Chapter 21: Caspian
Caspian won't deny that he's the tiniest bit relieved when Rose leaves to straighten out her life in Narnia. He'd made a bit of a mistake this morning, and he is not entirely sure how to act around her now.
He had quietly known that he was developing feelings of some substance for Rose, but it wasn't until he almost kissed her without thinking that he understood exactly what kind of feelings he was dealing with.
By the Lion, Professor Cornelius was right. Under normal circumstances, this would come as no surprise to Caspian, but for this particular topic he is absolutely shocked.
He doesn't blame her a bit for turning him away.
She likely knows as well as he does that it would be endlessly complicated were something to happen between them. The court, while pleasant enough to mingle with at feasts, had plenty of ugly sides as well, and Rose was certainly not the type to put up with that sort of thing on a regular basis. Caspian deals with the nobility day in and day out, and while some of them are wholeheartedly decent, there are just as many who are not.
Then there was the small matter of what being with the King of Narnia meant. Supposing things were to work out between them, Caspian was well aware that his wife would become the Queen of Narnia. That was a heavy responsibility, and Rose already had one world to take care of; she had no room for another in her life.
And of course there was the detail that all things considered, they had known each other perhaps a few weeks. If he knew Rose at all, he knew it would take months, if not years, to build enough trust with her to merit any sort of relationship beyond friendship. As it was, he had a feeling much of their friendship was based on Tanssi Kuun, and were it not for the world's need, they might never have gotten closer than knowing each other names.
In a way, he supposes he owes Tanssi Kuun a thank you. Even though nothing more can come of it, he is glad to have someone like Rose to call a friend. Here, she is not afraid to speak her mind, to disagree with him. It's an odd relief, to find someone outside the council who isn't afraid to challenge him. The only way it would be better would be if Rose could understand that his life should not mean more than hers or anyone's.
Caspian is distinctly sure that if he tries to tell her anything of the sort she will disagree and spell out all the reasons Narnia needs him, and so he thinks that the battle is better left unfought. If he thought there to be any hope of changing her mind, of course he would try to do so, but there does not seem to be. They would have plenty of fighting to do soon, and perhaps afterward when things have calmed down he will try.
Supposing Rose ever wishes to speak to him again, that is.
He probably should not have asked her if she wanted him here, but something about the whole scenario had reminded him of the Kings and Queens of Old. While he would always appreciate their help, it had been jarring to suddenly not be in charge anymore, and he had struggled with the idea that the Narnians didn't need or want him anymore once their beloved monarchs had returned. This had felt similar somehow, though he knew it was in fact a very different situation.
If he thinks about it, he's sure that more than asking if she wanted him around here and now, he was really asking if she would want him around later, when there was no threat to Tanssi Kuun. She'd looked like she would say she wouldn't, and he had honestly expected a negative reaction. But then she'd said she did, even if she looked unsure of the word as it was slipping out of her mouth and every moment afterward too.
Just then, the earth trembles under his boots. A low rumbling slowly builds and builds in volume until it seems the very sound itself is shaking the ground.
Have the earth creatures arrived early?
Darin runs off toward the forest with his sword drawn, and Caspian quickly decides that the faeries need to form up in case it truly is the army Rose told them of hardly an hour ago.
"Form up!" he calls to them as he draws his own sword.
They instantly do as he says, but he can see the dread in their eyes. The weapons they've made of wood and stone look primitive and hopeless when he looks at his own sword. What will the earth creatures have?
Darin comes tearing back from the woods with blood on his sword. The low roar starts to die down, but it's still loud enough to send chills down Caspian's spine.
"They sent scouts to the surface. The rest will be here in hours," Darin gasps out, cleaning his blade on the grass as he relays the news. That shaking in the ground must be them breaking through the last of the earth above.
"Rose," both of them say at once, and when Darin meets Caspian's worried look, Caspian realizes two things. First, one of them has to go and get Rose immediately. Second, Darin is in love with her.
For the moment, the first is infinitely more pressing than the second, so Caspian sheathes his sword in a hurry and tells the breathless young man no older than him that he'll go and fetch Rose as quickly as he can if Darin will just get the faeries ready for the impending battle until they return.
He's a bit surprised when Darin agrees without a moment's hesitation, but perhaps he knows Rose will be both proud and grateful to know that he prepared the faeries. Whatever the case, Caspian knows now is not the time to ponder; he takes off for the entry tree at a full-out run.
As he races through the grass that comes almost to his shoulders, he tries not to think too much about how hard Rose will take the sudden turn of events. She was barely ready to lead the faeries into combat a day hence; now, with hours left that will be spent simply getting back to Tanssi Kuun, Caspian knows it will be even harder on her.
Rose will have no time at all to prepare.
