Moonrose

Chapter 7: Rosamar

"Unbelievable." Even my awed whisper seems far too loud. I've never been somewhere so quiet.

Is it night here too? Or is it always like this, with the stars twinkling down from a cloudless sky? Where is the moon? And why do the plants seem to glow? Is that normal? And what of the trees I can see in the distance; are they all pine, or does something else lie beyond them? How different this is from Narnia, even more so than I was expecting.

"Aunt, I wish you told me a bit more," I murmur into the still air. Seeing this place, seeing what she passed on to me...it makes me miss her so much it hurts deep in my chest.

At the same time, I fully understand why she wanted me to discover it on my own. Nothing could replace this wonder that comes from seeing Tanssi Kuun for the first time.

I can't help myself; I fold my legs underneath me and sink down to the ground, marveling at the spiky grass that snags my dress. Narnian grass is softer, but there's a wildness about this grass that's grayish blue in the moonlight.

How everyone might laugh at my gaping at the grass! But 'everyone' isn't here, now are they?

That thought sends the first giggle I've giggled in my life up my throat. No people to worry with here, only beings Aunt assured me were the very pinnacle of good. Well, she did warn me about their lack of humor, but I think I'll be able to live with that quite easily. What am I saying? Of course I can!

Another giggle bursts from my lips, and I clap my hands over my mouth. Giggling seems wrong, somehow. I'm giddy and ecstatic, but I keep feeling the urge to feel that way in a calmer, steadier manner.

I can wonder as I walk, can't I? Yes, yes I can. I've got to find these creatures I'm to protect for the rest of my life.

My legs straighten under me, and then I'm on my feet and wading into the grass that gets taller with every step, until it comes to just under my nose. One tickles my face as I pass, and I have to pinch the bridge of my nose to stave off the sneeze. Sneezing seems wrong too, especially when I know mine sound more like a cat's than a human's.

If I do see any cats here, I'll have no trouble communicating.

My eyes lift to regard the black-as-ink sky, and I truly can't help my gasp of wonder. I've never seen such stars! They're far too bright to hold a candle to Narnia's, and they seem to come in every color imaginable, even colors I never even knew existed. I've never seen stars with color before. Reds and golds and greens and blues and purples and oranges and whites and some that look to be some combination of those.

'I see why you loved this place, Aunt.'

"Indeed she did, Rosamar."

In Narnia, the strange voice would've had me whirling around with my fist closed in fear. Here, I turn to face it slowly and with a smile on my face. Is this the first of the creatures I'm to meet?

"I'd ask if you knew her, but that might be silly."

The glowing, humanoid shape nods its head, more merrily than I'd have expected.

"Come along, Rosamar, we've all been wanting to meet you for such a long time."

I feel more wanted than I've ever felt in my life. How strange, to feel such strong things from a simple sentence.

I blink back the water in my eyes and the biggest smile I knew I could produce spreads across my face.

"What's your name?"

"There is no need for names here, Rosamar. You'll get used to it in time."

That raises my curiosity. No names? How do they talk to each other?

"Aunt never mentioned that."

"Your aunt never mentioned many things, as is the tradition."

"So I could love it more as I discover it myself?"

"Yes, precisely."

I'd stay silent now, but I want to know so much.

"Is it always night here?"

"This is night now, yes. When the kuu comes out, that is our day."

"Do the stars stay out then as well?"

"No, the stars are for our night only." The glowing being stops for a moment, but somehow I know the silence is loaded. "Are they very different from the Narnian stars?"

I'm briefly surprised that Aunt didn't explain, but with such a world around me, I might well forget to talk about my homeland too.

"Very different, yes. The Narnian stars I've seen are only white, perhaps one or two with a tinge of blue."

"Forgive my questioning, I've always wondered. You must have so many questions of your own."

"No no, it's perfectly alright. We can take turns asking each other things."

