Moonrose

Chapter 5: Rosamar

"By the Lion, the king!" Lilia blurts out, eyes surely bugging out of her head. I'd look and see the amusing sight for myself, but I'm far too distracted looking on with equal surprise.

"Er…yes, it would seem so," I offer weakly.

"What a surprise!"

Surprise, indeed!

But thankfully, before we gape too much and make ourselves look like the fools we are, Darin notices our arrival and casually makes his way over, stepping with ease over the uneven and stained cobblestones.

"You came after all," he says as he greets me with a small, playful bow.

"I said I would, didn't I?"

I don't miss Lilia's wink.

"And yet I'm still surprised." At this point, he turns and bows the same small bow to Lilia. "I don't believe we've met. I'm-"

"Darin, I'm guessing?"

I fully ignore her discreet pinch on my arm and swallow my yelp.

"Indeed. And you are?"

"Lilia. Rosamar's partner-in-crime, if you will."

"Crime, you say?"

Would the both of them stop with the twinkling mischief in their eyes?

"Yes, I did," she answers.

"Then perhaps I might steal Rose for a bit? She promised to teach me to dance, you see."

"By all means, steal her away. Only you must promise to bring her back before dawn tomorrow," laughs my traitorous 'partner-in-crime.' I'd pinch her arm in reprimand, but she'd surely give me away and then this whole thing would be even more embarrassing.

"You have my word," Darin laughs in reply as she smirks at him and quickly disappears into the crowd. He offers me his arm, a gesture that earns him a raise of my eyebrow.

"You know I don't like crowds," I say simply.

He opens his mouth to reply, but I cut him off, though I shock myself with my audacity to do so.

"And I made no promise to teach you. I simply agreed."

"Is there a difference?" he asks, brown eyes still glittering with mischief. Perhaps he and Lilia ought to 'get together,' as she put it.

"Yes," I answer coolly.

"Then forgive me," he says, immediately bending at the waist again.

"Oh hush and come with me," I snap, surprising myself with the playful undertone in my voice.

He lifts his hands in the same placating gesture he used yesterday.

"Keep using that gesture, Darin, and it just might lose its effectiveness," I warn him. Where on earth is this side of me coming from?

He says nothing, but I can tell he's smiling to himself; his lips are twitching just a bit at the corners.

I lead us to a side street still in view of the crowd, but out of the way of it. I don't want this to look scandalous, but I'm not comfortable around mobs of people either. I wait patiently for the next song to start, and then I move into position.

"Stand here, in front of me."

Darin does as he's told, but he wears the most infuriating little smirk the whole time.

"Now-" I'm abruptly cut off when he reaches forward, takes my hand, and spins me toward him and into a dance.

The little…he does know how to dance!

"You liar!" I spit in the midst of a particularly dizzying spin.

"Pay attention, and you may notice my utter lack of grace," he answers calmly. Still smirking, I might add.

I purse my lips, but I do pay attention. And he's entirely correct.

"Don't clomp around like a cow in shoes ten sizes too big," I fire back. "Dancing isn't meant to be done clodhopping around."

He tries to obey, but doesn't seem to have it in him. I suppose blacksmiths don't have to be graceful very often.

"Dance on eggshells."

I almost snort out a laugh when he slows down far too much for the song to allow and tiptoes around.

"Settle in your body, but stand tall. Does that make sense?"

By his face, it makes about as much sense as telling a horse to lay an egg.

So I stop the dance and have him stand still.

"Feel the ground under your feet. Use it as your support, your base if you will."

He tries, and does a bit better. A few more strange instructions later, he's much lighter on his feet.

"Much better," I finally say, giving him his first dose of praise since we started. He's earned it, even if I'm only admitting it grudgingly.

The beaming smile that comes over his face brings a half-smile to my own.

"I knew you could teach well," he says, almost with a hint of smugness.

"No, you just wanted to get me in this alcove alone. Though why exactly is a question I don't know the answer to just yet."

"Time will tell," he says with a shrug, his ears almost disappearing into his shoulders. This man changes with the wind. One moment he's confident, almost flirty, and the next he's sheepish and unsure.

But I don't have the mental determination to try and reason it out, so I change the subject.

"Well, I do believe you're ready to join the crowd in the dances now." I move to walk away, but he taps my hand as soon as I start to turn.

"Don't you remember I don't like crowds either?"

"Why did you want to learn to dance, then?"

He doesn't answer; he just holds his hand out to me. At first, I'm inclined not to take it, but something in his eye, a hidden sort of gentleness there, changes my mind. So I place my hand in his and even let him lead.

I do enjoy the dance, just a little. Most likely because my arm isn't being pulled from my socket anymore.

"I believe your instruction helped, Rosamar. Thank you," he says, seemingly sincere.

"You're welcome," is my simple answer.

He says nothing more, and I don't either.

The song ends and so does our dance. And the silence, which I was rather enjoying.

"Why did you need a dagger?"

Instantly, I stiffen. Is it really so suspicious for a young woman to want a small weapon? A young woman who lives alone in the middle of a bustling city?

