Chapter 20: Rosamar

The most difficult thing isn't hearing those evil things speak of what horrors they plan to inflict on Tanssi Kuun; the worst thing is knowing I'll have to tell the faeries exactly what those monsters have planned. No matter how strong I'm trying to be, the wave of fear and sorrow that awaits me at the telling makes me want to crumble right here.

I'll do no such thing.

Darin helps me cover up the hole in the ground we made, just to try and keep those things from getting any closer to the surface. Maybe they'll think it was a cave-in, and it'll slow them down. I know that's wishful thinking, but I can't help entertaining the notion.

He walks beside me as we leave to return to the faeries, but I can't find anything to say. I know he means to comfort me, but there's no comfort to be had, not now. Not with those things so close to the surface, and so bent on destroying the very place I'm duty-bound to protect.

How dare they! What gives them the right to worm their way under the faeries' home? Under my home? What right do they have to destroy us?!

I'm so caught in my thoughts that I almost forget that Darin's still walking with me. He looks so lost when I glance over at him. I think he would usually know better what to do, what to say, if it weren't for the lingering awkwardness from that accidental kiss.

I'd rather think of that than of Tanssi Kuun's fate if the earth-goblins get their way.

"You know they'll attack again," I say quietly. "Darin, you don't have to stick around for that. It'll be ugly."

A calloused hand takes mine, and I look away so he won't see the tears shining in my eyes. I've been trying to hold them back for the better part of an hour, and now my success in doing so is even more threatened.

"I'm not going anywhere."

This reassures me, in spite of my lingering embarrassment. Darin's been kind today, and he seems content to let the mistake fade into the past, at least until a more opportune time arises. I, for one, am hoping it never arises, but I can worry with that later.

I have half a mind to argue about Darin staying for the surely ugly fight, but he sounded so sincere that I don't have the heart. We've argued enough lately.

For the rest of the walk back, I don't say anything. There's nothing to say, really, and I have to use every moment I have to try to figure out what to do. We'll have to fight them, and soon, but it would behoove me to think of where the conflict should be, if I get any say in that. The woods might be best; the faeries know every tree, leaf, and branch; the earth goblins do not.

When we arrive back at the faeries' camp, King Caspian is still on watch, even though dawn is mere minutes away. When he hears us approaching, he stands with a solemn face, as if he's already guessed that something terrible is afoot.

"I'll finish the watch," I say as we get close enough to see the tired lines on his face.

For a moment, King Caspian parts his lips as if to argue, but he looks at me for a moment longer and closes them again. He nods once before going off to find some place to sleep.

"I'll tell everyone in the morning," I say to Darin.

"If you need anything…" he hesitates, clearly unsure of his words. "Well, just ask."

"I know." I squeeze his hand before turning away to finish the watch. Only when I'm sure I'm alone do I let my shoulders sag and my head fall into my hands.

How do I tell them this? How do I break this kind of news when I don't even know how to process it myself?

The earth goblins expect to break through to the surface by tomorrow afternoon, and that's assuming they don't find the hole Darin and I dug. Once they break through, it's only a matter of hours, maybe a day at most, until they can march their entire army through from underground.

An army from under the earth – I never thought I'd hear of that.

A sob builds in my chest at the hopelessness of the whole thing, but I know Darin and King Caspian won't have fallen asleep yet. The most I can allow myself is a few silent tears. They trickle down my cheeks in a much larger quantity than I anticipated.

Oh well, better to get them out now than be fighting them all day tomorrow.

A quiet whisper jolts me from my gloomy reverie, and I whip around to see Bashar looking at me sheepishly.

"I thought you could use some rest," she says. "Go, I'll finish the watch."

I want to protest, I truly do, but even I can't deny how tired I am just from the revelations of tonight.

"At least let me stay up with you until the moon rises," I answer with a fond smile. Seeing Bashar makes me think of our dance the other night, the first free-spirited fun we'd had in what had seemed like too long. I hope Tanssi Kuun can soon return to those days.

