Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 15 of 69

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Daine woke up and blinked, shivering in the icy air. They had found a small incline under a rocky shelf. The cliff-face was blanketed by ferns, more sheltered than the exposed hills and hidden away from any passing mountain folk. Raindrops pattered on the leaves, and the wan dawn light streamed through the leaves in a disorientating green hue. It was like another world, and it took her a moment to remember where she was.

Numair still slept deeply beside her, one arm pillowing his head, the other still encircling her shoulders. She cuddled up to his sleeping warmth. It seemed like some kind of dream, to lie sleepily beside him under the old fur - a horse blanket they'd risked stealing from the stables of a remote inn. She felt warm and free... if not entirely safe. It was the kind of dream where, at any moment, someone might burst into the room and wake you up. The troubling thought woke her again from a half-doze, and she nestled closer to the man.

Dreamily, she looked at him, as if she was seeing him for the first time. Alive. A long, thin face framed by dark hair. Even without his arresting black eyes it was still an attractive face, she decided. He frowned slightly in his sleep, but it was a gentle expression. She kissed his cheek softly, knowing he wouldn't awaken from such a light touch, and rested her hand on his chest. He breathed evenly, and she leaned her head against his shoulder peacefully for a few minutes. She could hear his heartbeat, and something in her stomach warmed at the sound. Alive.

She already knew his body, but she'd known it as a healer trying to mend a broken shell. Now, warm and whole and alive, every inch of his skin fascinated her. Part of her mind didn't believe he was really here, and that he was really strong and healed. It was impossible. She slid her hand inside his shirt without thinking about it, sensing the lines of his chest and the raised healed scar with her fingertips, wishing it wasn't too cold to draw the fur away and see the shape the scar made across his stomach. He breathed in more deeply than before, and she looked up into open, sleep-addled black eyes.

"Daine?" He asked in a confused voice, still trapped in the world of dreams.

"Ssh." She said, running her hand along his chest and across his shoulder blades. Yes, he was still too thin, but the skeletal, deathly look had faded. He shivered, and she wondered if he was cold, when now she felt so deliciously warm. He took a breath again, and she realised she didn't want him to break the silent, tender dream that danced around her. She kissed him before he could speak, pressing closer and closer to him as he sleepily wrapped an arm around her back and held her tightly.

"What are you doing?" he whispered in her ear when they broke apart. His voice was sounding more awake now, and although there was an undercurrent of uneasy laughter in his tone she knew he was quite serious in asking.

She swept her fingers back across his skin and tangled her other hand in his hair, prompting some unconscious instinct as he reached up to kiss her again. Soft fire raced through her body, tingling in her fingertips and pooling in her stomach. He laughed raggedly, breaking away and cupping her chin in his free hand, eyes flicking sideways.

"This is..." he stopped and shut his eyes tight for a second, frustrated at his lack of words as she stroked soft fingertips across his stomach. "Daine, little one, sweetheart, please. Please stop doing that. I can't think when you're doing that."

"Why do you want to think?" She asked. He shook his head, eyes still shut, and she held her hand still over his racing heartbeat.

"Not that I'm saying this isn't a nice way to wake up, but... but Daine, you mustn't." He said earnestly, eyes clear from sleep now. Whatever his thoughts were, they came out in a rushed babble. "It'll wear off, you see. It's not real. What we feel for each other is just... just an illusion. It's because we need each other. Because we have to fight, not because we're... we're..."

He lost his train of thought and his thumb lightly brushed against her cheek, then traced the shape of her face with the same kind of delicate curiosity she'd felt flickering in his eyes. Daine closed her eyes and let herself feel the warmth of his hand, the callous of his fingers, the velvet-black warmth that caressed her skin wherever he touched her.

"Doesn't it feel real to you?" She asked in a whisper, opening her eyes.

For a moment their eyes met, and she caught her breath at the expression in his dark gaze. He didn't answer, and so she kissed him again, showing him gentleness and warmth and the slow-burning fire that she was sure he felt, too. He made an odd sound, his hand tightening around her face as he drew her closer and kissed her back. He raised his other hand to tangle it in her hair, but then stopped himself. He made a strangled sound and pulled away, his eyes fierce.

"No," he said firmly, and his voice held an iron-coldness she'd not heard before. "No, Daine, it doesn't. I won't lie to you. And it's not right."

