Chapter 6: Rosamar
Miraculously, I wake exactly when I planned to, just as the night is quiet and the stars are high. I dress quickly and pull my cloak on as I slip outside. I'm careful to be silent as a cat, just in case Lilia's still up, though I doubt she is at this hour. Still, I can't be too careful.
Even more amazing than my relative state of wakefulness: Darin's there at the bridge, just as he said he would be.
"I wasn't sure you would be here," I admit in a whisper as I approach, my breath clouding in front of me.
"Well, here I am," he answers with a somehow charming smile.
'You only just met me…'
"How long I've known you does not matter."
I didn't realize I said that aloud. Thank goodness the moon is barely a sliver tonight, so my slight embarrassment remains hidden.
"Don't thank me yet; we haven't found your tree."
I answer his chuckle with a smile and lead the way onward.
"Thank you for coming anyway."
We walk along, myself much quieter than my companion, and soon enough we're in the woods. Thoughts of whether this is a truly wise decision swirl in my head as we progress through the trees. I could keep looking on my own, but how much longer will that take?
"Try and keep up," I find myself whispering, as much to distract myself from my doubts as to jest with Darin.
"Where do we start?" he huffs, branches cracking under his feet as he struggles to follow me closely.
"We're almost there. I've checked all of these."
Darin nods and follows me along until I come to a stop at the line I drew in the ground last night.
"Start here. Stay to the left, I'll stay to the right. Check all of them for an engraving."
"Why do you get the right side?"
There's just enough moonlight for me to see the glint in his eye.
"Would you prefer the right?" I counter, rolling my eyes.
He just shakes his head and smiles.
"What does it look like?"
I can't show him the pendant; I know that. So I scribble a rough sketch in the dirt.
"Something very similar to that."
"Similar? How will I know I found the right one? There might be more than one, you know."
"Shush and just start looking, Darin."
We both grin and split up. It continues on much the same as every night since I moved to the city; I check each and every tree I come to meticulously. Aunt never said where the engraving would be, so I run my practiced hands over the bark I can reach before I move on. Somehow I doubt the engraving would be higher than I can reach, if it's specifically my entry tree.
The first hour goes by, and my lack of sleep starts to catch up to me, as it always does. I start my ritual of pinching the tender skin between my thumb and index finger to keep myself alert.
"Any luck, Darin?" I call.
"Not thus far," he calls back, sounding much more awake than I'd have expected. I have to admit, I'm a little impressed.
The second hour passes with the same results, and Darin surprises me. He doesn't complain of boredom, and he doesn't leave, and he doesn't give up. He just carries on, as tirelessly as me. I can't help but be more and more intrigued as the minutes tick maddeningly by.
No one's ever helped me like this before. How does this man who only met me yesterday care so much? It's as baffling as it is flattering. I'm glad to have found a friend in my search, even one who knows so little. Perhaps that's the truly extraordinary part of it; Darin knows only the bare minimum he needs to help me, and he never presses for more information. He just searches without question, without complaint. And I can't understand it.
First the dagger, now this. I owe him twice over now. Somehow, I don't think he minds. If I was crazy, I might even think he doesn't care, but I'm not quite that far gone yet. Though if I can't find my entry tree soon, I might very well go mad.
I start from my gloomy thoughts with a sharp, "What?"
"You'd better come look at this."
Could it be-? No. No, I couldn't get my hopes up, just in case Darin's mistaken or playing some sick joke. But still, hope bubbles in my chest against my will.
Though I try to walk at a measured pace over to Darin, I break into a run before I even take two steps. After over a year, is it possible that-?
"Where? Show me!" I demand as soon as I find my voice again and I've skidded up next to him.
"Here, look." Darin guides my hand to a piece of bark at chest-level, and I almost break into tears right there. I can tell just by feel that it's the exact design of the pendant around my neck.
"By the Lion, Darin, you've found it!" I gasp, my free hand fluttering to cover my gaping mouth. I'm incapable of anything other than gasping and staring and mutely wondering how in all the worlds I've gotten this lucky.
"Happy I could help," he whispers in my ear.
I barely hear him.
My entry tree. My way into Tanssi Kuun. I've waited so long…will it be everything Aunt said it was?
A sudden cold fear grips my chest.
What if it's not?
"Thank you," I breathe out, in spite of my sudden doubts about the secret world. Whether it turns out to be as wonderful as Aunt described it or not, it's still under my care and protection. I'll love it no matter what it is.
"You're welcome," he murmurs, breath still warm against my cheek. It barely occurs to me that I don't really mind. "What is it? Or can you not tell me?"
"I would if I could, believe me. I owe you more than I can say," I breathe out at I trace the etching again and again with reverent fingertips.
He waves off my statement. Waves off the unpayable debt I owe him, as if it's nothing. Who is this man, that he waves off debts? An angel?
"As I said, I'm only pleased to have helped you."
In my joy, I almost forget he's there, and I press a fervent kiss to the engraving, my gate into Tanssi Kuun. I've waited so long, too long, to feel that design under my fingertips.