Bashar comes to sit beside me on the watching rock, her ribbons lighting up parts of the moss and throwing others into shadow. It transfixes me for a moment, perhaps for no other reason than I'm grasping for anything to distract me from the news I have to deliver in the morning.

"Something is troubling you, Rose. I have not felt you so upset in all the time you've been here," Bashar murmurs to me as I turn my gaze to the horizon.

"In the morning, I will tell everyone. I can tell you now if you wish, but I'm not sure how to say it yet." Normally I wouldn't be so honest, but with the faeries it seems to come naturally.

Bashar wraps ribbons around my shoulders until the chills brought on by the thought of what morning brings are chased away. I smile my gratitude just as the moon starts to peek over the horizon.

I'm so afraid whenever I look at the sky now that I'll see a distant flash, that when I return to the woods there will be another vast expanse of destruction in front of me.

A wave of comfort comes my way from the faerie next to me, but it isn't quite enough to keep my stormy thoughts at bay. I still can't reconcile how to break the bad news.

With Bashar next to me, I watch the moon slowly emerge in the sky. The sight, together with the faerie's comfort, is enough to calm me for a few moments. The moon is pearlescent as always, but something about it tonight seems even more beautiful than before.

I have to protect them.

Bashar hugs me tighter with her ribbons, until there's so much warmth that I can't feel gloomy anymore. I want so much for them to be safe, and I will do anything and everything in my power to make it so.

"Go to bed, Rose," Bashar tells me after a heartbeat. "You need your rest."

"But-" I start to protest, but I'm cut off by a firm shake of the head.

"Rose, go to sleep."

Bashar shoos me off with a few swats of her ribbons, and I have little choice but to obey. I make sure she can feel my gratitude as I head a little ways off to find a nice place to spend the next hour or two.

They're here. I can hear their marching, their cries of war, their grunts of anticipation. They have been looking forward to the day they bring war to a place that should never even hear the word.

All at once, they emerge from the trees, in greater number than I ever could have imagined. Grotesque creatures of every shape and size charge at us, waving crude weapons that make my stomach turn over in disgust. How are they already painted in blood?

They break onto us like a storm on land, unmerciful and joyous in their brutishness. And they have had the training to kill without thinking, almost without trying. Everywhere I look, one of the creatures I'm supposed to protect is being cut down by a rusty mace or a roughly hewn ax.

I'm failing, I'm failing and they're dying and there's nothing I can do.

Amid the din of the terrible, terrible bloodbath, another sound rises that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. A rattle, a menacing rattle that promises suffering and death and a thousand other horrible things.

An ugly green head rears above the masses of earth goblins and hisses with a smile in its eyes.

A snake.

I wake with a sweat beading on my brow and pounding heart to match it. A sick feeling of dread almost overwhelms me, and I jump to my feet with my hand on my dagger to meet whatever threat is here. Are the goblins here sooner than I thought?

No, this sound is not the sound of a goblin.

This is a snake's rattle.

I spin in circles trying to find the snake itself. If I can hear its rattle, it must be close.

The ringing of a sword being drawn from its scabbard halts my frantic spin for a moment, and I see King Caspian too has gotten to his feet. He hears the snake as well.

By silent agreement we come to stand by each other and face opposite directions, back to back so neither of us is vulnerable should this snake decide to show itself.

"Have you seen this before?"

"No," I answer King Caspian in a whisper that trembles.

A rushing sort of noise has me glancing to my right, into the woods. It almost sounds like something is slithering through there, rustling the leaves. King Caspian shifts slightly to his left; he hears it too.

Then, just as suddenly as it came, it's gone, leaving only silence in its wake.

King Caspian turns to me without sheathing his sword, eyes silently asking if I'm alright. I nod, but I tremble as I keep my dagger in front of me. It could come back.

How did it get in my dream?

Or worse, perhaps it crept into my dream because it was already approaching as I was waking up.