She bit her lip, a deep flush rising in her cheeks. "But I thought you wanted..."

She realised straight away that she'd said the wrong thing. He flushed and looked away. His hands fell away from her face as if her skin had burned him, but he didn't answer her. She shrugged off the fur and pulled away from him. Of course it was what he wanted. That was why he was turning her down! Because in his strange, noble head it would make him no different from all the other men. Was that what he thought? She knew she was making up thoughts for him, but they ran rapidly, painfully through her mind as if they were dragged by horses.

The wild creature he'd rescued had only survived because men had wanted her. It was why they hadn't worked her to death in the fields like the other slaves, and why they had sometimes cared for her after they beat her so she wouldn't die. She had survived because they wanted her. And now... now she had survived because Numair had protected her, and he had to tell himself it was for other reasons. Because, morally, he believed that they were wrong. If he acted the same way that they had, then how could he possibly make a stand against them? It wouldn't matter to him that she gave herself to him out of love, and that she'd had no choice with them.

He might not even believe that was true. Who knew what went through his mind?

"It's different." She whispered, but even as the words came out she knew he wasn't listening. She didn't have the words to make him understand. She couldn't break through the wall he'd built in his head, which wouldn't let him touch her because all he would feel under his hands was skin that other men had used before him. She was damaged, and used, and broken, and he couldn't fix her.

Maybe he didn't even want to try.

"This stops." He said, not looking at her as she turned away. "I shouldn't even have started it, and I'm sorry. But it has to end."

"I started it." She told him, her voice scathing.

He didn't look up, and she cursed out loud and stood up to walk away. If she'd have looked back she might have seen the raw pain in his eyes as he couldn't help but look around, but she didn't. She bit her lip and clenched her fists and hated both him and herself in equal measure.


On the fifth night a thick frost fell, making the ferns into delicate sculptures which were deadly still in the bitter wind. They risked a fire, but didn't dare make it large enough to be seen from any real distance, and even huddled right next to it they could barely feel its warmth. Daine couldn't stop her teeth from rattling, and her fingers were so stiff with cold that she didn't even notice the savage splinter she'd picked up from one of the frozen sticks they were burning. Numair cursed and caught her wrist, seeing the brightness of blood, but even when he pulled the sharp piece of wood from her palm Daine couldn't feel any pain.

She bit her lip and sucked the blood away, her stomach churning in revulsion at the coppery taste of the only thing she'd consumed in days. They hadn't dared risked stealing food from anywhere they passed. An old fur might be mislaid, but food was kept close by in the lean winter months. The game were all hibernating, and although they set some traps there were no animals to catch. They chewed on bark to stop their stomachs from cramping, and drank brackish water from the glacial streams, and both grew thinner.

"We can't go on like this." Numair said gently, blowing on her fingers to warm them up while they waited for the fire to catch. "Not like this. We didn't go through all of that just to end up starving to death in a freezing ditch."

"I'm happy." She said, shivering. He smiled sardonically and held her hands close to the warmth of his chest.

"You can still die when you're happy, Daine. It's no more pleasant than dying when you're sad." He sighed and looked up at the greenish morning sky, then the looming keeps. "If only I had a way to contact... but it's useless."

Daine didn't answer, but tucked her head under his chin and cuddled closer. "I could ask the birds." She said eventually, absently tangling her fingers together with his. He stiffened, and for a moment she thought he was angry with her for touching him, but he let his breath out in a rush and his voice was excited:

"Would that work? Like carrier pigeons?"

"Why not?" She paused to consider her own words, and a slow smile spread across her face. The local birds were all the ragged black ravens that cawed in the leafless trees. They were very different from the docile, fat pigeons she'd seen in messenger towers. "Might scare your friend a little."

"She'd never admit it scared her, even if it did." Numair's voice was suddenly purposeful, and he pulled away, tearing at the edge of his tunic. Daine watched him with wide eyes until he looked up and grinned. "Well, what else are we going to write on? Are you calling them?"

"Now?" Daine swallowed and looked around, hearing the mocking calls of the birds and the pressing thud of her own heartbeat in her ears. "Someone might overhear."

He looked up, eyebrows raised, one hand poised halfway to grabbing a piece of charcoal from the fire. "Can't you call them silently?"

