Chapter 2: Darin

He awoke dreading this day, the coronation parade, for no other reason than for the crowds he knew would choke the streets. Perhaps it was strange for a blacksmith to hate the deafening noise crowds brought when he works for hours with the loud clanging of metal shaping metal, but Darin never thought it strange at all. However, he stopped minding the occasion so much when he noticed the refreshingly quiet young woman in the crowd, quite obviously new to the city.

He'd been walking along the bridge, returning from a visit to his brother who'd just returned from the war, when he noticed her help the young boy who fell. Such a thing was rare to see from a young woman. A middle-aged woman, perhaps not. But one so young as her? Rare.

Perhaps that's why he keeps looking outside his smith, hoping to see her passing by outside. She carried several bags with her, so it's reasonable to guess she was moving into the city. Now, he wasn't sure why on earth anyone would do that, but that was all well and good. He'd get to know her, and perhaps be thankful she came to live here.

After the crowds from the coronation parade die down, Darin stops his work for a moment to stick his head outside and risk a quick glance to see if she might be anywhere around. He'd like the chance to introduce himself. Never mind that he isn't one to step up and introduce himself; kindness and gentleness were hard to come by these days, and he had every intention of getting to know the young woman who'd shown both those qualities inside the space of five minutes.

And not only that, she'd seemed as annoyed by the crowds as he was. It'd been a long while since he'd found a kindred spirit with regards to that.

'Back to work, Darin,' he scolds himself. The girl would have to wait; he has a lot of work to finish before sundown, a fact the commotion of the parade did nothing to help.

So he returns to work, but when he pounds away at the red-hot metal, he finds he isn't concentrating quite as well as usual. Stopping to wipe his forehead after finishing a horseshoe, Darin promises himself he'll meet that girl within the week.

With a satisfied nod, he clears his head from its unusually cluttered thoughts and returns to smithing, his concentration no longer suffering quite so badly.

A week comes and goes, with only one sign of that girl, that kind young woman. She passes by his shop, apparently in a bit of a hurry, and he can't bring himself to dart outside to introduce himself. He has no idea how to do that without seeming a fool and consequently annoying her. First impressions are important, and the last thing he wants is to botch his. No need to make things harder for himself; she seemed to be a private sort of person anyhow, and getting to know her might prove a challenge.

Another week passes, and still Darin can't find the right time to say hello. She's always bustling by, but after the third time she hustles past his shop door, he notices how gracefully she manages to hurry along, arms soft and steps nearly silent. He watches for her a bit more diligently after that.

Another week, and then another, and still no good time arises. Darin grows impatient with himself, but his good sense overrides his annoyance. 'First impressions are very important,' he reminds himself. He has to make a good one. And more importantly, he wants to.

A little after a month, Darin comes across the girl for the first time outside the shop. A smaller girl no older than twelve tries to sing a popular ditty, though sadly more than a few notes off pitch. Darin starts to chuckle to himself and moves to continue on home, now that the sun's set, but nearly silent footsteps keep him from hurrying along quite so quickly.

"Do you like to sing?"

Ah, so that's what her voice sounds like. It's a bit lower in pitch than he'd thought it might be, but Darin finds that he doesn't mind that at all. Her voice is pleasing to his ears nonetheless.

"Very much!" the twelve-year-old girl chirps, face alight with a child's enthusiasm.

"May I sing with you?" the young woman asks as she kneels next to the short girl.

"Oh would you? I can't seem to get the tune right, even though my momma tried to teach me. My big brother says I'm a lost cause, but I want to prove him wrong!"

From his place across the street, Darin sees a line form on the young woman's forehead as her eyebrows press together. A sore subject, the topic of big brothers? He'll be sure to avoid it.

"You're very right to do so. What's your name?"

"Nina. And who are you?"


"Like the flower?"

The young woman, Rose, laughs a little and nods sheepishly. Why sheepishly?

"I suppose so, yes. Though I believe my mother wasn't thinking of flowers when I was born."

"What was she thinking of then?" Nina questions, her curly-haired head tipping sideways.

Rose stiffens; he can see her spine go rigid. Another sore spot? Perhaps better to avoid the topic of her family altogether, when he finally gets up the nerve to talk to her.

"Can you sing once for me, Nina, so I can learn the tune?"

Yes, definitely better to avoid talking of her family.

But Nina doesn't seem to notice the quick shift, and begins singing the ditty again, though with a happier face than before. It comes out a bit better as well, perhaps because she isn't trying so hard this time; she is simply enjoying it.

Once the girl finishes, Rose smiles warmly.

"That was beautiful."

"It wasn't off-tune?"

"Only a few notes, and we can fix that easily. You're really quite close."