A hand on my arm pulls me from my thoughts, and I almost curse when I realize that I'm still shaking a bit.

"I think the danger has passed," King Caspian murmurs, sheathing his sword as he finishes the reassurance. The dull ring brings me back to my senses and reminds me to put my weapon away too.

I only notice that King Caspian's hand is still on my arm when I look up from sheathing my own blade. At first, I glance at it in confusion. And then my common sense rears its head and reminds me that the king is most likely trying to comfort me.

Why is it working?

"What is a snake doing in Tanssi Kuun?" I whisper, more to the still morning air than to King Caspian. Yet, he replies.

"Perhaps that is our enemy," he answers as quietly as I asked, looking off in the direction of the snake with his eyebrows pinched together and his mouth drawn into a tense line.

"One of them," I correct, instantly remembering the earth goblins I found last night.

I still don't know how to break that news.

"The snake and the goblin creatures could be working as one."

It's only then that I realize he said our. Our enemy, he said, not Tanssi Kuun's, not mine, but ours. What ours? And why does the thought stir up a strange warmth in my heart?

"Perhaps." This is all I say; the rest, he will know soon enough.

I begin to walk away, but King Caspian stops me with a question that I almost hate, but he sounds so concerned that I can't hate it completely.

"What happened last night?"

If his intention was to stop me in his tracks, then by the Lion he's succeeded. And I haven't the faintest idea how to answer his question, or if I should even answer it at all. He'll know with all the rest of them soon enough.

So why I open my mouth and let many, many words spill out, I will never know.

"Darin and I found a tunnel under the burned forest. Caspian, there's an army of the earth goblins. And they're coming here very soon, perhaps tomorrow. I don't know if we'll be able to hold them off."

I had no need to tell him all that, yet I did so anyway. What on earth is the matter with me?

For his part, King Caspian doesn't know what to say at first; he only looks sorry, so very sorry at the news. I'm expecting the next words out of his mouth to be more questions, a request for further details, but he surprises me.

"I will ensure that I am here to help you."

"Have you gone mad?" I hiss in reply. "You're the king of Narnia, and I will not have you killed here, no matter the reason!"

Darin staying is one thing, but the king of Narnia? That's a risk I refuse to take.

"Surely you don't doubt my abilities in battle, Rosamar?" the king answers with an odd little half-smirk adorning his face.

"Of course not, but numbers can outmatch skill. And if something were to happen to you…by the Lion Caspian, have you even thought of what that would look like? What it would mean?" I push all this out in a mere two breaths, and my head is spinning by the time I finish, no doubt thanks to my hurried reply as well as the fierce determination shining in King Caspian's eyes as he looks at me.

"I am well aware, but I cannot simply leave you and the faeries to fight those creatures on your own," King Caspian argues his case right back, and something tells me he won't back down quietly.

"You must! This isn't your fight-" I snap back as I fold my arms over my chest in both annoyance and fear.

"Yes, it is. I made you a promise, Rose, and I intend to keep it. A king is only as good as his word."

"A king's word is not worth so much when he is dead." As soon as I've said that, I know it's the exact wrong thing to say. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean…" I trail off, unsure of how exactly to end the apology without making things worse.

King Caspian gains a harder, angry edge to his gaze, even after I've said I'm sorry.

"I know you didn't," he says, but the anger doesn't vanish from his eyes. "But if I leave now, when you have the greatest need of me, how is that right?"

"Sometimes right doesn't matter. You are the King of Narnia, Caspian. You are needed to rule, while I am not." I say this in an attempt at reason, but something tells me it's not going to work, not with how stubborn the king is.

"And were something to happen to you, who would look after Tanssi Kuun?" Caspian could have raised his voice for that, but the question is surprisingly gentle.

I don't have an answer to that. Darin has the other pendant, but he hasn't been prepared for it, and he never asked for the responsibility. Caspian's eyes bore into mine, and I already know I've lost the argument. He steps forward until he's barely inches in front of me and puts his hands on both my shoulders. I don't want to look him in the eye, but he doesn't give me a choice.

