Chapter 23: Rosamar
Once the enemy has fled, the full cost of the battle is readily apparent. Bodies lay strewn about the field, some in pieces and some mangled so badly that I can't tell what they would have looked like before. What brings me to my knees is seeing that the faeries who have died number almost as many as the earth goblins.
Hundreds, thousands perhaps. My teacher is gone, not three feet from where I stand now. Could I have helped him, had I known? Was there anything I could have done?
Caspian lays a hand on my shoulder and pulls me to my feet.
"Those still here are safe, Rosamar. You must think of that first."
My lip trembles as I look out at the devastation, but I know deep down that Caspian is right. The cost was awful, but now they're safe. We are all safe. That's what we were all fighting for, and now it's come to fruition. I think, perhaps, I should be more relieved, but then again the relief can come later, after we mourn those who didn't live to see Tanssi Kuun restored. When we have mourned, that will be our next task, to rebuild.
Already, the moon is a little brighter. It's dim in places, yes, but with so many lost that is to be expected. If the moon gets its light from the faeries, it too will suffer from our losses today. But for those who have survived, they do glow a little brighter. My own blade glows again, long enough to be considered a respectable sword.
Slowly, I limp toward the faeries who still hover in the air. They all gather around me, Caspian in their midst. For a moment, my heart is in my throat as I realize that I haven't seen Darin since the start of the battle, but my worry is eased when he too joins the mass of us.
"We are safe now," I say quietly, my voice hoarse and rough from the grueling fight. "We will mourn those who could not see this, but we will also celebrate when we have buried them. They would want us to do that, I think." Unshed tears make my voice crack in places, but underneath the drowning grief there is, as Caspian said, a flicker of hope, of triumph.
Tanssi Kuun is safe. The faeries are safe. I haven't failed them.
My breath leaves me in a rush and a smile that's both sorrowful and peaceful blooms on my face. The faeries have similar expressions as they look at me. We've both lost and won, and now we have to come to terms with that. I don't know how, but at least we can figure it out together.
As I'm looking over at everyone who's survived, I notice Darin clutching his arm and trying to hide a pained expression. In an instant, I hurry over asking what's wrong.
"Rose, what happened?" is the first thing that comes out of his mouth through gritted teeth.
"I could ask you the same thing," I fire right back, ignoring that yes, my own wounds are starting to catch up to me and seeing straight isn't what it used to be.
Darin set his jaw, and starts to let go of his arm, but I quickly frown, tell him to stop being so ridiculous and let me help him already.
"Caspian, the cordial," I call when Darin moves his hand and I see just how deep the gash is.
"Enough Darin," I finally snap. "You helped us, now let me help you."
If I didn't know better, I'd say that little gleam in Darin's eye is amusement. I'm distracted from it for a moment when Caspian presses the cordial into my hands, but when I look over there it is again.
"What's so amusing?" I grumble as I unscrew the top of the cordial and tip a drop, as per Caspian's instructions, into Darin's mouth.
"Only you could be so cross with a wounded man," he replies with a smirk that looks entirely too well on him.
I'm not sure whether to take that as a compliment or a playful insult, so I smile a pinched smile and smack him lightly on his unhurt arm. His eyes widen when the cordial does its work, and I too have to be surprised. It's as if Darin was never hurt at all.
"You next," Caspian says sternly.
Just as I open my mouth to protest, never mind the black spot or two in my line of sight, Darin jumps on the topic as well.
"Rose, come now," he says, more playfully than seriously. "It's not poison."
"I know that." There's no use in arguing, not when I'm hoping to return to work with Sima in a few days' time. Various scars and wounds would prompt far too many questions, so I quietly let Darin tip a drop into my mouth.
Sure enough, it works better than magic; within a few minutes every last scratch is stitched up and erased as if it never was.
"That's rather handy, isn't it," I say once I'm as good as new. The only thing the cordial doesn't do is remove the grime of battle from my skin and clothes, but I'm not going to complain.
"And now it's your turn, Caspian." I can't deny that I take obvious relish in turning the tables on him now, but even that little joy feels empty underneath it all. In time, perhaps that will fade.
He too looks like he'll protest, but he's the king and he can't go back to Narnia all battle beaten without more questions being asked. I'm sure our wild ride through the city this morning raised enough concerns as it is. I say as much, and after I repeat it Caspian relents.
"It is for serious injuries," he says once the cordial has worked its magic.
"As yours were," I answer firmly. He really can be so impossible at times.
From there, it's time to heal the faeries who still live. Destrier is found grazing by one of the faeries, and he's left grazing, albeit a bit closer by. My first task is to see if any of those lying on the ground still breath; some do, but many do not. For those lucky ones who have some life left in them, Caspian gives them the cordial and before long they're as good as new. Well, almost; the horrors of battle have dimmed their lights a little, and their eyes are heavy and sad underneath the relief that Tanssi Kuun is finally safe.