It's hard to tell, but I think the being smiles. It waits patiently for me to ask another question, but I need a moment to look at it, really look.

I'd have expected something that floats above the ground to have wings, but it doesn't seem to; it appears to hover all on its own. But the most extraordinary thing about it is how it glows. Not its body, no. It seems to be wrapped in ribbons of warm-colored light that swirl around it in a constant dance. It's hard to tell its facial features, as the light on them keeps changing by the lazy second. It does seem to be a tiny, slender little thing though. If it were to stand on the ground, it couldn't come higher than my shoulder.

"Are you all so tiny?"

"Indeed we are. Most are actually a head shorter than I."

Somehow, I pick up the slight embarrassment.

"Well I think you're a wonderful size," I say.

It almost fluffs with pride, but then its shoulders slump.

"No, honestly." I hope my voice doesn't leave room for argument. I've felt trodden on enough in my life; I couldn't stand for any of these creatures to feel as I have much of the time.

Wait, why would this being be ashamed of its height? That doesn't belong in Tanssi Kuun, does it?

It stays quiet, flies a little slower. Then its face turns toward mine, and it hovers close to my eyes, searching them for sincerity. I pray it finds it there, even as I wonder why it isn't happy with itself already if Tanssi Kuun is as perfect as Aunt described.

It must see that I meant my words; a smile more luminous than the ribbons of light around it appears on its face. I get the odd feeling it'd hug me if it could, so I open my arms to welcome the gesture. I'm not in the practice of hugging, but the idea doesn't make my nose wrinkle here.

It takes the offer within the first millisecond, its enthusiasm putting an even wider smile on my face. I almost gasp at how warm it is in my arms, but I hold it in, just in case it'd be offended. But it's such a wonderful feeling, to hold something so warm. It's welcoming.

Maybe here I'll get in the practice of hugging.

"Thank you," it whispers in my ear, tiny hands accidentally tugging at my hair.

In answer, I hug it a little tighter and let my eyes close in contentment. In my first minutes here, I've found more love than I had in my entire childhood. Aunt was right; this place really is wonderful.

"We ought to get going. They'll be wondering what's taken me so long to bring you," it suddenly says, pulling away faster than I can process.

"Rose."

"I beg pardon?"

"Call me Rose." Only friends call me Rose. I only have friends here.

In answer, it flies a little lower and takes my hand to lead me along. I, who've never appreciated contact, find myself beaming. I've never felt so pleasantly warm and content.

The walk there goes blissfully slow and far too quickly. I want to stop and savor every blade of grass glinting in the starlight, every tree in the forest we enter after a few minutes of walking, every pine needle cluster that flattens under my feet. Things don't crunch here, it seems. What must it be like to actually live here day in and day out? I think I'll have to find out.

"Don't think that just yet, Rose. Things are not so perfect as they seem."

"You can hear my thoughts?"

"We all know each other's souls here. We have no need to read thoughts."

"I suppose I better practice that then," I muse.

"It will come naturally to you, in time."

"Only with you and only here though, yes?"

"Exactly, yes."

It looks sideways at me and grins, or seems to.

"I see why your aunt liked you so much, Rose. She chose well."

I almost ask how it knows, but then I remember what it just said. Right.

"Are you a he or she?" I blurt out.

"Neither," it answers. Is that a note of sadness in its voice?

I tip my head to the side in curiosity.

"We have no gender, none of us."

"It's not all it's cracked up to be, I promise."

"Oh Rose, if only you knew how false that is!"

I can't help but be taken aback by its vehemence.

"We cannot bond with each other in that way. You see? We have no mates or lovers or bonded partners. We never experience that sort of love. You are luckier than you know."

My mouth opens and closes several times, until I'm sure I look like a fish. I'd not be a bit surprised if I do.

"I…never thought of it that way, I suppose. I never planned on marrying."

Its hand closes a bit tighter around mine, flooding me with a new wave of heat.