I come back to myself after a single tear of happiness spills from my eye. There'll be time for my emotion later; for now, Darin's earned his rest, and perhaps I have too.
"Let's get back. We both need the sleep, I think."
"Wait, one moment," he says.
I start to ask why, but when he draws lines in the ground leading to the tree and ties a strip of cloth he rips from the bottom of his shirt to a branch, I understand. I'll want to be able to find this tomorrow. And we're so deep in the forest that someone else stumbling on this is unlikely. Even if they do, I have the only keys.
"Thank you once again," I murmur. I owe him everything.
"Don't mention it," he replies with a smile as he finishes his work.
I can only shake my head in wonder at his kindness and wordlessly lead the way out of the woods back toward the city.
We're both silent the entire way back, though for entirely different reasons; I'm in shock, and he's likely either very understanding or very tired, or quite possibly both.
We stop at the end of the bridge, and I repeat my stream of 'thank you's until he hushes me and gently kisses my knuckles while telling me to go home and get some sleep, if I can.
Once again, I'm left speechless. I stand there and watch him go for a good half-minute before I shake myself from my stupor and slip along the dark street toward my home. I have to feel my way a lot of the walk though; my eyes can't stop seeing the engraving there in the tree. Several times I stumble, because my fingers remember the feel of that blessed carving so well.
At last, I stumble inside my hut and ease the door shut as carefully as my shaking hands reasonably can. My thoughts are a complete jumble as I fall into bed, too caught up in this miracle of a night to remember to undress. To my surprise, I fall asleep rather quickly, though I dream of what Tanssi Kuun might be like all night long. It could be a world like the wilds of Narnia, or a desert like Calormen, or a tropical sort of place that I've only heard about in books, or perhaps something altogether unimaginable to me. It could be anything, and Aunt gave me so few hints.
By the time morning rolls around, my mind is so exhausted from all its dreaming that I almost sleep in.
"Come on, Rose, up!" I have to order myself in my sternest voice to get my body to listen to me.
It only just barely listens, but it does listen. I move about as slow as molasses, and I almost don't make it to my stool in time.
"Rose, child, that's twice in a row you've almost been late! Are you alright?"
"Fine, Sima. I've never been better," I wheeze as I catch my breath and take my first handful of wool for the day.
"How was the faire, Lilia?" I ask, as much out of politeness as to distract them from my sluggish state.
"Everything I thought it would be! There was such dancing, and the music! The young men were very kind as well, and the second one I danced with…"
I smile and nod and hum when needed to keep Lilia chattering on, but my mind's already with Tanssi Kuun. What will the beings that live there be like? Will they look like me? Or are they something of another kind entirely? Will they have heard of me? What will they think? What do they think, if they've already heard of me? Are they angry it's taken me so long to find them? Will they welcome me? What do they do with their time? Is it true what Aunt said about their disagreements? Are they as perfect as she made them seem? What dances can they teach me? What songs do they sing?
"…and you are listening, aren't you?"
"Of course! Please, continue," I reply to Lilia's suspicious question. I ought to feel a bit bad for ignoring her, but I know she wants to talk about the faire, and I want some time where I don't have to say much of anything so I can bask in my curiosity and my pure joy. I want to remember every detail of last night! So really, this arrangement works out well for the both of us. Often, Lilia doesn't really need an audience when she talks; she just needs to feel as if she has one.
And besides, it's not as if I can share my good news with her and Sima. First of all, they'd likely never understand. And second of all, even if they would I can't tell them because I can't tell anyone. Tanssi Kuun is a secret for a reason.
It takes me a second too long to figure out that Lilia's ceased her chatting, and I have to scramble for a quick save.
"I'm sorry, I was visualizing. I was a bit distracted there, after all."
It must be convincing, because Lilia and Sima nod. But as soon as I make to return to my carding, Sima pipes up.
"Rose, did you get a wink of sleep last night? You look positively exhausted!"
"More than yesterday?" I joke.
"Yes, more than yesterday. You are alright, aren't you?" Lilia asks.
"Yes, I really am. I promise."
They don't seem entirely convinced, but hopefully my glowing happiness will convince them before too long.
"And as for last night, how did the faire go for you?"
"It went well," I answer simply. My mind simply isn't on the faire, not at all.
"Thank you for sharing the details. Did you dance with anyone?"
"Darin. Oh, and the king," I rattle off. "It was a big Narnian dance, so I danced with a lot of people, actually."
"You danced with the king?!" Lilia screeches.
"As I said, I danced with a lot of people for that dance. He just happened to be one of them."
Sima lets out a barking laugh, and I look up to silently ask why.
"See how calm you are, child! Only one with a solid head on her shoulders could be so blasé!" she cackles. I for one can't quite understand what's so funny, but Sima's laugh is contagious and makes the corners of my mouth quirk upward.
Meanwhile, Lilia's jaw hangs slack as her eyes demand more detail than I've provided thus far.
"Do we lowly creature receive any more explanation than that, dearest Rose?" she finally stutters out, her shock still written in her bugged eyes and slack jaw.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it to come across that way…"
"Share a few more details and you'll be quite forgiven."