Some ask who has been lost, and every time I have to tell them that I don't know yet. We can only look to the dead when I'm sure that there's no one else the cordial can save.
Time drags and races as Caspian and Darin and I make our way around the battle ground looking for anyone we can help. Darin and I check for signs of life and Caspian administers the miracle cordial. This means that when one of the faeries slips through my fingers before we can give it the potion, Caspian is there to see the tears that fall from my eyes. Sometimes, he wipes them away, but I notice that it's only when Darin is occupied.
When at last every faerie who can be saved has been helped, it's time to bury the ones we've lost. I realize vaguely that neither Caspian nor Darin have seen the farewells to the dead here, but I'm not about to tell them what happens. It was a sad and wonderful surprise when I first saw it, and I want the same experience for them.
Because there are so many, the faeries and I silently agree to bring the bodies all to one place and bury them that way. Caspian and Darin catch on soon enough, and in this manner all the fallen faeries, within a few hours, have been laid together in the clearing. This is where I first met many of them, in fact all but Bashar, my guide.
My heart clenches at the happy memory and the bitter understanding that a good number of the faces I saw on my first night here now lay in front of me and will never smile again. But the vines come up from the ground and begin to weave themselves over the many bodies; this is different from the first time I witnessed the funeral. Yet another sign that Tanssi Kuun is healing – the vines come and cover the passed on their own.
The surviving faeries send one of their ribbons to the mass grave when the vines have finished their work. For a moment I wonder sadly if there will be enough to cover the dead, but the ribbons stretch to the perfect size. My contribution is next; it's time for me to return the gift they gave me before the battle began.
I lift my blade from its place on my belt and release the lights that enrobed it throughout the fight. Some of them are brighter than others, but they all sweep over the glowing graves as one. The light is almost blinding as the ribbons weave themselves in and out of the vines, until the whole mass of the bodies is transformed into a single radiant disk of light. A white beam as big across as the entire gravesite shoots into the sky, the bodies with it, and the song begins. Now that I've heard it once, I sing with them.
I can hear the voices we're missing. I think we all can.
As we sing, the tears begin rolling down my cheeks freely, and even as my heart breaks all over again, there's peace in it. The white beam brightens as the song stretches on with high notes and low notes, long and short, brittle and beautiful. This is an exquisite kind of mourning, a mourning that truly honors our dead.
The white light starts to shrink into the bodies, getting brighter and brighter as it does. Our song rises with it, rises until it hits a crescendo and the bodies vanish with the light as it snaps out of existence. At least, that's what I think happens. But when I look up at the sky, I see hundreds of new stars winking back at me, stars that weren't there a night ago.
"They become the stars?" I whisper. The bitter-sweetness of it hits me at the same time as my awe. How did I not notice that before?
"In this way, no one is ever truly lost," Bashar murmurs back, her voice heavy and yet glad.
The official ceremony is now over, but we all stand staring at the sky. I realize that the day is gone and night is already well on. The fight must have lasted all day.
At once, I remember Caspian. Doesn't he need to return to Narnia?
I intend to tell him this very thing, but when I see the trails of tears on his face I decide to leave him be for a little while longer. If he's concerned about going back, he'll say goodbye before he leaves. Right now, I think he'd prefer I not bring it up yet.
Thinking of Caspian makes me curious about how Darin took this farewell; when I look over, I see his eyes are swimming but his cheeks are dry.
"We should cleanse the battle from our skin," Bashar whispers to me.
I nod my assent and the group of us heads into the woods where the faeries lead us to a creek. It's a happy, gurgling sound that greets us, so unlike the previous sounds of the day that it startles me for a moment. It sounds innocent and playful. This kind of sound is what belongs here.
The faeries splash into the water without a second thought, but I hang back to give them some room. I can wash after they're done; my wash will be a bit more involved. They finish surprisingly quickly. A few come up to me and make me promise to play a water game with them after the aftershocks of the day's events have settled.
When most of them are done, I slip into the water myself, clothes and all, and try my best to scrub the grit and grime out of both my skin and my garments. It's much easier to imagine myself clean than to get there, but I plug away and soon I'm almost presentable. I have to check that I've cleaned my face and hair alright in my reflection at a calmer part of the creek. Darin comes over to help with my hair, and I find that right now, I don't mind when he runs his fingers through and gets the last of the dirt and blood out for me.
Since we've all bathed in our clothes and we're sopping wet from head to toe, there's little to do but lay down to dry off. In this one instance alone, Narnia would perhaps be better; the Narnian sun was warm and dried things quickly, but the moon here is not nearly so efficient at things like that. Perhaps if I move around, that will help.
No sooner have I gotten to my feet than the faeries surround me and tug me into a dance. I'm about to ask about Caspian and Darin, but when I turn to look for them I see that they're being tugged along too. I smile when I see that they're both a little embarrassed, though Caspian hides it better. More practice with those things, I suppose.
