Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 13 of 69

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There was a crash, and screaming, and then the sound of running footsteps.

"He's dead, he's dead!" A woman's voice screamed, out of breath as she ran. "Oh, someone help!"

Numair grinned. "I knew she wasn't dead." He told the ceiling matter-of-factly.

The ceiling didn't answer, as it hadn't for all the long days the mage had spent locked in this cell, idly scratching at his healing scar and waiting for them to come and give their daily threats. He'd laughed them off, and when they were gone he probed at the strange copper barrier in his mind as if it were a missing tooth. Each day it faded slightly more, which fascinated him as much as it worried him. He told the ceiling about it, and the dusty grey timbers remained obstinately silent. Not even the glint of a listening spell marred their dusty ugliness. Who would the hawk mage speak to? He was supposed to go mad in here, he reasoned.

"Well, I'm not going mad." He told the ceiling after the fourth day. "I'm bored, but this beats sleeping in the gutter and fighting the rats for my food. I think I deserve to be pampered like this. Breakfast in bed, and such. Gives me time to think."

The ceiling remained obstinately silent, and the man folded his arms. "I can guess your thoughts. But, you see, my mind belongs to me again. For the first time in... well, years, as dramatic as that sounds...! I'm myself again! So I'm enjoying spending some quality time with, well, with me. I'm quite interesting."

The ceiling seemed unmoved by the sentiment, and Numair wondered if perhaps he should be more modest. He was lying, anyway. Lying to a piece of architectural design. How ridiculous. It lacked the capacity to tell if he was being honest. And it probably wouldn't care, either way.

It wouldn't care that the last thing going through Numair's mind right now was boredom, or some journey of self-rediscovery. No matter how much the man squeezed his eyes shut or remembered old times, Daine always managed to return to his thoughts. A memory of talking to George or Lindhall would turn into a hope to introduce them to the girl, and a daydream about what they might say. A philosophical train of thought about a certain book would shift into a plan to escape, or a fantasy conversation he might have with the officials to make them see the girl as a human being.

He wondered how he'd been healed so quickly, and his only answer was the memory of light, warm fingers brushing against his skin. And always, but especially when he was feeling healthy, or warm, or sleepy, he would feel the agony of guilt and worry as he wondered where she was, and what they were doing to her.

He'd forced himself not to tell that to anyone, not even to the ceiling. If they had any idea how much he cared about her, they could use that against him. Against both of them. If he had broken down when they lied to him about her dying then they would have seen it as a weak point. As it was, they were still trying to break him.

They were finding it very, very difficult.

He didn't speak, think, or behave like a slave. He didn't cry, or beg, or rant at his captors. He simply stayed in his tiny cell, walking around it in endless circles to build up his strength and sleeping peacefully every night. When they threatened him he answered mildly, intelligently, making them leave scratching their heads in confusion more often than not. The gold chain around his wrist might have been an ornament he'd chosen to wear, for all the nonchalant interest that he regarded it with.

And they couldn't tell that he cared about the girl, not at all.

Inside, he was desperate. Days trickled past as he built up his strength and examined the gift which remained to him, and listened at the door of his cell. Life in the prison was, he discovered, very monotonous. Nothing seemed to break through the frozen facade of a normal, quiet keep guarding an insignificant mountain pass.

Until tonight, that was. The mage sat up quickly and listened, hearing the maid's screams as she fled towards the depths of the castle. Then there was silence. Was it distant hysterical voices he heard, or the calls of bats? Then there was the thunder of hobnailed footsteps, and loud shouted orders in deep voices which echoed into senselessness in the stone corridors.

The cell door was flung open with a crash, and Numair had to raise his hands to shield his eyes from the torchlight.

"Is it morning?" He asked the assembled guards with a sarcastically bright smile. A shorter man pushed through the humourless men and scowled.

"You." He hissed, stepping closer with the cowardly courage of the trapper who knows the wolf has no teeth. "You know something about this."