Darin's smile threatens to break its way onto his face when Rose sings the ditty, in a quiet voice as clear as a cloudless sky. Her voice lacks volume perhaps, but it is so very like her: pure and simple and beautiful.

"You sing so pretty!" Nina exclaims as soon as Rose finishes.

He couldn't agree more.

Rose's shoulders jump up an inch and her head sinks into her neck.

"Let's sing it together, shall we? I think it'd sound better with you singing with me."

Nina practically fluffs up with pride and slips easily into the first verse, surprisingly on key. Rose joins her for the second line, correcting a slight slip. Nina's voice seems to almost overpower Rose's, but perhaps Rose is purposely singing quietly.

The ditty swells in its final notes, and Darin suddenly realizes he's been standing there on the side of the street staring the entire time. What a miracle she hasn't noticed! Embarrassed at himself, Darin tries to shuffle along, but his eyes can't leave the scene of Nina and Rose.

"Once more, Rose? I think I still can't quite get that second line."

Rose smiles and quietly starts the ditty again, as Darin tries to mentally smack some sense into himself. He can't stand there and stare; it's not his place! And yet when the two start singing again and Rose's kindness shines once more, he can't help but stay to watch and listen.

This time, Nina finishes every last note on pitch, and both girl and young woman are beaming with pride when the ditty finishes a second time.

"Perfect," Rose praises.

Once again, Nina fluffs up, eyes sparkling almost as brightly as Rose's.

"Thank you, Rose!"

"No, thank you! I was wishing for someone to sing with only just this morning," says Rose.

Where was this young woman from, to have learned to be so…Darin runs out of words. Suddenly he really wishes he'd paid a bit more attention back in the one year of schooling he had. A few synonyms would be quite appreciated right now.

The two exchange a few more words, and then Rose stands and goes on her way, rushing slightly as usual. Just as Darin returns to himself and shifts to continue on his own way, he notices the subtle movement of her arms. After a moment of paying attention, he realizes she's dancing. At least, her arms are. Does she love to dance too?

Then and there, Darin promises himself he'll be sure he's introduced himself before the faire in a month's time. He'll have to be sure and dance with her. Something tells him she can dance as well as she can sing. His own dancing is out of practice, but he can review. The crowds there will be worth a dance with Rose. He can hardly wait.

Less than a week later, Darin hears the first whispers about her. They manage to confuse him and anger him at once.

The first was innocent enough, just a young woman he didn't know whispering to one of her peers about the new girl in the city who kept to herself, and wasn't that odd? The second came a few days later, and was considerably less friendly. Two older matrons whispered with their husbands about the strange young woman who was always slipping away out of the city, and wasn't that suspicious? The third came from a group of girls about Rose's age about how she was always sneaking off in the dead of the night, and wasn't that frightening? What could she be up to, out there beyond the city walls? One suggested a beau, and Darin almost cursed aloud. His selfish side dearly hoped not. Another suggested she was meeting someone less than savory, and another suggested she was selling her body. Both made his blood run too hot and angry in his veins. Rose would never. They were only envious of her goodness…weren't they?

A week goes by, and the whispers get worse. The topic of her sneaking off is a constant theme, and Darin has to try very hard indeed to keep from snapping at the gossip-hens gobbling about a young woman they barely know. He takes on a tendency to subtly criticize the gossips as it is, but he doesn't want to be unkind to them. Rose wouldn't like that, and he does want to impress her. Even if he still has yet to formally meet her.

Still, he starts looking a bit more closely when she sweeps past his shop when the sun is setting, or even when it is long set and waiting to rise again in a few hours' time. He hates his slight suspicion, when he's almost certain every whisper is exaggerated and mean-spirited. But he still has yet to meet her, and he's been deceived enough in his lifetime that he can't completely ignore the rumors. Caution is a hard lesson, one he's learned plenty of. Until he meets her, he can't distrust her, but he can't completely put all his faith in her either. The possibility that the latter might be a horrible mistake is present enough that he pays attention to it.

As he starts to observe Rose a bit more, he begins to notice details about her that only made his dilemma more difficult. She walks ever-so-slightly on the balls of her feet, her heels just a few hairs from the ground for it to be noticeable if he really looks closely. Her elbows are always soft, never bent at sharp angles. Her hands, while not the most slender he's seen, always have soft angles as well. When her fingers curl, they curl into round arcs, never the sharp right angles of a fist. Her wrists follow suit, and often seem to pulse slightly, as if in a perpetual state of dance. Her posture is almost always impeccable, though her shoulders are a bit more rounded forward than the average person's. Perhaps that comes from a good deal of dancing, but as Darin is no dancer himself, he can't be sure.