"You will fight beside them no matter, yes?"

"Yes," I whisper. I want to shout it.

"As will I." King Caspian's tone brokers no argument, and his hands don't move from my shoulders.

If anything happens to him…

"Promise to stay as safe as you can," is my answer. If I can't outright ban him from the fight, maybe I can extract some sort of promise from him. "The king can't just disappear into thin air, not now."

King Caspian frowns and the anger in his eyes flashes up again, but he nods his agreement as his hands slip from my shoulders. I don't know what to say, so I stay silent. After a few moments of unpleasant silence, I turn to go, but Caspian takes my hand before I can take a single step.

"Why did you come to me? At the castle?"

"I needed your help. Even if I didn't think you had the time, I had to ask." The faeries were more important than my pride; surely he understands that.

"You had Darin."

Why is he acting like this? I'm not sure what he wants, but the way he says that makes anger tickle at the edges of my voice.

"Three are stronger than two, and he couldn't train everyone all the time," I answer. Even I can hear how quickly my voice has gone cold. Why do I have to fight with both of them at once?

King Caspian still hasn't let go of my hand.

"Do you want me here, Rose?"

At the moment? No, I'm fairly sure I could do without him. But Tanssi Kuun needs him, and wants him too, so I can't speak for myself, especially not now with the battle so close.

But I can't lie either.

"What this world needs will always trump anything I want." Now I think it's my tone that brokers no argument. And yet, Caspian still finds a way.

"Rose, do you?" His voice is soft and almost vulnerable, if such an adjective could ever be used to describe a king. I think he's trying to get me to meet his gaze, but I decide the grass behind him is a better place to look.

"Did you not hear me? I said it doesn't matter," I say firmly, as I make my first attempt at pulling my hand away. I'm not expecting the king to hold on.

"I'd like to know," he presses on, still keeping my hand from slipping from his.

One of the most uncomfortable silences in my life follows that. I've told him twice now that it doesn't matter if I want him here or not, and he hasn't listened then. Why would he listen if I tell him a third time? He clearly won't give up until he gets a straight answer.

But I can't put Tanssi Kuun in danger, can I? And yet, I've never been the best at lying.

Maybe if I tell him the truth, he'll at least leave the issue be. He did say he'd fight with us in no uncertain terms. But then, if I tell him no, perhaps that would be enough to change his mind about staying.


Wait…what did I just say?

Caspian heard me; his grip on my hand softens, and his fingers curl into mine until I look down and see that our hands are now intertwined. Did that mean so much to him?

But I don't want him here, I know that. I don't, I can't want him here because why would I want help when I know people have a tendency to let you down eventually? I know that, don't I?

Then why is a small part of me whispering that no, I do want him here?

I want to take it back; I have to take it back. And I don't. I let that one awful word hang in the air, perhaps because I know that I truly can't take it back now that it's been said.

Throughout this entire thought process, I'm staring at the ground, only glancing up when I notice Caspian shifting. Quickly, my gaze returns downward. I don't want to see his reaction to that. Lion, I wouldn't want to see my own reaction to something like that!

I'm so busy staring down and investigating the grass under my shoes that I don't realize Caspian's moved closer until my eyes slip up a little and I notice a pair of boots mere inches away from my own two feet. Before I can react to that development alone, two arms wrap around me and draw me in close, so close that if I breathe a little quieter, I can hear a slow and steady heartbeat.

I do not like hugs.

I like this one, and I hate that I like it.

Caspian doesn't seem to mind my sudden conversion to a stone statue. If anything, he takes it as a sort of challenge; his embrace only tightens, as if he can squeeze a response or some sort of life out of me. Goodness knows he should know better by now, but I suppose he can learn his lesson the hard way.