"Me? This?" Numair smiled in baffled politeness and made a point of looking around the room he was locked in, at the chain on his wrist, at the longer chain which shackled his leg to a loop in the centre of the cell. "Yes... I overheard some gossip on my nightly stroll through your delightful grounds. Nice peacocks, by the way..."

"Bring him." The healer said curtly to the nearest guard. The man saluted, and then flicked his eyes up at the other guards who stayed after the healer had gone.

"Well, check the perimeter, you idle bastards." His voice was brisk, petulant. "I don't want her charging in when I've got my hands full with this one, now, do I?"

"You'll be alright on your own, Ronan?"

"I just said so, didn't I?" The soldier growled. The other men nodded, saluted hastily and peeled away. Numair watched the one remaining man- Ronan- turn to the heavy chain on the floor and press a glowing finger to the magical lock. It fell away with a clang. The captive looked up at the door and wondered how far he would get if he managed to strangle this guard with the chain.

"Tempting, isn't it? But if you do that then you won't be able to help Daine." Ronan said casually, a loop of the chain wrapped around his wrist. Numair blinked, laughed in surprise, and then held out empty hands.

"How do you know her name?" He demanded. Ronan smiled.

"Your little one?" He watched the mage's reaction with a strange kind of sadness, and then nodded. "Ah, yes." He said, not really answering the question, "Well, give me your hand. No, you idiot! The one with the chain on it. Gods."

Numair held out the chain mutely, completely bewildered, still considering the man through narrowed eyes. This was the same man who had moved Daine closer to the fire, when she'd been so badly beaten. This was the one who had given her the blanket. Small acts of kindness, sure, but he was quickly learning that in a place like this they were almost unthinkable luxuries.

Before he took the chain, the other man paused and looked almost uncertain."You have to escape. Not fight. Do you understand? You can't fight. It's pointless, and you'll both die. She won't understand that. But you can make her run. Drag her, if you have to, but get her out of here."

Numair blinked, and nodded back just as uncertainly. The guard bit his lip as he considered the chain, and then pressed a finger to one link and whispered a word. Butter yellow fire glimmered for a second, and then faded.

"Break it when you need to, at that point." Ronan whispered quickly. "Just – pull it. Snap it. It's weak enough now. Don't try to magic it off, whatever you do! And... it was weakened on its own, understand? A faulty chain."

"Thank you." Numair whispered back, and the other man dropped his hand as if it burned him.

"Save your thanks. You're a useful tool to me, nothing more. Just a... a device. If I could protect her myself then I'd leave you here to rot. And gladly."

"Understood." Numair caught the man's eyes for a moment, and saw the depths of an emotion that was so fine a mixture of hatred, hope, fear and compassion that it made his own heart jump into his throat. "I am sorry."

Ronan spat on the floor and yanked at the chain, conversation over. It cut sharply into Numair's ankle, and he stumbled to his feet. One hand wrapped around the chain on his opposite wrist, he tried to quiet his racing heart.

Pick your time well, he thought, and his knuckles turned white around the weak link. He caught sight of the back of the healer's head in the line of guards they had caught up with, and felt the hot sickness of rage rise like bile in his throat. He had to stop himself from tearing the chain of right there and blasting the man with fire, now he knew that was an option.

"She's vanished." One of the guards was telling the healer in a voice he didn't bother to lower as they walked. "They think they've spotted her near the north wing, but..."

"But she's clever." The healer's voice was like oil. "More clever than we gave her credit for. One casualty is understandable, more would just be careless. She fooled us with the hawk mage, and she fooled us with Official Genat. We won't be tricked a third time."

"She'll be looking for him." The guard indicated Numair with a shrug of one shoulder, but Ronan was already shaking his head.

"She thinks he's dead. Why on earth would she look for him? What would she look for? His body? His rotten, pig-chewed bones?" He seemed to relish the last phrase, and the mage couldn't help shuddering. The guard smirked back at him, but his eyes were humourless and held a message. "She thinks he's dead, and she's avenging him. I'd look to the officials. And Dakinn." He said it flatly, so emotionless that the healer's horrified reaction seemed almost comical.

Ronan shrugged. There might have been some sadistic pleasure in his words. "She'll be after you, sir."