We're all swept up into a wild, wild dance that flits over the ground as if it's not even there. There is sadness, yes, but also hope. We dance for those we can no longer dance with, and we dance for those we know we will dance with when they arrive. I'm not sure how new faeries come into the world, but I can't wait to find out. I now know for sure that I will.
This world lives on, and deep down I think that though the battle was the worst thing I've ever seen, it was all somehow worth it.
We dance and dance, dance until it truly feels like everything will work out. We didn't fight for nothing. I know that, and each and every faerie knows that. The grief will come again, and come often, but we can't forget what we won today. We defended our home, and that is something to celebrate.
Eventually, we grow tired and settle down to sit. I notice Caspian looking off in the direction of the entry tree once or twice, and I decide that I should perhaps bring up his return, especially with daybreak coming in the next hour or two. We passed the day in war, and the night in dance.
"When do you return to Narnia?" I ask him as I come to sit beside him.
"Soon," he says, glancing toward the entry tree again. "There are many things to fix."
Caspian falls silent again and stares straight ahead. I think he's about to ask how I ended up in a cell, but I'm also hoping he won't. I can deal with all of that when I return to Narnia, but I'm in no rush to deal with it now.
"What happened when you went back, Rose?" Caspian's voice is thick and sorry, but he doesn't quite look at me.
Well, there goes that.
"Rumors hit a high point, and apparently the Lord Regent deemed them to be of substance." The answer is quite simple, but I don't really know more than that. That was the little I could glean from the soldiers who took me away.
"Perhaps there were more notes similar to the one I found in my papers," Caspian murmurs, his shoulders still slumped forward. "Trumpkin will be a better Lord Regent, I think."
I don't know who Trumpkin is, but I don't think Caspian was seeking a reply to that in any case. He's obviously quite upset, though I can't quite figure out why. Of course I would expect him to be a little put out, but this angry and troubled? And yet, when I remember the near-kiss, it makes a little more sense.
"I will do everything I can to undo this," Caspian continues after some moments of silence. "How do you explain your absences?"
"Family troubles," I answer. It's not entirely untrue; the faeries are, in many ways, my new family. "It typically discourages further questions."
"Then I will confirm it. Your name will be as clear as the day you came to the city." Caspian finally looks away from the horizon and turns to meet my steady gaze. "Is there anything you wish me to impart to Sima? I will pass by there on my way to the castle."
"Simply that I will be back in a few days' time and that the reason for my continued absence is a death in the family. I started to tell her that, but then the guards were there and, well…" I don't have to finish that; moreover, I think it's best if I don't. Caspian clenches his hands into fists until his knuckles turn white even without the rest of the sentence.
On an impulse, I cover his hands with my own and gently work his fingers loose.
"It's over now," I say in an effort to soothe his troubled conscience. "I'm alright."
"You almost missed the most important day in Tanssi Kuun since you've arrived. If I had not arrived when I did…" Caspian's fingers tighten again, but I smooth them out once more.
"But you did. That's all that counts." Now realistically, I know that from here on out, I will be infinitely more guarded and trust even less easily, but Caspian has no need to know that. In any case, it doesn't affect him; he's already earned my friendship.
He still doesn't seem satisfied, but I don't expect him to be. No doubt this will trouble him for some time longer, and there's not much to be done about that. In time, it will get easier, just as my Aunt's death did. Just as the losses of today will be.
"I will be going to Ettinsmoor soon," Caspian says. "The Giants are becoming unruly, and I am not yet sure of my return."
"Out of one battle and into another," I answer, half joking and half sorry. "Stay safe, Caspian."
Caspian's fingers lace with mine as he replies, "And you as well."
And now, I know it's time for him to leave; the moon is just peeking above the horizon. Caspian stands and helps me up too. Without saying another word, we slip easily into a hug and murmur goodbyes as we step away.
Caspian goes around to the faeries as well and says his goodbyes, and exchanges a polite handshake with Darin. The two exchange quiet words that I can't understand.
Once they've finished their words, Caspian takes Destrier from his grass and walks the massive black horse beside him.
Darin falls into step beside me as I head over to walk Caspian back to Narnia, and for a moment all I can think is that somehow, the three of us were enough to keep this place safe, to keep the faeries safe. I don't know how we did it, but somehow we did and none of us could have done it without one of the others.
"Thank you," I say to them. "Both of you."
Caspian nods graciously, but Darin smiles softly.
"It was an adventure," he says simply, and he's so very right.
It was an adventure, with wonderful moments and horrifying moments, and it's not over yet. Tanssi Kuun will always be an adventure, and I don't think I will ever tire of it. I know I won't.
When we reach the entry tree and Caspian steps through with Destrier, Darin and I follow just to see him off. He mounts up, dips his head and says a final farewell, and then he's riding off into the forest back to his throne and everything that comes with it.
For my part, I stand and watch him go, thinking again about the grand adventure this was. And when Darin's hand slips into mine, I think that I wouldn't mind having him with me for the next adventure.
Whenever it comes.