So why are my arms circling around his back, and why is my neck slowly relaxing, muscle by muscle, until I'm outright leaning against the King of Narnia's chest? None of this is like me at all, and I like it, and I don't like it. Things just had to turn confusing this close to the battle, didn't they?

A warm breath tickles the hair on top of my head, and I have to strain to hear the king's words.

"Thank you," is all he says, so quietly. Perhaps he's hoping I won't hear, but what sense would that make?

We stay like that for far too long for my comfort, and at the same time not long enough. By the Lion, I hate these sorts of feelings. Caspian loosens his arms from around me and withdraws a bit, leaving a slight chill on my cheek where it was resting so peacefully, and un-peacefully too, over his heart.

Perhaps it should be much stranger to me than it actually is that I now know what the king's heartbeat sounds like.

My musings are quickly snapped out of my mind when I see Caspian bending down toward me, lips ever so slightly parted. No, he's not about to…no, he wouldn't…we wouldn't…no.

Am I going completely mad?

Mad or no, Caspian's lips are now a mere breath away from my own and I have to decide now what to do. Heavens help me, I'll not forgive myself no matter what I do.

So I go with the safest option, the option that makes the most sense.

I pull away.

"I can't," I whisper. "We can't."

He knows that and I know that. When was this even an issue, anyway?

But Caspian understands what I mean instantly, and I try my best not to be disappointed when he withdraws and releases me from his arms. I should be nothing but relieved.

"I'm sorry Rose, I don't know what came over me."

The apology stings, and I have no idea why. But rather than complicating everything further by vocalizing this distress, I opt to mask it and pretend for just a few moments that I'm only relieved and nothing more.

"It's alright," I hear myself replying, without being quite sure of my words as they leave my lips.

With that, Caspian steps back and leaves me to my thoughts. I try my best not to miss him as he goes.

As morning stretches on and the faeries gradually wake up, I remain as confused as ever. In fact, I stay rooted to that one spot, that one terrifying spot where I think the King of Narnia was about to kiss me.

What a start to the day.

Bashar is the one to find me still standing in that exact same spot.

"He meant well."

This is how my guide announces her presence, and I try not to get aggravated. I know he didn't mean ill, but I do know that I'm confused and very much wishing the whole thing never happened.

"He could have had better timing," I grumble in response, more for the release that the attempt at levity will bring. But considering the situation, it falls entirely flat.

I'd rather change the subject than anything else.

"When is your month up? I remember you mentioning that when you first came here quite a few moons ago." Basher must have picked up on my aversion to our previous topic, and I try to perk up my own spirits in response. I don't want to weigh anyone else down this morning, especially not one of the faeries I'm sworn to protect at all costs. Yet, there is no good news to answer that question either.

"Oh no, I think it's either today or tomorrow…" Time flies, I suppose, but how am I supposed to leave now, with the earth-goblins so close and so eager to tear this beautiful place to pieces?

"Go. We will be alright for the hours you will be gone," Bashar says, taking my hand and drawing me into the swirl of her ribbons. They tickle my skin in the most pleasant sort of way as they dance about.

"Tanssi Kuun is infinitely more important than my work, Bashar."

The faerie fixes me with a stern look in reply.

"Rose, you'd best check on things in Narnia, at least briefly. We will still be here when you return, I promise."

"You had better be."

Bashar's ribbons tell me more than her words; they warm to the point of discomfort, and I quickly understand that fear burns just as sorrow does. With fear, the burn is sharper and comes in bursts.

"You can't ask me to leave you at a time like this," I continue, my fingers fiddling with one of the scorching ribbons as I speak. "How can I keep you safe if I'm not even in the same world?"

"I don't need to remind you that you do not live here. Take care of things in Narnia as fast as you can, and then return to us." Bashar leans in until her head rests against mine, and I wonder at how bright she is. "I would not have you get in trouble for our sakes."

I pause and consider. That takes so long that by the time I've reached my conclusion, everyone else is taking breakfast before training starts today. This day's lessons will be the most important yet.