I laugh and oblige as well as I can.
"Well Darin talked me into joining in the dancing. It went by quite fast, and I didn't really pay attention to who I was dancing with from moment to moment because it all spun by. At some point, I realized I was dancing with King Caspian."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"How long what?"
"How long did you dance with King Caspian, you silly thing!"
I reign in my slight impatience and continue answering dutifully, though I'd be lying if I said I don't enjoy this just a little.
"A few turns. He seemed to remember me from somewhere…"
"You know him?!"
"He seemed to think so."
"And that's all you're going to say?"
"Should I say more?"
"I confess I am rather curious, in case you have failed to realize that."
Lilia does love her sarcasm from time to time.
"Apparently he remembered seeing me somewhere in the crowd during his coronation procession."
"He saw you in the crowd, and he remembered your face?"
"I suppose so," I say with a shrug. For some reason, I don't feel like sharing the more intimate detail that he saw me at Beruna. Something about that feels special enough to keep to myself. I am a private person, after all.
"Well, I think we can all agree that every last woman and girl in this city would die of envy if they knew," Lilia finally laughs.
"Does that include you, or no?"
"Oh no Rose, you're my friend and I can't envy you. However, I can let you know that you are a very lucky young woman."
"I'm not a romantic, Lilia."
"I think we can all agree on that point as well. However, can you look me in the eye and tell me honestly that the King of Narnia taking an interest in you, however slight, does not put a bit of a smile on your face?"
"No, of course not. I was shocked, believe me."
"I always believe you."
"Not when I insist I'm alright, though," I point out.
"That's another story," she chuckles, waving it off with ease. I'm still much too ecstatic over last night's little discovery to care.
"In any case, is there any other sharing about last night you'd like to do?"
"I believe I was done, unless you have questions."
"Nothing comes to mind."
"Child, if I didn't know any better, I might think your head is buried in the clouds today," Sima suddenly blurts out.
"Then I'm very happy you know better."
My head might be in the clouds, but not for the reason they think. Yes, a king took enough interest in me to say hello. But what is that, compared to finding my entry tree? If my head's to be in the clouds over another person, it'd be over Darin. He was the one who found it, after all. And he came out to help me look for it without knowing but the barest minimum in the dead of night when normal human beings are asleep.
"Your head truly is in the clouds, no matter what you say!" Sima exclaims, throwing her hands in the air above her head in exasperation.
"I apologize, I-"
"No need to apologize, simply admit to it," Lilia suggests.
"Alright; yes, my head is in the clouds. Is that better?"
"Much better, yes."
"I'm glad for it." With that, I almost slip away into my own happy, happy thoughts again.
"Oh no, here she goes again!"
"Alright child, we'll just agree to leave you and your blissful thoughts alone for the day. Alright?"
I nod happily to Sima, thankful that she does know when to let me be.
"Well, all you had to do was ask in the first place."
I just smile at Lilia and marvel at my unusually thick shell. Perhaps I should make more of an effort to be ecstatically happy. I'm not so sensitive as I usually am.
True to their word, Lilia and Sima leave me be for the rest of the day. For them, it seems to fly by. For me, it drags on and on until I have to continually bite my lip to keep from shrieking my impatience for the entire city to hear.
At last, at long, long, long last the sun begins to set. My energy's never been this high, so my wool carding for the day is already done. I have to fight hard to keep from squirming in my seat.
"Oh for heaven's sake child, go on now! You've finished for the day; you are free to go," Sima suddenly barks.
I leap from my stool all too happily, knocking it over in the process. After righting it with hands shaking with anticipation, I hurry to stuff the perfectly carded wool into a bag for tomorrow. Once that's done, I dart over and engulf Sima in a crushing hug and practically dance out the door. My excitement knows no bounds now! I'm free to explore Tanssi Kuun, a world I've been waiting anxiously to see for well over a year. How proud Aunt would be of me today! Trusting Darin really was the right thing to do.
By the time I make it to my hut and slip on more appropriate shoes, I can barely keep myself from singing in the loudest voice I own. Getting ready to see this new world is the work of less than 5 minutes, and I literally run out my door by the time the minutes crawl by. At first, I think I have the restraint to merely walk very very quickly, but my feet are much less patient than I think they are; not only do I run out of the city, I full out sprint the entire way to the woods. By the time I get to the tree, my entry tree, I can barely draw breath into my lungs.
"You're worth that run and a million more!" I gasp to the tree as I draw the pendant from under my dress and press it to its matching engraving. I take a deep breath before I utter one word and one word alone.
For a moment, nothing happens. And then the tree opens; opens! The entire trunk seems to glow from within, and a rectangle exactly the right size for me opens before my eyes. I can barely breath, but somehow my lungs keep working enough to keep me conscious.
"I'll make you proud, Aunt," I promise. Somehow, I get the feeling she can hear me. And other than finally finding my way into Tanssi Kuun, it's the absolute best feeling in the world.
"Thank you, Darin," I whisper. I'll never stop owing him for this.
With one final heaving breath of air, I step into the open tree.
Tanssi Kuun lies before my eyes.