A handful of reasons
This is a small story about Davin and Rosa from The Shamer chronicles, written by Danish Lene Kaaberbøl. She is a quite famous fantasy write, and this series has gotten translated to English. Just information if anyone feels like checking it out. The first book is called The Shamer's daughter.
Okay, so this story is seen from Davin's perspective, where he ponders on his love for Rosa and how he should express it. Enjoy.
We fought a lot when we were children. I guess it was because we thought we were very different, which we were not, actually. It was mostly trifles, but we embraced every little possibility to address some unimportant issue, just to get the chance to have a discussion.
I liked discussing with Rosa. She has always been able to hold her ground in an argument, but knows how to back down if she realizes she is wrong. I quite admired that about her, but of course I never told her that. It didn't matter anyway. There was no reason to make things weird by actually letting her know that I appreciated her company. Likewise for her. It was like a silent agreement between us, and it was easy enough at first.
When Rosa and I first met, she was twelve and I was fifteen. She was just an annoying little girl with a sharp tongue and wicked skills with that tiny knife of hers. In my opinion I was superior to her in pretty much everything. That was of course an awfully conceited way of thinking, but I was stupid, self-centred and more than a little awkward around her. I had been living with Mom, Dina and Mellie all my life, and I thought I was used to handling women (even those with shamer eyes). But Rosa was a total mystery to me from day 1. I was taking aback, so to say. She was this crude little brat, who had befriended my little sister by a coincident. I once spoke to Callan about her after an hour of intense battle training. To my surprise his eyes had gotten a certain fondness to them I rarely saw. He had called her a "tough little lass" and even said that she probably would do great with a sword after a little training. Apparently she had "a fire burning inside". I don't know why, but I got mad at him. It was a childish reaction. It wasn't Rosa's fault that Callan thought she had potential. But the thing was, he rarely praised me on my fighting skills, and then the kid just scooped her way in and made him all affectionate. It wasn't fair.
I grew up and thankfully tossed aside most of my silly jealousness of a girl three years younger than me. But the growing up part also added new complications to my already pretty complex existence. I was sixteen when Dina disappeared, and when Rosa determinedly decided that she was going with me to find her. It worked out well in the end. We saved my sister from that bastard Valdracu, I killed him when he lay struggling in the mud, fought for a while with the burning guilt of murdering a defenceless man and went home to the highlands. Dina, Rosa and I. It was all very fine and dandy.
The problem was that Rosa by then had been upgraded from a normal presence in my life to something interesting and slightly sensational. She wasn't just Rosa, adoptive sister, Dina's best friend, arguing comrade. She was Rosa, and I did not quite know how to attune myself to that. She had this way of looking at me, grey eyes thoughtful and expression solemn. Her gaze would be very intense, like she was trying to see into my soul. She didn't do it on purpose (It was not like she was going out of her way to make me uncomfortable), but sometimes I tried to avoid her eyes even harder than I did with Mother's and Dina's. Subconsciously I must have felt that Rosa made up more of a threat to my secrets and thoughts than a couple of shamers did. Maybe because I actually worried about what she would think of me if she knew. She couldn't know.
Some say that you are never too young to love, but I think I was. I had much to learn.
The whole thing with Sezuan created a tension between Rosa and me. It was mostly my fault, even though I didn't like to admit it. It started with me suspecting her and her dog of thieving in the town we lived in (or hid in, rather). It was a false accusation on my part, but once again my pride prevented me from apologizing to her. And my stubbornness broke something. We didn't fight any more. We didn't do anything. There was only silence, which was so heavy you would have been able to slice through it with a knife. Even Rosa's blunt, rusty one. It was unbearable, and it surprised me that I missed the fighting and the arguing and all her clever verbal lashes. She had one hell of an imagination.
But the thing was, she couldn't possibly imagine what I had gone through in that damned fortress in Sagisloc.
I had spent a couple of nights in the hall of whisperers. Nico was there with me. The only difference was that he did not break down and kiss that tutor's ring, and I did. I was weak and thought only of myself, and Nico was the one who paid for my selfishness. The only remotely good thing about our stay in the prison was that the experience, all the hardship and collaboration day out and day in, resulted in Nico and me developing some sort of friendship. Tender, but a friendship none the less. At night, in the small cell I shared with him and a dozen other men, I had had a lot of time to think. I had thought about my sore muscles, my anger which I hadn't quite known where to direct, the hopelessness of knowing I couldn't do anything to protect Dina and Mom against that poisonous serpent Dina called Father.. And I thought of Rosa. Or Rosa. Both of them, really. They had begun to melt together in my mind, those two identities, into one single Rosa. There wasn't any longer far from irritating to fascinating. But I still didn't know then what it was, this feeling.