"I wish you'd stop pointing out all the things I can't do." She said irritably. "I'd never point out that you can't even light a fire without burning your fingers."

He ignored that and put his scrap of fabric carefully in his pocket.

"Try it." He said, gesturing for her to sit next to him. She copied his tailor seat, wondering how meditating would help her talk to someone outside of her own mind. Obediently, she breathed evenly, and when he asked her to call the birds with her mind she tried it. The words stayed trapped inside her own self, echoing in her core and startling the wolf from its dozing.

Then open a window. Numair suggested, leaning nonchalantly against the copper walls with his hands tucked into his belt.

You can't be serious. She had to stop and regain her focus rather than stare at him incredulously. His shade shrugged.

Well, it's an analogy. I mean that if you think you're trapped then you will be. Magic's all about your control over it, so if you think it's going to stay here, it will. So imagine opening a window, or a door, and shout out of it.

I think you're going mad. Daine opened one eye and sighed, then meditated again.

Fine. So her core was a room... and she had to imagine a window. It was something a child would suggest, not a university trained mage! Still, she fashioned a picture in her mind, and gave it curtains and elaborate scrollwork just because she was irritated, and then thrust the image into her core with impetuous haste.

Her mouth fell open. It appeared, ridiculously flamboyant in the organic world of her mind. Numair laughed and tugged at one of the curtains.

Very pretty. He said, examining the blue fabric. Did you make these up?

They were my ma's. Daine suddenly felt sheepish, as if showing him this part of her thoughts was somehow betraying her ma's memory. Still, she had a window now, and she could see through it towards the birds. She took a deep breath, and called to them. This time, the copper magic streamed through the window and sped towards the creatures, who called back mocking greetings.

She gasped and opened her eyes as scores of sharp claws dug into her shoulders and arms. The whole flock had swooped down on her, summoned by that wild stream of copper fire, and were happily roosting on her, and on the ground around her. Numair had one perched on his head, which made her smile.

"Hello," she said quietly to them. They replied in her mind and in her ears, cawing loudly.

"You don't have to speak out loud at all, you know," Numair said, but he was smiling as he held a hand out to the raven on his head and took it down. The bird nattered at him, but let him put it down on the ground.

"Will you carry a message for us?" Daine asked the lead raven. He tilted his head to one side, and then she heard him speak inside her mind- far clearer than any animal voice had been since Cloud. The thought made her both happy and sad at the same time.

The chain she had worn as a slave had made the people's wild voices sound distorted, sickeningly feverish in her whirling mind. Now they were clearer and Daine knew the People would be able to understand her again too, and not run in terror from her broken flares of magic. She should feel glad, but the thought of Cloud still made her throat close up. She was aware that Numair was watching her with something close to concern, and made herself smile and concentrate on what the birds were saying to her.

-A message? Like the fat fluffy birds?-

"That's right. Hunters have trapped us, and we're asking for help."

-Are they the humans sneaking up the sun-rising deer path?- The raven asked, ruffling his shoulders in irritation. –They step like heavy cows, and scare away the worms.-

Daine made a mental note about the incoming soldiers, and explained to the ravens what they needed. They looked interested, since in the winter they didn't care so much where they were as long as there was food. There were no nests to protect, after all. They cawed in laughter at the idea of scaring another human creature, and finally agreed. Daine repeated the directions Numair gave her to the birds, wondering about the places he seemed to know so well, that were just names to her. She wondered who on earth would trust a person living in a place called 'Pirate's Swoop'!

Numair wrote a short message on the piece of fabric, and held it out to her. She tied it carefully around the bird's foot. He swaggered around, wings cocked at a rakish angle for a moment as he showed off his dainty anklet to the other ravens. They cawed in mocking laughter, and then took wing.

"How long will it take them?" Numair asked, watching them go. Daine shrugged, her ears ringing in the sudden silence.

"I don't know where they're going. How far is it?" She asked. He thought for a moment, and repeated a distance back to her. She smiled and counted on her fingers.

"Well, if they don't get too distracted, then perhaps a day to fly there, and another day to fly back. But let's say three days, because they will get distracted!" She smiled, and then remembered herself, and shook her head to clear it. "There are soldiers coming up the deer path to the east. We need to head west."


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 15 of 69

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