Chapter 1: Rosamar
My tired feet at last reach the bridge, but I forget about them altogether when I look up at the massive stone walls and towers stretching into the sky. I'd heard that the Telmarine castle was a giant among castles, but even that description seems insignificant. I feel no bigger than a baby ant as I stride across the bridge toward the city that surrounds it, towards my new home.
A few times, I stumble over an uneven cobblestone, but I blame it more on my distraction than my road-wearied feet. How was it possible to build something so massive? I hope none of the workers were afraid of heights.
Excited chatter sounds all around me, and I have to dodge a horde of scampering children waving brightly colored strips of cloth.
"Lozette, do be careful! Stay where I can see you!" shouts a concerned parent from somewhere off to my left.
My eyes follow the children until I can't look away from the castle and the city any longer. I could stand and stare for a lifetime, but I need to get to my new workplace so I can move into my new home. I've heard it's quite spartan, but I'd much rather live in a mouse-hole here than in a mansion back at Beruna.
And as I had no luck finding my entry tree there, I can only hope I'll find it around here. Aunt did warn me it might take years to find...I can only hope Tanssi Kuun will take care of itself while I try to find my way in.
At the thought of my aunt, a lump rises in my throat, but I quickly push it back down. Today my new life starts, and I refuse to start it by crying, especially in public.
I quickly turn my thoughts toward something else, which happens to be another round of rowdy young ones. But wait, this bunch is different: not so happy and cordial as the previous.
A frown spreads over my face as I see a young boy, clearly a good three years younger than his peers, shoved to the back of the bunch and abandoned there. I bite my tongue to keep from snapping a reprimand at the children who laugh when he stumbles over a cobblestone and goes sprawling on his chubby little tummy.
Quicker than I can think, my feet take me to his side.
"Those stones can be really mean, can't they?" I ask, smiling at the boy as I extend my hand to him.
He stares at the offer of help with a trembling lip and disbelieving eyes before grabbing the very tips of my fingers. I smile wider as I gently pull him back to his feet.
"T'ank you," he mumbles, shoulders hunched toward his ears and eyes studying the stones under his shoes.
I study him for a moment, my forehead creasing when his sheepishness doesn't let up.
"You know when I was a little girl, I once fell into a great big puddle of mud?"
His light brown eyes flit up to study me, suspicious of me.
"I tore a hole in my dress, and look at you! I can't even tell you took a tumble."
The corners of his mouth start to tip upward, and I can't help but smile wider in response.
"What's your name?" I ask him as I guide us both out of the way of a rickety wagon rattling with pots and pans.
"Nico," he answers, quiet as a mouse.
"Well, Nico, it's very nice to meet you. I'm Rosamar," I reply, shaking his hand slowly.
"Ros-a-mor?" he attempts.
"Rose, if that's easier to say. Rosamar can be a bit of a mouthful, can't it?"
The boy doesn't answer outright, but I'm rewarded with a real smile.
"Nico, come along now!" calls a middle-aged man a few paces ahead.
While Nico turns to nod his obedience, I slip my hand into my bag. When he turns back to face me, presumably to say goodbye, I hand him the pear.
"I always like one of these on mornings like this," I say as I press the fruit into his stubby hands.
"T'ank you!" His entire face spreads into a gap-toothed smile then, and my own widens to span from ear-to-ear.
I give his hand one last squeeze and ruffle his hair as he waves goodbye and toddles off, the pear in his mouth before he's taken two full steps.
'A nice way to start my new life,' I muse to myself as I straighten and continue on my way.
After many minutes of slipping along through the crowd and gaping at the ever-closer castle ahead of me, I finally make it across the bridge and into the city.
'Is it always this crowded?' wonders the solitude-loving part of me.
"Let's hope not," I mutter, squeezing through a particularly tight throng of giggling girls a few years my juniors. They all seem to be chattering about something, but I don't have the interest to listen and figure out what they're talking about. My ears picked up "handsome" and "dashing", and that was all I needed to hear. I'm not one to fawn over an supposedly attractive member of the opposite sex.
I'm about to cross the street, but I'm pushed back by the crowd suddenly surging tighter together, all craning their necks at something clip-clopping this way.
Slight annoyance presses my lips into a thin line, and I have to fight it back. Better not to start a new life getting short with my possible next-door neighbors.
"Didn't I tell you he was handsome?!" squeals a girl with a particularly high-pitched voice.
I refrain from rolling my eyes, but only because I'm too busy trying to fight my way through the crowd down the street.
Suddenly, the girls stop squealing, and a few collective gasps rise up amid the cheering. That does manage to get my curiosity, so I turn my gaze from my destination a few blocks down to the street. When I see the massive lion padding along next to a young man on a horse, I gasp too. I've seen that lion before.
"Aslan?" I whisper reverently. Yes, that can't be anyone other than the Great Lion Aslan. I thought he was regal the first time I saw him, but I can fully appreciate his majesty now that I can see his face, rather than only his back.
