Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 11 of 69

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They told her that he had died.

As soon as her eyes flickered open they swooped across, glee written on their faces as they pushed at each other, eager to be the first to tell her the news. There was no privacy in the healer's treatment room; other patients peered curiously at her from their beds as she turned her face away from the officials and buried it in the pillow. They told each other that her shoulders moved in a sob, or that her face was white. Either could have been true, but there was one story they knew no-one would believe. No-one dared to say they heard her cry. They knew that no-one would believe them.

Daine didn't tell herself any stories. She didn't have the strength to sit up in her bed, but once she was left alone she drew her knees up to her chest and hugged them protectively. The gesture felt a little strange. She did it by instinct whenever she felt unsafe, which had been several times a day before... before all this. But she couldn't remember doing it once when she was with him. Oh yes, when she didn't know the hawk was a man, and she didn't know the man was a person. Then, she could remember huddling by the fire in fear. But afterwards...? She swallowed back the dry pain in her throat when she remembered lying next to him, his fingers gently brushing along her wrist as he shaped the palaces of Carthak in the quiet firelight.

Forget him. She told herself harshly, swallowing so hard it felt like she was going to choke. Forget it. It's finished. Don't let them see you cry.

Why cry? The officials wanted to see it, to claim each bitter tear as it curved down her cheek. But what would be the point? There would be no careful fingertips, hesitantly wiping the tears away. There would be no soft words of comfort. Forget him.

They had decided not to kill her. They told her that, the next time they gathered around her to gloat. Their black robes looked like the wings of hawks, and their voices were deeper than growling wolves. Daine didn't look at them. She listened, eyes shut, hands wrapped around her knees, as they described the three days she'd been asleep. The discussions they'd had – in raised voices, and sharp words! – where they'd decided not to kill her. The hawk mage had died, but they knew she'd tried to save him.

They knew she'd used her magic, they said. Daine remembered the copper fire streaming out of her hands and shuddered. Was that what it had been: her magic?

Of course, they told her, it didn't work because of the charms around her wrist. And besides, whoever was healed with a little bit of wild magic? No-one! You stupid girl. But we know you tried. That counts for something, we guess.

Daine unconsciously wrapped a finger around her chain and they laughed. She released the cold silver as if it burned her, and they laughed harder.

You spent all your magic, and for what? He wasn't breathing when we came in. We thought you were dead, too, but then one of the guards checked your pulse. It seems you're a hard one to kill.

Daine squeezed her eyes shut tight and resisted the urge to press her hands over her ears. She didn't want to hear any more. She didn't want to hear how they'd found her, hands entwined in Numair's as if she could pull him back from the Black God's embrace. She didn't want to hear how they'd all come to stare at the strange scene before they even thought to check, to see if either prisoner still lived. She didn't want to hear how his fingers had been icy cold when they broke them away from her own. She didn't want to hear how they'd thrown his body to the pigs. She didn't... she couldn't. And so she tried to escape inside her own mind, as she had so many times before. But this time all she could hear was the whisper of her dead friend's voice, hopeful and caring and gone forever. This time, she did cry.

It seemed to satisfy the officials. They sniggered, and soon grew bored, and left.

It was another two days before Daine was well enough to walk. She was escorted back to her cell for a last night's sleep. In the morning, the guard told her, her duties would return to normal. She nodded mutely and heard the door click behind her.

Normal. The tiny stub of candle they'd given her lit up the bare walls, the bed and the shelf with the few brightly coloured feathers she'd collected over the years. Normal. The floor was cold and hurt the soles of her feet, and her footsteps were overloud in the frozen silence. Normal.

She put the candle down on the shelf and rested her head in her hands. She remembered without wanting to. She remembered the soft warmth of his lips, the dusky scent of his skin and the husky rumble of his voice. Normal.

Hot tears dripped between her fingertips and froze on the icy stone floor. Deep, bitter heat rose in her stomach and tried to choke her. Her nails drew blood from her cheeks as they stiffened and flexed in animal rage.

He was dead.

Nothing would ever be normal again.


They told him that she had died.

"I don't believe you." He said, and that was the end of it. They hadn't prepared a story. They were so used to power that it hadn't occurred to them that one of the slaves might argue. It didn't matter to them whether he believed them or not. He was as weak as a newborn kitten, but the wound on his stomach had healed into a harmless red scar. They didn't ask where his weakness had come from. They didn't dare do anything except snap the gold chain around his wrist the moment his eyes started to open.

They expected his skin to burn, like it had with the other wild creature. Her magic had consumed her: so out of control that it had nearly destroyed her. They expected the same from this man, but their curious eyes saw only a wash of tiredness, and renewed weakness.

Numair was surprised as well, but he didn't have the strength to wonder why. He didn't know why he was still human in the first place. He wasn't going to risk transforming just for another peek into his core. He couldn't remember anything that had happened after the hawk had swooped down at him, and the officials wouldn't – or couldn't – tell him.