When I was seventeen, almost eighteen, I decided that I was in love. It wasn't actually a decision as much as it was just something that crept up and me, and I accepted it, though reluctantly. The funny thing was that, after having realized this, we fought even more. We argued about the tiniest, most trivial things. Sometimes our bickering became too much for even my patient mother, and she would send us out of the house because she didn't want to be witness to our childish behaviour any longer. But I welcomed the anger and misunderstandings. When I became so annoyed I could hardly stand staying in the same room as her, I didn't have time to think about my mistake in pushing her further and further away. But when I sometimes did, which was a little too often, I felt guilty. She was like a little sister to me, and though she was close to reaching her fifteenth summer, I still felt like a cradle robber. There wasn't exactly a ton of girls to choose between among the Kensies, but there were quite a few still. So why couldn't I just make it easy for myself and become enamoured with someone that wasn't my kid adoptive sister?
My teenage life had never been easy, but come on.
After Nico had defeated Drakan near the city of Skaya and Dina had created a dream for everyone to avoid the up-coming war, we returned to the Juniper-berry house. To home. The first few weeks I couldn't really believe that everything was back to normal. The peace seemed so tentative. Sad as it may sound had we, after Drakan's mad raid across the country, all gotten used to living in fear and being on the run. And suddenly there was no more running, but no one quite seemed to know what to do with themselves. Mother, Dina, Mellie, Rosa and I, along with all the other Kensie folks had been lucky. The dragon army hadn't reached Kensie land during their rampage. We had had a home waiting for us between soft green hills and juniper trees heavily loaded with their characteristic black, bitter tasting berries. But not all the inhabitants who had been influenced by the terror Drakan had created were as fortunate as we. Many did not have a place to return to and call their own any longer. So many lives had been lost, and so many did not have a single person left in their world to rely on and care for. To fight their personal battles with. War was a lonesome thing, I realized. That was also why I had started praying. I am not a religious person, but to me it seemed like something very close to a miracle that we all had made it through this. I would lie in my bed at night and say my "thank you" to a holy presence I didn't really believe in, but whom I still felt I owed something to. We were alive and well, after all. Or as well as it was possible to be, the circumstances taken into account. So I prayed. I didn't make a big deal out of it or anything, but still Rosa found out.
The surprising thing was that she did not tease me or gave me a hard time about it. When she first found me sitting on my bedspread with loosely folded hands a slight frown appeared on her forehead, but then she sat down beside me. She did not thank God, though. She told me that was because she believed that if God was really there and was as almighty as people said, he would not have let all this happen. He would not have allowed all the anger and hatred to take root in the hearts of his own beings. But Rosa would sit there with me until I was done, and then carefully slide her small hand into mine. Neither of us would say anything, but that was okay, because silence with Rosa wasn't that bad at all.
Half a year or so after that, when the gruesome war was only an unpleasant memory, I told her I loved her. She hit me with a frying pan. Turned out she was unusually strong for a young woman. She had by then become one of those to me. A woman, I mean. It seemed like the right time to tell her. She was standing there by the kitchen table, single blonde braid resting on her frail shoulder and storm grey eyes fixed on her task of slicing carrots for a casserole. The tip of her tongue was sticking out between her slightly parted lips, indicating how concentrated she was. I liked her lips. They were full and pink, and had that soft curve to them that made it look a little like she was always pouting. Melli was sitting on a chair next to her, chatting happily about something or other. I wasn't listening, really. The only thing I could focus on was Rosa's lips, forming a soft smile, and her eyes, shining with amusement. Okay, so my youngest sister had said something funny. I could do that. I could make Rosa laugh too. I was probably much better at it than Melli. Or at least I was better at making her angry, but I pushed that fact aside. I opened my mouth, prepared to sound suave and smart, and said: "You've got some carrot juice on your cheek."
What a miserable fail.
She turned towards me, only then realizing that I was in the room as well. "Oh". She smiled at me and raised her hand to remove the juice. Before she could do that I closed the distance between us in three big steps and rubbed it away with my left hand's palm. Her eyes widened slightly at my caress, and for a second it looked like she would drop the relatively big knife she was holding onto my foot. She quickly composed herself, and to my discontent she stepped out of my reach. "Thank you" she said, her voice shaking almost inaudibly. She still had that easy-going smile on her face, but she looked more than a little on edge as she put down the cutting tool. Melli watched me in a way that told me she was suspecting something might be up. And I watched Rosa. "So.. How are you?" I said, trying to reestablish a normal conversation. "I'm fine" she answered, without looking up from the vegetables she was putting onto the frying pan. "Really?" I asked.