The cheering continues as I remain entranced by the sight of Aslan, walking the same street I'll be walking for the forseeable future.
Then I remember. Today is Prince Caspian's coronation. Well, King Caspian now. The young man beside Aslan must be the new king: the Telmarine crown is perched on his dark-haired head. He must've been the 'he' the girls were screeching about as well. A few of them resume their antics, maybe in the hopes he'll notice them. I almost smile in amusement, but I forget to when the new king's eyes suddenly connect with my own.
I swallow the lump of fear in my throat when a slight twinge of recognition flickers in the pit of my stomach. No, I don't know him. I've seen him before, yes, but he doesn't know me.
Luckily, his gaze moves on before I can puzzle over it any further. I watch the rest of the procession go on by, smirking slightly to myself when the girls shift their praises to focus on a blonde-haired young man riding behind King Caspian. I suppose he must be one of the Kings of Old. Rumor has it the four Kings and Queens from Narnia's Golden Age over a thousand years ago returned and helped Prince Caspian win back the throne from his uncle Miraz.
Eventually, the procession of Kings and Queens and Narnians passes on, and the crowds loosen up enough to let me continue squeezing past them. It's time I found my new home.
And to my delight, it turns out to be very easy to find, right along the street. I can even see the spinning wheels from the window. I take a deep breath, remind myself that I can do this, and walk through the open door.
"Ah, you must be Rosamar! Welcome, child! My my, you are a young thing, aren't you? Not yet twenty, I wager!"
I blink rapidly at the flurry of a greeting as I'm suddenly engulfed in a crushing hug.
"Er…no, madam. I'm only just nineteen," I mumble into her shoulder.
"Well you are young! A bit plain though. A very good thing you didn't look for work in a brothel, child."
My eyebrows jump a few inches up my forehead.
"Well…um…I…thank you?" I finally offer as a reply.
"Yes child, it was a compliment, of sorts. Now, gather your things and come with me. Best get you moved in, and you start as soon as you set your things down in your new home!"
"Y-yes madam," I splutter amid my efforts to take in the snug little shop I'm standing in. I heard this woman was a character, but now I think I understand that she's much more than I bargained for.
"Stop your stuttering child, I can't stand it!" she suddenly barks, releasing me from her crushing hold and grabbing my wrist as she bustles off out the back door.
"You may call me Sima, child," she answers, a bit kinder now that my voice is steady.
"Now, have you carded before?"
"I'm afraid I haven't. My family owned a tavern."
"Owned, eh? Not now?"
"It…burned down. Not long ago."
"Ah, and you wanted a new life?"
"I have for some time," I answer simply. I just met this woman; I've no desire to tell her of my history.
"Keep your secrets child, I've no use for them."
An audible sigh of relief escapes me at her dismissal of my vague answer.
We arrive at a row of three small little houses with faded stone walls, a thatched roof, and a pretty wooden door that creaks as Sima sweeps me inside the one on the far right.
"Here we are, your home sweet home. Put your things down, and I expect you back within the quarter hour, you hear?"
She's gone before I even finish the last syllable of her name, and I take one of my fifteen minutes to process this flurry of a woman. Well, I'll never be bored, that's a certainty. I'm not entirely sure how to feel about her, but I think she's a good woman. Eccentric and opinionated with most likely high expectations, but infinitely better than my parents.
My only concern is finding time to slip away to the woods and search for my entry tree; the one I've spent the past year looking for without any luck. But then again, that's what nighttime is for. I work best at night anyhow. The darkness doesn't unnerve me like it does most people. I welcome it. I can be what I like, with the darkness to cloak me.
I shake my head to quiet my thoughts and quickly lay my few bags in my living space. It's small, but it is cozy. The packed floor is clean and the walls are free of cobwebs, and there's even a quaint-looking fireplace. Heaven only knows where I'll get wood for it, since I always feel guilty about taking wood from trees, but it's a nice to have nonetheless.
I run my fingers over the sandpapered table, careful to avoid the splintering patch on the corner. I don't imagine I'll card very well with a sliver of wood embedded in my finger.
For now, that might be all the exploring I have time for, though there isn't much else to see. I'd like to impress Sima on my first day, if I can, and being back early might help with that. This new life looks like it could be quite a happy one, and I'm more than ready to start it.
It seems Sima's more than ready as well; the very instant my foot steps back inside the threshold of the workshop, she bustles over and thrusts a full basket of wool as wide as one and a half me's into my arms and throws two paddles that look very much like square brushes on top.
"Good, you're early! I show you how to card, and you finish this by the end of today. Agreed?"
I nod, but I don't know if she can see my head peeking out from behind the basket, so I call out a respectful "Yes, Sima" and shuffle over to the stool she's standing by, setting the basket down as gently as I can. As it is, a small puff of dust balloons up from the packed dirt floor.
"Call me Rose, please."
Aunt used to call me 'child'…
Sima raises an eyebrow at me, but she shrugs.