And then I remember the news. I remember the army and the awful plans I have to tell the faeries about. I'm still not ready, but I'll have to be.

My heart in my throat, I call them to me and hope my face doesn't betray everything just yet. Then again, perhaps that would be easier, if they guess instead of me forcing the words from my mouth.

Nothing about this will be easy, and they deserve to know.

"Darin and I discovered something last night," I begin. My throat is already going dry and scratchy, and the faeries are listening attentively.

"There is an army of earth goblins that have been tunneling under us for quite some time. They will arrive at the surface in a matter of hours."

Is my voice shaking so much? I clear my throat and continue.

"They mean to wipe this earth clean of all of us. The attacks of late have been an attempt to reduce our numbers enough that when they come at their full strength, we will have no way of opposing them," I continue, keenly aware that tears are starting to prick at my eyes. "They could be here as soon as tomorrow."

Silence greets me, but I feel the surprise mixed with fear emanating from each and every one of the creatures I am to defend. My own surprise joins the mix when I feel the burn of fear lessen as they continue to look at me. Is that determination?

At the realization that it is, a little spark of my own fills my chest. If the faeries believe we can beat this, why should I not feel the same? If they can hope, I must do the same. We have help; we may yet survive this.

But at what cost?

That question makes my brief spurt of hope flicker down again, until it's barely a whisper.

I have to finish telling them.

"Today, we have to train as much as we can. I promise, I will do everything in my power to look after you, but we all have to be ready to throw these evil things out of our world." My voice gradually rises in volume, and with it comes a will of iron.

Hope remains elusive, but the least I can do is give the earth creatures the hardest fight of their lives. I'll make them sorry they ever wanted to end this place, I swear.

"I have to return to Narnia for a brief time, but I'll be back as soon as I am able. Take care in my absence, please," I end with a whisper that almost breaks at the end. I can't bear to think of something happening to any one of them, especially not now.

Now that I've delivered the necessary news, I let my shoulders relax just a little and start to walk away from my solitary position in front of everyone. Darin quickly approaches me.

"I will look after them until you come back," he says, and for a moment it's like nothing strange ever happened between us.

"Thank you. I'll be back as quickly as I can." I smile as I say this, in the hope that things really can be as they were between us. For right now, it almost seems like they could.

I prepare to leave after this reassurance, but before I head off I seek out King Caspian just so I'll know what his plans are. He answers my unspoken question the second he sees me approaching.

"I am not expected at the castle for another few hours. I hope to wait until you return." Caspian smiles, but it looks just a little pained.

"Take care of them," is the only thing I say back. And with that, I start to head towards the entry tree. Bashar stops me after a few steps with one of her ribbons that winds around my wrist.

"I will be back as soon as I am able, I promise," I whisper as she darts forward into my arms.

I only relented on this because I've fought too much as of late and I'm tired of it, and the earth goblins should not be here before tomorrow. I'm sure Sima won't keep me long, and even if it seems as though she will, I think an excuse to leave won't be so very difficult to conjure up. I need to be here with the faeries after this battle is over too, assuming I survive.

"Hurry back to us," Bashar whispers, wrapping her ribbons around us until I can't see anything else. I've missed the comfort the faeries bring; we've all been training so much lately that moments like these are not so easy to come by as they were when I first arrived.

I leave then, and I try not to think how much I'll miss this place even for the few hours I'll be gone. I got used to spending all my time here for the past month; it'll be strange to be out in sunlight again.

The moment I set foot back into Narnia, I feel much lonelier and much more afraid. At least in Tanssi Kuun, I know I'm there to defend the faeries against the dangers; now I have to trust Darin and Caspian to do my job while I spin another story for Sima.

On my walk through the woods, I come up with a believable enough story about one of my relatives dying and the funeral happening very soon, and I only came back to grab a few of my things. It's the best I can come up with but I'm fairly sure it'll work.

That is, until I see the guards on my front doorstep.

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