"If you find someone, you'd be wise to. Do not waste such a gift."

Words fail me, and it seems to understand this. I swallow once, twice, to moisten my throat. That…that never occurred to me before. I've never thought of partnering as a particularly good thing.

"I took that for granted, I suppose," I murmur.

"Let that be your first lesson, then," it replies, far gentler than I'd have expected.

"Lesson?"

"Every protector learns much while here. I wouldn't expect you to be different."

"What were the others like?"

"Many were quiet, just as you are. A few have loved their homeland as much as they love this world, but most are relieved to spend time here."

"Have any lived their entire lives here?"

"Only two."

I don't have to ask to figure out that that wasn't approved of.

"Protecting Tanssi Kuun is not a life, it is only a responsibility gifted. It should not take up the entirety of one's life. Our protectors are meant to split their life here and their life in their home."

"Even if this place is more a home than they've ever had?"

"Yes, even then. Their fellow beings would miss their absence."

I'm about to disagree, but all I have to remember is Lilia and Sima. I know they'd miss me, even just a little.

"Lesson number two, I imagine?"

It smiles, and then it laughs a surprisingly husky laugh.

"Perhaps, yes."

I smile, my eyes trained on the whirling lights surrounding this seemingly wise and beautiful creature. I almost miss the many more clusters of light ribbons that appear as we leave the grass behind for an open plain ringed by more of the pine-like trees. But I don't, and my breath flies from my lips when I see them all. So many…

My first thought is how they can possibly have no need for names.

"You will learn, Rose, you will learn, in time," the being who guided me whispers, its hand leaving mine. I instantly miss the warmth.

It flies, or rather floats, toward its kin, and I'm left standing there to drown in my awe. How lucky am I, to be charged with protecting such exquisite creatures in such a wondrous place?

"Welcome, Protector," they all chorus.

Not chorus in speaking, no. They sing their welcome, and I have to fight to keep my jaw from hanging open like a door with a broken hinge. Do they sing often? Do they always sing so well?

As if in answer, they begin a song in a language I don't yet know; I only know that it's beautiful and I have to keep blinking salt water from my eyes. I hope no one asks me to describe this, because I know I never could. How could anyone put words to this? It's too heart-wrenchingly exquisite.

Once they finish and I take a moment to blink my eyes clear again, they swarm close to me, until I can't see anything but ribbons of light in every color in every direction. So many of them, how can I look after them all?

"You are overwhelmed?" a honey-sweet voice asks in my ear.

I can only bob my head like an idiot. I can't imagine how I'd be otherwise!

"Perhaps…" one begins.

"A dance will calm you?" another continues.

A dance? Dance, with them? Why, of course!

I nod with wide, amazed eyes.

"Come then, Rose. Show us how you dance, and we will show you how we do the same."

I don't have to think before I take an outstretched hand and let them lead me farther into the plain. I'm vaguely grateful for the lack of any sort of vegetation. The grass could get a little prickly, especially for dancing.

They clear from around me, and immediately my arms raise, almost of their own accord. I always like to move my arms before the rest of my body. It feels like the natural progression of dance, and no one's ever told me otherwise.

My left arm traces a sweeping arc from above my head to my shoulders, and my right opens from the middle of my chest out to my side. I let my back and torso bend with the movement as it finishes. I almost fluff up with pride when the creatures of light make what seem to be sighs of approval.

My feet take their first few steps, spinning steps that bounce over the earth with all the grace in my body. I pride myself on making no more than a whisper of noise when my feet make contact with the ground. I instilled that in myself from early on. For me, quiet is grace.

As soon as my body warms to my dancing, I begin asking the more difficult things of it. The creatures of light have started up a humming, throbbing sort of song, and at the perfect break, I open both my arms, elbows rounded, and lift my leg in a slow kick that reaches above my head. I've gotten flexible over the years. A demure smile breaks across my lips when a collective sigh goes up among the light creatures. I like to think my dancing pleases them. After all, they please me, very much.