"Protection."

"From…?" he presses on.

"Nothing in particular, I suppose."

"Just protection?"

"Yes." More for a world I haven't yet found than me myself, but no one needs to know that.

He raises his eyebrows, but doesn't press me further.

"You seem tired."

I fight back an exasperated sigh. I really need to work on hiding it, if it's so obvious that two people in the same day notice it. Do I have bags under my eyes, or some such nonsense? I'll be supremely annoyed if I actually have to ask Lilia to help me with face powder.

"Long night."

"Is there anything I might do?"

'Shushing up about it, maybe,' I think. Out loud, I say, "I suspect not."

"Try me? For the sake of argument, if nothing else?"

I fight an urge to roll my eyes.

"I was just searching for something. Something I've been looking for for quite a long time."

"Oh?"

Somehow, his one syllable question makes it so very hard to say nothing more. And oh, how I hate that! It takes all I can not to glare death at him, this frustrating blacksmith who's far too curious about things that do not concern him at all.

"Curious?"

"I confess so, yes," he admits shamelessly.

"Stew in it," I mumble, before I can censor myself.

He stares at me for a long moment before bursting out into laughter.

"I'm glad this amuses you," I comment dryly, perching a hand on my hip in spite of my better judgment.

"Forgive me, Rosamar, but it was quite a surprise to hear you say that."

'Such a sincere apology, Darin, really.'

"I'll think about it."

"But honestly, you could tell me if you wanted to."

I do wish he wouldn't look at me quite so earnestly.

"Well, I don't," I reply. Does he enjoy trying my patience so?

"Then why did you mention searching at all?"

"Because you kept pressing me!"

"I did no such thing."

"Yes, yes you did."

His hands go up again in his placating gesture, and it does little to calm me.

"Forgive me."

"As I said, I'll consider it."

"Well, at least that wasn't a 'no'."

I pinch my lips together and look to the side.

"I could help you look, if you like," he suggests, as mildly as he seems to be capable of. It's still infuriating.

"I'm alright, thank you."

Darin regards me almost amusedly.

"I didn't ask if you were alright, I asked if you would like help looking."

"No, you didn't ask at all."

"I offered. Is that not close enough?"

"This is ridiculous," I state flatly.

"I quite agree. So would you like the help or no?"

I think it over. No one's offered to help before, and if he doesn't know the significance of what I'm looking for, perhaps it's alright.

Wait, no, no! What if someone were to ask him about the pendant, or an engraving on a tree?!

But I haven't mentioned anything about a pendant or the like, nor do I intend to. It just might be safe enough. And I can't leave that world unprotected for any longer. Much as I'm loathe to admit it, I could definitely use the help.

"Well…I suppose, if you like," I finally say, staring down at the grey stones beneath my feet like they can take back the risk I just took.

"I would like to help, yes. Now, what is it you've been searching for?"

"I need to find an engraving on a tree. It's very unique, but I've been looking for over a year with no luck."

"An engraving, on a tree?"

"Yes, isn't that what I just said?"

"Do you have any idea where this tree might be?"

"I've been going through the entire surrounding forest," I admit. "And gotten lost more than I care to say."

"So that's a no. Any ideas what this tree looks like?"

I stay silent.

"I suppose that's a no as well." He sighs, but he doesn't take back his offer.

"I search at night. Is that a problem?"

"I rarely sleep."

"I'll see you at the bridge in two days then."

"As soon as it's dark?"

I nod simply, and then there's nothing more to say.

"Well Rosamar, shall we return to the festivities?"

"What happened to not liking crowds?"

"We can complain together."

For some reason, that strikes me as amusing, and I let him lead us back to the crowd. As luck would have it, a new song starts just as we enter the madness of swirling skirts and bowing figures.

Darin offers me his hand, and I surprise us both by taking it. However, it turns out this is a more Narnian song, so everyone dances with everyone. So much for complaining together. Oh well.

I spin through so many partners I lose track of how many there are, and just as their faces begin to blur together, I'm suddenly very aware of who I'm dancing with. Painfully aware, to be exact.

"Your Majesty," I greet respectfully, dipping my head down though it's almost more than the dance will allow.

"Rosamar," he replies, smiling a soft kind of smile that has me staring at him in confusion.

"You remembered my name?" I blurt out.

If he notices the utter idiocy of my question, he either doesn't care or doesn't show it. He just keeps smiling, though his smile does get a little wider. Oddly, when we're supposed to change partners, he stays with me. Or is it that the song's changed and I didn't notice?

"Your Majesty, I think-"

"Caspian."

"Beg pardon?"

"You may call me Caspian, if you like."

"You're the king," I say stupidly. What is the matter with me? Of course he's the king!

"So I am," he answers, seemingly amused. With good reason, if you ask me.

"Is it respectful enough?"

"I don't mind it," he says.

I study him discreetly as he again holds on to me. He seems sincere, but I can't be sure. He's as good at masks as I am. Politics will do that to a person, I imagine.