The only person who would know was Daine. He asked where she was. They told him she had died, but their eyes skidded away, and their voices were too quick. He laughed and shook his head until they scowled and told him they didn't care if he believed them or not, he would never see her again either way. That sobered him, and he rested his aching head in his hands and tried to think.

What happened?

He should be a monster. Right now, he should be tearing through these pitiful human creatures with laughing talons, not lying here wrapped in feeble gold chains.

What happened?

He'd felt the sharp claws in his mind, tearing through his sanity like a knife. He'd heard his own answer, gleeful and wild. He'd reached out black wings towards the shining bird. And then... then...

He never heard words. He never heard people pleading with him, or shouting at him. Their mouths flapped open like comical puppets and he laughed at their sounds. But...

He had heard her voice. Harsh sounds in unpractised words. A soft voice with a Gallan burr. He had heard her calling to him. He turned away from the bird, and it screamed in fury. He was about to turn back, to soothe it, when she cried out again. The words were wild, pleading, and he felt his heart wrench at their desperation.

"Don't leave me. Don't. Don't..."

He turned around, wanting to be with her, to tell her that he was fine, that she should get away from the hawk. As soon as he turned around, light surrounded him: a flood of copper which bathed the dark tar of his feathered hands until the wings were washed away. His own hands looked bare, naked in the golden glow, and as he stared at them the light formed a hand, a hundred hands, holding onto his and pulling him away from the bird. The hawk beat futilely against the shell of copper but could not break through. Protected by her delicate copper hands, Numair was dragged back to the surface. There was no skill or delicacy in the magic, and the shock of being slammed back into his own body was too much for his ravaged spirit to handle. He blacked out.

Numair remembered all of this, the visions crystal clear in his suddenly-safe mind. Hesitantly he let himself meditate. He had barely closed his eyes before he saw the light, dimmer now but still strong, guarding his mind from the hawk.

He opened his eyes and frowned, tugging at his nose with rubbery fingers. How had she done it? She didn't even know how to meditate! How had she managed to break a curse which had been haunting him for years? No... he amended the thought... it wasn't broken. The copper light had faded. She'd protected him, but it wouldn't last forever. The hawk would return.

Still, it was incredible!

He linked his hands under his head and stared at the ceiling, his eyes already feeling heavy after being awake for a few scant minutes. For the first time in years he felt the strange flicker of hope fluttering in his chest. The bird was caged. He could be himself again. He could be human. He could be free.

The chain cut into the back of his neck and he frowned, awoken by the pain. The chain...he held his hand up to stare at it. Yes, it was stronger than the one Daine had broken. He could see that just by looking at the number of charms that were strung to the sturdy gold links. Even now he could feel it leeching strength from his bones as it blocked magic from the end of every vein. It would take someone else to break it. But...

... But Daine still had his magic. Well, some of it. Enough to break her silver chain off. And then what? Numair scratched his chin thoughtfully, realising with wry humour that while he'd been unconscious someone had thought to wash and shave him. Then, she would still be trapped in this prison, but with magic she didn't know how to control. He'd done enough that it would never control her again, but that didn't mean she'd know how to use it. She'd be almost as dangerous as before. Dangerous... to other people, possibly. But there was no question that the person most in danger was Daine herself. She'd have to be angry to break it. Furious, like she'd said before: angry, like a fire.

He bit his lip and shut his eyes tight, making his decision as firm in his mind as he could before sleep stole him away again. He had to escape. He had to help her. And it had to be soon. He had a sinking feeling that time was running out. What would make her angry enough to break the charm?

He remembered the odd softness in her grey eyes, and the impulsive way she'd kissed him. He remembered his own surprise. He remembered the rush of heat that made him almost dizzy, and the way he'd kissed her back without needing a second more to think about it. Something about being with her just felt right.

It was captor's syndrome, he told himself. He'd read about it when he was at university: the way that prisoners turned to their captors. He told himself that it would fade as soon as they were free, and that she would turn away from him the second a young swain caught her eye. She would soon find out that not everyone in the world would starve her of human kindness. It would take no more than a few smiles to coax her away from him, and then the Hawk Mage would be alone again. And he would be fine with that, Numair told himself steadily, not noticing his hand closing into a fist. He would be fine with that, because he only cared about her because she had been his captor.

He told himself all this, and didn't believe a word of it. As he was falling asleep, a horrifying thought woke him up again, and he clenched both fists so hard the chain drew blood from his palm.

What would make her angry? What would make him furious, if for a single second he'd believed it was true?

He heard the words, crystal clear in his too-sane mind, and the copper fire seemed to crackle angrily in his ears.

They'll tell her that I'm dead.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 11 of 69

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