"Pure conjecture." The healer blustered, stumbling over the word. But his steps quickened.

"Where might we be going, on this fine winter's evening?" Numair asked loudly, wondering if there was any chance she might overhear and know he was alive. Half of the guards cut their eyes back at him, the other half ignored him.

"She knows where all the officials' rooms are, after all." Dakinn mused out loud, still walking very fast. "She doesn't know where the safe room is. So even if she is going after them, then..."

His voice was lost in the echoes of a stone tunnel, and Numair had to duck his head as they all squeezed through a tiny passage cut into stone. It broadened out into a vast room, more like a cave than a room, and they were barely inside before an iron door clanged shut behind them. There was a rustle of anxious voices in the darkness, and then a lantern was lit, and collectively the shadowed men breathed a sigh of relief.

"You're hiding from a little girl?" Numair asked, and laughed mockingly. Ronan yanked at the chain, and he fell over with a yelp, still giggling. "Ah, you're truly the terror of Galla, my lords!"

"There are others who fight for us. We have power, and gold, and intellect." One of the men said in a cold voice. "We can buy people to die for us."

Amidst the murmur of agreement Numair's answer cut through poisonously. "Would they still agree to do it, though, if they knew what you all did to her? Or did you keep those details secret, my lord officials? How harshly would you punish a torturer or a rapist in this prison of yours? I'm damned sure none of you are people anyone would want to die for. Money can't buy back the things you've done. And she's only one person - one girl against all of you! How many others have you broken and killed with your gold and your power and your intellect?"

The guards stood silently, looking at their feet as their eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light. Looking around, Numair could see that many of them had only learned the truth very recently, or, if they had known it, had never really thought about it enough to question it.

"We will not take lessons in morals from a man who let innocent children burn in their beds, and who slaughtered priests at their morning prayers." The voice had the air of finality, and Numair caught his breath at the accusation. He couldn't remember doing either of those things, but that didn't mean he hadn't done them. He lay on the floor, stared at the ceiling, and felt the cold stone at his back.

Run away, don't fight. He remembered Ronan's words, and regretted agreeing to them. It would be so easy to burn this room, to shield himself and his ambivalent captor and ring the walls in black, roaring flames. The stone would soon cool down again, and the iron door was bolted on the inside. But the men outside of this room were the dangerous ones, and that was where Daine was. He needed to protect her, not avenge her. And so he lay quietly, thinking quickly and wrapping long fingers around the chain. No-one was paying him any attention, not yet. If things got worse, he guessed, they would try to use him for leverage against her. But aside from a few distant yells there was no real sign that anything was going on at all.

So, he needed to reach her. Ronan was right: he needed to run away.

Run away? Nothing easier.

Numair snapped the chain between two long fingers, as easily as if it were made of wax. The manacle on his ankle took no more than a spark of the gift to melt away, and casting a tiny amount of darkness in a blackened room to cover the glitter was child's play. He was free from his chains, and slipped through the crowd as a silent shadow. They were in the centre of the room, and the entrance he had come in through was a few feet away – one of many, and not guarded like some of the others. He whispered up to it on silent feet. A small part of him danced gleefully at the ease with which he used his magic. It was so simple: like old times, before the hawk haunted him.

Now. The door. It wasn't warded, so he could slip through the wood and stone of it, but it would drain a lot of his gift. It was held shut by a single wooden bar. Presumably they would ward it if they saw a threat. He would have to simply open it - a risk, but it made him think of an idea, and he grinned. Quickly, silently, he raised the bar and let the door swing open. A guard saw him and shouted, striding forward, but by then the mage had raced through and pulled the heavy door shut behind him. Of course he could not lock it from this side. He pressed a thin hand against the metal and whispered a few words, sealing the iron to the rock and warding the door for good measure. Hoarse shouts of outrage followed him, and he laughed out loud.

They were trapped. Caged. Let's see how you like it! he thought.

They might come through another door, though. Before they even stopped pounding at the sealed door and thought about how they could catch him, Numair disappeared up the tunnels into the keep.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 13 of 69

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