And her face, well, he simply doesn't know what to make of it. It should look entirely readable and honest like the rest of her, but he can't deny that it always seems to be a mask. Her facial expressions are rare and always carefully guarded, the only exception being when she interacts with children. She seems to have a fondness for young ones, but only the ones in need of cheering. She seems to only initiate interactions with the solitary ones. He isn't entirely sure what to make of that either.

And yet, he wants to know her. If not for curiosity's sake, than simply to understand why she is so guarded. Reservation is another quality sometimes lacking in young women, at least the ones of the city. Darin is a little unsure as to why he's taken such an interest in the new young woman, but he isn't inclined to fight it, so he lets it stay.

But he really does need to introduce himself. If only she could stop hurrying so much; perhaps then he might be more confident about approaching her. He isn't sure what she'd do if he interrupted her while she's on her way to something important, which she almost always seems to be. He knows she is kind, but he has no way of knowing how secretly annoyed she'd be. He seriously doubts that she'd let him see her annoyance, but he's rather certain it'd be there. He himself gets very put out when someone interrupts him if he's in the middle of something, that's for sure. He doesn't know someone who isn't that way, to be exact.

And perhaps a smaller, quieter, less trusting side of him is insisting that maybe he doesn't want to get to know her after all. Where do the rumors come from, anyhow? Darin has to remind his subconscious time and again that rumors are just that: rumors. Not things to be believed, but things to be ignored at almost all costs.

How can someone who seems so caring possibly be involved in anything unscrupulous? But since he doesn't know her, a fact he can blame himself for, how can he judge for sure?

Perhaps if he could just get up the nerve to speak to her, she'd prove herself to be the exact opposite of what the whispering hens thought her to be. He wants very much to be sure, but he simply can't be. Blind trust is not his forte, and he has very little reason to wish it to be, after all.

He needs to meet her.

He needs to simply find a way to introduce himself. Yes, he needs to do that.

One day, Darin decides to gather his nerve and just do it. How difficult could it be, after all? She is a gentle soul, and he can be almost entirely certain she'd never run off. Unless he makes a complete imbecile of himself, that is. Shaking his head to clear it, Darin just hurries to finish the smithing.

Finally, he's done with that piece, and he closes his workshop a bit early. She walks past often now, and in a few minutes she's likely to come walking along as usual.

As his luck would have it, today just has to be one of the few days she doesn't come along. He waits and idles on both sides of the street, but she never shows. Of course, the day he finally gets his courage, that would be the day she doesn't walk past here.

But he promised himself he'd say hello today, and he means to keep that promise, even if it was only to himself. Perhaps that's why his feet take him toward the spinning workshop. He'd heard somewhere that she worked as a wool carder, and luckily for him, he knew she could only work for Sima. The other wool shop is on the other side of the city, and it's clear she lives in this section.

He finds the place easily, and he's just walking past a window when he catches a glimpse of her and another young woman a bit older sitting down at a spinning wheel. Rose seems to be learning how to spin, and Darin can't help but smile at how she sits: the weight of her legs resting on the tips of her toes, knees bent subtly, back straight even in its slightly slouched position. Her eyes follow her teacher's movements, but her hands fiddle mindlessly with a small bundle of carded wool, the tips of her fingers tugging it apart only for her thumbs to bunch it together again. He knows now isn't the time to say hello, but he smiles the entire walk home. She keeps surprising him, somehow.

But a few days later when she appears at his shop door, he almost drops the red beginnings of a sword he's holding so tightly in the tongs.

"Hello?" she calls, voice and step both tentative.

Darin bites the inside of his cheek to keep his surprise in check and reminds himself to keep his face neutral as he sets the sword down in the fire to heat a bit more and turns to face her fully, hoping that she doesn't notice how cluttered his shop is, with horseshoes and hammers and swords and spearheads littering the worktables.

"Is there something I can help you with…?"

"Rosamar," she supplies. "And yes, I hope so. You have small knives, yes?"

"Knives? Or daggers?"

She looks confused for a moment, but she hides it well.

"A dagger would be better, I suppose. And you are?"

"You'd like the name of a blacksmith?" He has no idea why he says that. Would she have asked if she didn't want to know?

"I asked for it, didn't I?"

He's grateful for the shadows that hide his reddening ears.


"Pleasure to meet you," she says simply. If she's ill at ease, she doesn't let him see it.

"Pleasure's all mine. So it's a dagger you'd like then?"

"A lightweight one, please. I'm afraid my arms aren't very strong."

He bites back the urge to joke that her shoulders must be from all her carding and dancing.

"It should be finished in a few days' time. Shall I deliver it to you?"

"Oh no need, I can pick it up," she answers, a bit quickly.

He nods once and wonders why on earth he can't come up with anything to say.

"Thank you." With those simple two words, Rose tips her head down in a goodbye and walks out into the street.

In the midst of his swirling thoughts, he wonders.

'What on earth does she need a dagger for?'

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