"Yes, Davin, really really" She was avoiding to meet my eyes, but I could see that her smile had grown a tad gentler, and a quiet giggle reached my ear. I went to stand next to her, placing myself between her and my younger sister, who came with a resigned "Hey!" and tried to push me away, but being only eight and quite small for her age she didn't stand a chance. So I stood firm and tried my best to ignore her. Which turned out not to be very easy since she had now resolved to hit my back with clenched fists. "Rosa" I muttered, my voice growing a little husky (I haven't got a clue why it did that), and my blood rushing in my ears, "I want to tell you something"
"Go ahead" she urged me on a little too hastily, her eyes darting this way and that. Without thinking I reached up and put my hands on her cheeks, holding her head still and forcing her to look only at me. Grey eyes. Beautiful. "I'm in love with you"
And that was when she hit me with that frying pan. She just gripped it and swung it towards my head, which resulted in carrot pieces, onion and crushed garlic flying everywhere and raining down onto us like multicolored, healthy snow. Thanks to my fine reflexes I managed to narrowly avoid getting hit over the back of my neck, which would most likely have resulted in more or less serious damage. But the pan still got me a little further up on the head, making me see both stars and birds. My surroundings started spinning uncomfortably fast, and a throbbing pain in my head indicated that I was likely growing a bump as big as an ostrich egg. Then I fell. Fell and fell, until I couldn't fall anymore, and my backside collided with the hardwood floor. Everything turned completely black for a moment. Or maybe more than a moment, I wasn't really counting minutes.
It was Rosa that pulled me back to the surface. "Davin? Davin, damn it. Oh my God, what have I done?" Her voice was strained with worry. I wanted to tell her that she needn't be anxious, and that I was alright. Except I wasn't, which I was convinced of when realizing that the only sound that came out of my mouth when I tried to speak was an obscure mumbling.
"You hit him with a frying pan" Melli stated helpfully.
"Thanks, I wasn't aware of it" Rosa hissed sarcastically.
"I think you might have given him a concussion. He looks silly"
"Melli!" Rosa tightened her hold on my shoulders and shook me, "Wake up, Davin"
The way she said my name..
Yeah, like that. I liked it.
"Bleuh" I think it was me who made that sound. It didn't like that.
"If you don't come to your senses, I will.. I will hit you one more time!"
And I definitely didn't care for that. I forced open my eyes and blinked a couple of times. "Where am I?" I asked, still feeling woozy.
"Kitchen" Melli said. Like Rosa she was leaning over me, but where Rosa looked concerned and guilt-ridden, my sister observed me like I was an interesting animal. When had my kid sister become so wretched? That was perhaps a harsh description, but she wasn't this cold when she was younger, I tell you. "Mel, Remind me that next time I want to tell Rosa something important I should keep a safe distance from heavy objects." I turned my attention to the girl in question and smiled, which turned into more of a grimace, "You are a strong girl. That was one nice stroke". I fought to sit up and, when succeeding, used the linen chest to lean against.
"You foolish.." she embraced me tightly, right there on the floor, and I put my arms around her so that one hand was resting on her shoulder and the other lay lightly on her lower back. I laughed into her hair, "I would say the foolish one is her who beats up her suitors with frying pans"
Her face turned red with embarrassment, glowing from cheeks to hair roots. She looked adorable. "Idiot" she just said.
"I would prefer "I love you too, Davin" "I answered, again feeling a little nervous.
Over Rosa's shoulder I saw that Melli was still standing there, for once at a loss for words. "Would you mind leaving?" I asked her. She finally had the decency to look worried. Her blue eyes asked me the silent question: "Will you be okay?" I nodded, sending her a reassuring smile. Then she left without further ado, seemingly very relieved to be leaving the scene. It was just Rosa and me. And she still hadn't let go of the frying pan; I could feel the cold weight of it through the shirt fabric on my back. "Rosa?" I said her name very carefully, not daring to move from her strangle hold. Truth to be told, I didn't really want to. She was all soft curves pressing against me, and I didn't feel like mustering the willpower to let go of that. But we really had to talk. So I slowly freed myself from the embrace and pulled a little away. She sat there looking at me, cheeks flushed and eyes intensely focused, like she was trying to see into my head and figure out what I was thinking. "I am sorry" I didn't know what else to say. She hadn't taken my declaration of love as well as I had hoped for her to. What was I thinking? I shouldn't have done that. I should have thought this through. Of course she only saw me as a half-brother. She was right, I was a fool. I hid my head in my hands as a way to escape what was to come.
"You know I'm fifteen, right?" she asked, and I nodded into my palms. "But you'll turn sixteen in a couple of months" I said defensively.
"What do you mean?" But I knew exactly what she meant. Why had I developed a crush on her when I could have done it on any other girl in the highlands?
"There are many sweet girls in Kensie", she removed my hands and forced me to meet her eyes, "What makes me special?"