I sit, and place the basket next to me on the floor.
Sima grabs another basket from somewhere behind me and sits it next to me on my other side.
"Watch, and learn quickly. We work fast here," she instructs, the carding paddles already in her hands before she even finishes the first sentence. Fast indeed.
I just nod and focus on her hands as they expertly grab a handful of the raw wool and begin carding. Well, it looks very like brushing it between two brushes, actually. It looks easy enough, if somewhat tedious.
"Very simple, you see?"
Sima finishes the wool and tosses it into the empty basket.
"After you card it once, put it here. You will card it a second and third time later, but you need a finer paddle for that. You understand, no?"
"I do," I answer confidently. It looks easy indeed, and perhaps she'll let me sing while I do it.
"Good. Get started then, Rose, we only have half the day left!" Sima bustles back to another corner of the workshop and sits down at a spinning wheel, one of the several that I saw from the window.
I only waste a second staring in fascination before I pick up the paddles, grab a bit of wool, and begin.
Inside a minute, my arms are complaining piteously.
'How did she make it seem so easy?' I grumble inside my own head, my humming starting out of desperation.
"See child, it's not so difficult after all, no?"
I grunt out some sort of agreement, but Sima knows I'm being sarcastic and laughs at my grimace.
"You'll get used to it," a young woman I didn't notice before calls. I swivel on my stool to get a better look at the young woman perched at the spinning wheel just behind Sima's. That must be why I didn't see her before.
"I hope so," I answer, praying my arms don't start shaking and give Sima something else to laugh about.
"I'm Lilia, by the way. And you are?" She stops spinning for a moment to extend her hand to me.
"Rosamar. Rose for short, if you like," I say as I lean over and take her hand. The shop is just small enough that I can reach her fingertips.
"Which do you prefer?"
For a moment, I can only blink in confusion. Which do I prefer?
"I…don't know," I admit with just a little embarrassment.
"Let me know when you decide then." Lilia smiles warmly, and I can only stare back in confusion and slight surprise.
Well, now I know that's one thing I'll need to figure out. If she was interested enough to inquire, I'd best know the answer. Not that I expect anyone to repeat her kindness, but I do appreciate it a lot.
"How long have you been here?" I ask. I'd like a good conversation with kind Lilia.
"Two years. I've yet to find a better arrangement."
"And you won't either," Sima cuts in.
"Yes, I know," she laughs right back.
Is this normal, to joke around with our boss?
Lilia seems to notice my confusion, and nods discreetly. Either Sima is a very unique employer, or things back at Beruna are drastically different from things here in the city. I don't know what to think, but I suppose I better get used to it. If I'm to make my living here, I'd better learn how to blend in.
"And don't you worry, Rose, you'll ease up soon." Sima directs this at me and I quickly glance up at her in surprise.
"A job well done, as well," she adds.
I look down to see that my wool is carded, and looks almost as well done as Sima's sample.
"Do you talk often, to pass the time?"
"Very often, yes. It helps distract from any aches as well," Lilia explains with a knowing smile at my arms.
"Ah, but you will walk away with enviable shoulder muscles," Sima laughs as I rub one of my shoulders.
"I thought men were the ones with shoulder muscles," I grumble sarcastically.
"Only the ones who card," Lilia answers. Her straight face only puts a smile on mine.
I think I could grow used to this sort of atmosphere, even if the air in here is heavy with the smell of raw wool.
"If this keeps up, I suspect this will stop feeling like work."
"Quite right, child. Why else would we chatter so?"
"You chatter about anything when the mood strikes you," fires Lilia.
My eyebrows jump, but Sima just laughs. Another surprise in a day of many. I have a lot to learn.
"As long as we don't have to chatter endlessly about handsome men," I mutter, mostly to myself, but Lilia and Sima hear anyway.
"Ah, you heard some of the younger of the adolescent girls fawning over King Caspian?" Sima seems to know exactly what I'm talking about.
I nod as my lips curl inward toward my teeth in annoyance.
"One might think they were talking about a flower to put in their hair or a ribbon for their dress."
"They can be a bit silly, yes. But don't forget, they'll grow out of it."
I turn to Lilia with a slight smirk on my face.
"Please, tell me it'll be tomorrow."
They both chuckle, and I return my focus to my carding. I've still got a whole basket to finish.
And finish it I do, just as the sun sets.
"Impeccable timing, child!"
I nod my thanks to Sima and try not to think about how Aunt used to call me 'child' as well.
"Until tomorrow, Sima."
"With the sun, you hear?" she barks, though I suspect it's more playful than it sounds.
"I think all the city hears," Lilia answers for me.
"Off with you now, both of you!" comes the smirk-laden reply.
"Yes, Sima," we chorus.
Lilia links arms with me as we walk out, and stops for a moment before we part ways.
"I'm glad we met. I think you'll be happy here," she says simply.
I smile as she waves goodbye and disappears into her small abode next to mine.
'I think you're right.'