Caspian almost wishes he could spare her, but at the same time he knows it's best to get the battle over with so Tanssi Kuun can, perhaps, return to a time of peace. Peace comes easier to Rose's world than to Narnia. He'd envy it if he didn't love the place and its inhabitants so dearly.
Crossing into Narnia doesn't bring the same rush of kingly duty as it has in the past; now, Caspian's only thought is to find Rose and get her back.
She'd be safer if she missed the battle entirely, but he knows well that she would never forgive herself, or him for that matter. Her safety means little to her if Tanssi Kuun is in danger, as she clearly showed when she tackled him the first night he came to her world.
A cramp starts in Caspian's side from the continuously hard pace he won't back down from, but he only forces himself to run that much faster. The faster he runs, the sooner Rose will know what's going on.
By the time the stitch in his side is so bad he has to relent, he's moments away from the city gate and he has to slow down anyway to avoid attracting attention. He still walks as fast as he can, and he keeps his head down in the hopes that no one will recognize him. He makes it to Sima's wool shop without incident, and the brusque woman opens the door a few moments after his knock.
"Your Majesty, you visit again!"
At once, Caspian knows something is wrong. Sima's cheerfulness is forced this time, and there is no gruffness about her. Something's rattled the fiery matron, and Caspian has a sinking feeling that it involves Rose.
"I apologize for the interruption, but is Rose at home?"
Sima opens the door wider and gestures for him to come inside. After a moment, Caspian does, but his worry only grows at Sima's unusual silence. Last he was here, she was bustling about and chattering away, even though she was clearly caught off-guard by his sudden appearance at her door. Now, she is nearly silent with eyes that look red from crying.
As soon as he steps inside, he sees Lilia sitting on her stool with eyes even more red than Sima's. The younger woman wrings her hands continuously, even as she stands and dips into a small curtsy.
"I swear, Your Majesty, Rose isn't the sort to plot. She's odd at times, believe me I know, but she only goes to the woods to dance, and-"
"What's happened? Where is Rose?" Caspian only realizes after he's spoken that he interrupted, but no one seems to notice or even care.
"The soldiers came and took her away not two hours ago, Majesty. Forgive us, we thought you had ordered it," Sima answers in a shaky voice that sounds so very unlike her.
At once, Caspian feels his blood practically boil in anger. Who ordered Rose's arrest, if he did not? The council? The Lord Regent? On what evidence?!
"Thank you my ladies, I will see to this myself. But I swear to you, this was not done on my command," Caspian grits out, barely noticing that his fists are clenching until his nails press against his palm.
He says the briefest goodbye he can, and then Caspian storms off toward the castle without stopping to wonder at just how furious he happens to be. His only thought is getting Rose out so she can help Tanssi Kuun and once that is accomplished he will find out who ordered this and hang them out to dry.
Caspian finds that he reaches the castle quicker than he anticipated, but then again he's not paying too much attention to his walk, not with this new development taking over all his mental energy. The guards don't question him at all this time; Caspian supposes he must look incensed enough that they know not to push him.
He throws open the castle doors and heads straight for the dungeon, still fuming. He knows that they will have taken her down here, and he fully intends to have several rather emphatic words with the guards alone. When he reaches the dungeon door, he throws that open too and barks at the first guard he sees.
"You recently brought a young woman down here, by the name of Rosamar. Where is she?!" he yells, not quite intending to shout as loudly as he did, but not really regretting it either.
"The th-third cell on the right," stammers the wide-eyed guard.
Caspian holds out his hand for the key ring, which the guard quickly supplies. The jingling of the metal only makes Caspian that much more enraged.
"Who ordered this?" Caspian snarls, while he's thinking of it.
"The Lord Regent," here the guard gulps visibly, paling in the sight of the king's barely contained anger, "Your Majesty."
Caspian says nothing more; he merely nods curtly and rushes down the stairs, his frown deepening when his boot hits a slippery spot. Rose could have fallen on steps this slick, and if he finds out she did then the guard who dragged her down the steps will answer to him as well.
The keys clink coldly as Caspian strides down the hall and stops at Rose's door. There she is, huddled in a ball at the far corner, face hiding in her arms and hair flowing over her legs.
"Rose," Caspian says, the anger gone from his voice in an instant.
She jumps a little and her face appears from behind her hair. And then it seems she realizes who's standing at her cell door, and she jumps to her feet with a look of plain gratitude on her face. Caspian's a little surprised to see that her eyes are not red like Sima's or Lilia's, that the only mark of her ordeal is the heaviness hidden deep in her gaze.
"I suppose this wasn't your order then?" Rose says mildly. He gets the idea she's trying to bring some levity to the situation, but he can only manage a strained smile in reply.