"If you like, then."

"I hear 'Your Majesty' and 'My Liege' and the like often enough. I think I'd like to hear my own name more."

A sudden thought strikes me, and I mentally curse myself when it flies from my lips.

"Because it was your father's name too?"

As soon as I ask that, I wish I could take it back and find myself babbling an apology.

"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"I suppose you're right, Rosamar. I simply never realized it before now."

It takes me many, many moments to process that.

"Still, I apologize." Finally, something not entirely ridiculous.

"There's no need for it, I assure you."

Maybe coming from someone else, I'd have some sort of response. But coming from a king? I'm left with nothing even remotely intelligent. So I keep my silly mouth shut the rest of the dance. King Caspian does as well, but he won't cease looking at my eyes.

The song ends, and just as I'm about to either ask him what's so fascinating about my eyes or leave, he speaks up.

"Why were you not afraid?"

"Beg pardon, Your Maj- Caspian?"

"After the Battle of Beruna, you were watching, and I couldn't help but notice your lack of fear. It was so unusual that I couldn't forget it."

Only when amusement flickers in King Caspian's eyes do I realize that my jaw's hanging open. I clap it shut, but I still have quite a time summoning anything coherent to say.

"That was a long time ago…how did you know it was me?"

Of course I remember sneaking around to get a peek of the great lion everyone was whispering about, but I'd almost forgotten that King Caspian, prince back then, had seen me and said nothing. I left for the city the very same day.

"I suppose it was a lucky guess."

I can tell he's leaving something out, but I don't press him. He is still the king, after all! But I do have to come up with something to say; he's waiting expectantly.

"I…well, because I was so entirely sour towards my fellow Telmarines, I suppose." Maybe it was because Aunt told me about Tanssi Kuun too and magical creatures were wonderful to me and not fearsome, but I'm not about to mention that to anyone, let alone someone I've only spoken to twice.

I try to ignore that I've only really spoken with Darin thrice and already I'm allowing him to help me find that entry tree.

"Is that all?" King Caspian seems so perplexed by this.

"Maybe stories my aunt would tell me had something to do with it as well," I admit.

"Stories? Your aunt told you stories about Narnia?"

"No, just stories about fantastical things. I always loved those stories."

King Caspian seems like he's about to ask what they were about, but something in my face stops him. He looks in my eyes and swallows whatever he was about to say. I silently thank him with the same eyes he keeps looking back to.

A moment or two of silence passes between the two of us, and then King Caspian's bowing and excusing himself and I'm nodding and saying goodbye in a daze.

I just had a conversation with the king. No, that's not the remarkable part. The king, the KING of Narnia, knew who I was. How on earth did he know it was me, peeking out from behind that tree at Beruna so long ago? How could he remember something so insignificant in the wake of the battle that decided the fate of Narnia?

And then I remember my aunt, and her stories, and I have to swallow the lump that quickly forms in my throat. What would she think of me, failing to protect Tanssi Kuun? Failing to find my entry tree, for over a year? A year Tanssi Kuun has been without a protector.

She'd be so disappointed.

I swallow again, and again. It vaguely strikes me how much I want to be able to confide in someone about this, but I know I simply can't. Tanssi Kuun is far too important to put in danger simply because I'm under a bit of stress. What could be more selfish than that?

No, but what if keeping it so secret is selfish? Am I harming it by refusing to ask for help? If I am, I hope I remedied that tonight by accepting help from Darin.

I only hope I don't regret that. How I could use my aunt's advice right now! She always seemed to know just what to do! And here I am, failing consistently. She really would be disappointed, wouldn't she?

Realizing my eyes are watering against my will, I dart off from the crowd and slip into an abandoned alley, where I know I won't be found. Here, I can take just a minute to collect myself.

For a minute and a minute only, I indulge in all my doubt and self-imposed guilt. I let a few tears slip down my cheeks, and then my minute's up. I stand once more, wipe the evidence of my weakness from my cheeks. And I return to the crowds, but only to find Lilia and tell her I'm going to bed. I need to catch a few hours of sleep before I'll be strong enough to go and search for my entry tree again.

Luckily for me, I find Lilia without too much trouble. She looks a bit downcast that I'm calling it a night 'so soon,' but when she sees the bags under my eyes, she pats me on the shoulder and tells me to go ahead and get some sleep. I'm only too happy to obey.

"Leaving so soon?"

"I need a few hours' sleep before I go out again tonight," I tell Darin.

"Tonight?"

"Yes, tonight," I reply wearily.

"I'll be at the bridge waiting then."

"You don't have to-"

"Rosamar, go get some sleep. I'll be there."

I'm too tired to argue. My little self-pity fest took a bit more out of me than I thought it would. The walk home seems to take forever, but I manage it. How could I not? I clutch the pendant around my neck, hidden under my clothes, to remind me what's really important. Not me, not my sleep, not anything else but a world that needs protection. A world I've been entrusted with. A world I'll do anything for, because that's what Aunt would have done.


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