim is that with Susan his heart would sometimes skip a beat, or he'd forget to breathe, or his tongue would get tied up in knots. He never has those problems with Rose, thank the Lion.
"And what is it that troubles you, then?"
"She needs my help, Professor, more than I suspect she will ever admit. And I want to help her, I truly do, it's just that…well, I have duties as a king too, and I'm a bit afraid that I'll soon have to choose between letting her down or letting Narnia down." Caspian finishes in a rush, uncomfortable at this admission even though he knows he can tell his childhood professor anything in the world.
"You would help Rosamar at the expense of your country?" Professor Cornelius sounds incredulous, and yet he somehow manages to not sound disappointed.
"No!" Caspian almost shouts his denial, but the Professor cocks an eyebrow as soon as Caspian's voice dies down.
A heavy silence falls between the two. Caspian alternates looking at his shoes and looking at his former professor, and Cornelius looks pensively at the king, noting with interest how his shoulders slump after his spirited negation.
The silence is broken by a whisper from Caspian's lips, a whisper that he almost takes back but can't quite bring himself to do so.