"Rose I'm so sorry, I had no idea-"
"I know." And she does, he can see it in how she looks at him: relieved, hopeful, with no traces of anger or fear or confusion. The sight roots Caspian to his spot, though he doesn't quite understand why.
"Are you going to let me out or just stand there?" Rose asks with a smile that's just a little too sad.
Caspian immediately shakes himself from his stupor and unlocks the door, hating the rattling of the keys as much as before. Rose steps out with only the slightest tremor in her step, but he notices that she's walking stiffly.
"Are you alright?" he asks at once.
"I'm not used to sitting down for so long," she answers, still trying to keep her voice light and still not quite achieving it.
That's a lie, and he thinks they both know it. Carding wool meant sitting down for hours at a time.
"Caspian," she interrupts. "I'm fine."
He's still not convinced, but the distant look in her eye and her hand intertwining with his convinces him to let it lie for now. It's then, with her hand cool in his, that Caspian remembers why it was so very urgent that he find her in the first place.
"Rose, we need to get back. The army will be there today, they've almost broken through." The dismal words feel heavy on Caspian's tongue, but this is the entire reason he came here.
Ironically, it was good that the earth creatures came when they did, or he would not have known of Rose's plight for hours more, perhaps longer. Just thinking about Rose sitting silently in this cold and damp cell for hours on end is enough to get him spitting mad again.
Caspian remains lost in thought until Rose bolts away from him down the hall, and then he realizes how upset she must be.
"Rose!" In an instant, he's caught up to her and catches her arm.
"I don't have time-"
"We'll take Destrier, it will be much faster," Caspian explains as he keeps their pace at a rather brisk walk.
When they get to the stairs, however, Rose breaks away and takes them two at a time, and Caspian has little choice but to follow suit. As Caspian passes the guard, who still looks a little pale, he tosses the keys back and grabs the dagger on the table without a second glance.
Caspian makes only one stop, one that Rose shoots him an impatient look for, and that is to get Queen Lucy's cordial. When Rose questions him, he reminds her that a battle is coming and there will be plenty who need the cordial's healing powers. By Rose's confused face, she'd never heard of the item before, but they're hurrying outside before Caspian has time to explain it to her.
By the time they reach the stables Rose is clearly out of breath, but she refuses to slow down even when Caspian tells her she needs to be at her full strength for the battle.
"I can catch my breath on the way," is all she says.
Caspian calls for Destrier to be readied at once. Although the stable boys do their level best to meet the sudden demand, Rose still paces irritably with her arms crossed over her chest. Under normal circumstances, Caspian thinks he would try to calm her, but nothing about today has been normal at all. If Caspian were not king, he would likely pace with her.
The moment Destrier stands ready with his saddle secure, Caspian takes the reins and holds them while he tells Rose to jump on. She hesitates, and Caspian realizes that she has most likely never ridden a horse in her life.
"Put your foot in the stirrup and jump up," he tells her. As soon as he's said it, he thinks it might be better if he helps her up himself, so he calls to the stable boy again and gets him to hold the reins.
Rose looks like she might protest for a moment, but the frantic worry shines in her eyes again and she doesn't utter a contrary word. So Caspian swings up first and then extends his hand down to her. Soon enough, she settles behind him. At first, she keeps her hands at her side, but when Caspian gently reaches around and puts her hands around his waist, she doesn't stop him or pull away.
"Hold on," he tells her, and then Destrier springs into action and they're galloping out of the stables.
Rose clings to him then, no doubt unnerved by going so fast on an animal she'd previously never been astride. But Caspian knows that she'll ask him to go faster if he tries to slow down for her sake, so he pretends not to notice her death-grip around his ribcage and simply presses Destrier on. As they pass through the city, Caspian is forced to slow down simply to avoid hitting the citizens roaming about. He can feel Rose tense behind him at the less frenzied pace.
The moment they're out of the city, he urges his horse back to the fastest gallop possible with two riders. Destrier tosses his head, indignant at the extra load, and Caspian has to soothe him with several pats to the neck and more than a few soothing words.
Weaving in and out of the trees proves a little more difficult, and Caspian is starkly reminded of the night he rode for his life through these very woods when his nephew was born. Now he is racing toward something, rather than away, but the suffocating feeling of time running out is the same.
"They took my dagger," Rose says suddenly, as if she's just remembered.
In answer, Caspian holds up the very article she was missing; he'd grabbed it from the guard's table as he was storming by, and he'd forgotten to give it to her before now. She takes it from him with a murmured thank you and releases one arm from holding on to his torso to strap the dagger around her hips.
When they finally reach the entry tree, Rose leaps from the horse before Caspian can help her down and presses her pendant into the tree bark. The door opens, they ride through, and at once the ugly sound of thousands of marching feet attacks their ears.
Any moment now, it will begin.