Suddenly, my eye catches something flying my way. On instinct, I shy away from it, but then I see that it's only a ribbon of light. From the smirk on one of the being's faces, it threw it to test me.

Alright then.

I swing myself back around and catch the ribbon with my foot, spinning it through the air and letting it float back down. I raise an arm to the sky and let it fall down my arm, across my shoulders, and down to my other hand. I catch the wisp of a thing with ease and grin as I gently toss it back to its owner.

It may be my imagination, but the creatures' lights seem to brighten. Did that please them? I know it pleased me.

Another ribbon comes flying toward me, this time a pale blue rather than a flashing red. Somehow, I want to treat this one with more care and less showiness. So I catch it in a cradle of my arms and let it wisp around for a bit, watching with fascination as it curls in on itself only to unfurl and stretch out, with a motion surprisingly similar to one of the city's cat's morning stretches. On one of its uncurling moments, I open my arms, expecting it to fall. I'm oh so pleasantly surprised when it only hangs there, as if waiting my next move.

I dip into an exaggerated curtsy, remembering to keep my eyes up. Aunt taught me that.

The memory of her puts a bit more finesse into my movements, and I feel my arms not only open, but strain into an extension I rarely attempt. I feel it all the way to the tips of my fingers. My shoulders shake from the effort, but it's very much worth it.

The ribbon folds itself into half and waits. I only realize it's bowing when it straightens and wiggles its way toward me, zigzagging in its flowing path. This is a playful, graceful ribbon.

I release my trembling arms from their pose and soften my body as I stretch out my hand to the pulsing, wriggling ribbon. It tickles the back of my hand for a few moments before sliding down my arm and wrapping around it until it's around my entire forearm. A tail just long enough to be an extension of my hand dangles from my wrist.

Another ribbon, the same color, floats toward my other arm, and I extend my hand, palm up, to welcome it. It too winds around my forearm and leaves a tail. I now have ribbons to dance with.

So I do. I leap and glide and twirl on the tips of my toes. I've never felt so free. My dancing ribbons stay with me the entire way, even lengthening when I stretch out the arm it's on. More ribbons come my way, and I dance with each of them, sometimes more than one at a time, before I send them back to their owners. Some return for a second, a third, a fourth dance, and I'm only too happy to oblige.

This continues for what might be the better part of an hour, but to me it seems like minutes only. How did they know exactly how to welcome me? Did Aunt tell them all about me?

The dance winds down, and by their nods, yes, Aunt told them much about me. I grin.

"The best welcome I've ever had," I whisper, surprised at my lack of breath.

The creatures float forward to encircle me again, embracing me in a mass sort of hug. Their ribbons tickle my cheeks.

"So what am I to do, exactly? Aunt only told me to protect, never how to go about it."

"Most things are well now, Rose. You needn't worry just yet."

Somehow, I catch the undercurrent there. Yet?

"So there is something the matter?"

"Train yourself first, and then we will explain."

I have to bite my lip to keep a sudden complaint from escaping. Am I a child, for secrets to be kept from me? How can I protect them if they won't let me?

"Patience," one of them chides.

I duck my head so they won't see the uncharacteristic defiance sparking in my eyes. I'm not sure where it's coming from, but I have the good sense to be ashamed of it. What would Aunt think of me? Oh she'd just be so proud. My head hangs a little further in shame.

If the creatures notice, they don't say anything.

Where is the one who welcomed me? He, she, it seemed to understand me. We connected.

As if on cue, it comes forward.

"Perhaps it's time you returned home for a bit. You've learned much in a very short time."

I almost protest, but I bite any words on my tongue back. It's not my place to disagree, is it? After all, I'm the new one here. I'm the stranger to this land.

So I nod my ducked head and let it lead me away from the plain and into the tall, prickly grass.

That was nothing like I was expecting. I just can't decide if that's good or bad.


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