I couldn't help joking at that, though I knew it was an incredibly stupid way to handle the situation. "You know, that's an awfully conceited way of thinking, Rosa"
She didn't let my comment sway her. "Please"
"Okay.." I pulled my hand free from her hold and counted on my fingers, raising them one at a time. "First of all.. You're smart. Not silly and empty-headed like many of the other girls. You actually know what you are talking about, and can hold your ground in an argument. Second.."
I used the other hand to tug a stray lock back behind her ear; she shivered at the contact. "You are stubborn. Remember that time you followed me when I was going after Dina? I told you to go home and went out of my way to make you change your mind – "
"You were awful" Rosa interrupted, a small smile tugging at her lips. Like she was thinking fondly of a dear memory. It made me smile as well. "I know", I said, "I was. But you just kept going. And it turned out I needed you when all came to all. You know what you want, you go for it, and you take it. You try so hard. That's admirably, Rosa".
I sounded like some love-struck fool. Great.
"You've still got three fingers left" she pointed to my hand, a teasing sparkle now clear in her eyes. It gave me the courage to go on. "Right. Brave."
"Brave?" she raised an eyebrow questioningly, "You've got it wrong. I'm not the brave one in this family. That's your mother, Dina and you. I just tag along". The last sentences had a hint of bitterness to it. I bit my lip. Did she really think that she was no good? "Who was it again that stabbed Drakan's foot with her knife?"
She hesitated, then muttered: "That was me.."
"And who stood up to me and tried to help me when.." Now it was my turn to become quiet. I found myself shivering slightly, like I subconsciously was trying shake of an unpleasant feeling. "When I was addicted to that dragonblood"
Her gaze grew very soft. She was feeling sorry for me. That caused ambivalent inside of me; a warm rush spread through me, but a sour taste also found the way into my mouth. I didn't want pity. That didn't take away the shame of knowing that I willingly had consumed that nasty stuff. That I had let the weakness of drug dependency control my body. I didn't deserve her compassion.
"That was you, Rosa. All you" I said, very quietly, and ventured taking her hand. Then I hurried up and continued as soon as I realized that she wasn't going to pull away. "You are kind."
At this she laughed disbelievingly. "That's a joke" she said, "I mean, we're always fighting"
"I like it"
"You like fighting?"
"No" I said, realizing how weird that sounded, "It's more the arguing part. It's.. Sort of fun, you know"
To my surprise she nodded, her braid bobbing up and down with the movement, and smiled carefully. She said, "Yeah.. I know. Do you remember that time when we had just arrived in Kensie?"
Now it was my turn to nod, though I wasn't quite sure what exactly she was referring to.
"You was climbing one of the trees out back when I found you"
"Oh!" I said, recalling the moment with no trouble at all. Then I laughed, but quickly stopped again, because the sound made my poor head throb. "I remember. You scolded me, said my technique was wrong. We spend the whole dinner bickering about it, 'til Mom threw us out"
"Your technique was wrong, Davin" she teased, "I knew what I was talking about". She stroked the back of my hand with her finger tips, suddenly serious again. "There's one left"
I had become totally distracted by that stroking, Gods, her skin is soft, so for a moment I didn't catch what she meant. "One left?"
"One finger" she said, pulling on my thumb to make sure the point got through. A mass of adjectives that fit Rosa just perfectly rushed through my head. How was I supposed to pick one? There were so many ways to describe her. Rosa was made of so many nuances and contradictions that it all sometimes got me all dizzy. "Does it matter?" I asked, "Do I have to choose?"
"Yes" she answered, gray eyes staring into my soul, and I just said the first thing that came to mind while holding her hand tighter. "Beautiful". She was. In all ways possible. From her light hair and pale skin dusted with freckles in the summer, to those eyes that shone with a silver gleam from this certain angle, and that sweet, little smile she would sometimes send me. Even when she was angry like a thunderstorm and was close to ripping off my head, she was beautiful. When she was troubled about something and chewed on her lower lip, she was beautiful. When she was laughing, so that two perfect pimples appeared in her cheeks, she was the most breathtaking thing I had ever seen.
Her cheeks grew a little redder, but she looked at me steadily. Then she put down the pan, leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on my own cheeks, which I was convinced was just as burning as hers. "You forgot one" she muttered, in the exact same moment Dina came through the door. I let loose a line of swear words so bad they would have made a sailor blush and stared at her. "What are you guys doing?" she asked, frowning down at us. Then I realized how weird we must have been looking, sitting on the floor holding hands on top of a kitchen tool and with pieces of carrot and onion in our hair and on our clothes. "Nothing" I said with a casual smile and helped Rosa to her feet. Dina shrugged it off and went further into the kitchen to find something in a cabinet. While she was engaged with that I leaned closer to Rosa and asked whispering "Which did I forget?"
She smiled at me and kissed me again, on the other cheek this time, and said, mouth so close to my ear that I could feel her hot breath caressing my skin: "Yours"