Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 18 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

"Alanna will be here in a few weeks." Lady Hazelle sipped the last of her wine gracefully, and a servant rushed forward to refill the goblet.

Daine had to stop herself from staring, not knowing how to react to the opulent dining hall, the dainty food, and the army of servants who seemed able to read their mistress's mind in a split second. The lady had such quiet self-assurance that even the usually-confident Numair was taken aback, and both the guests listened in silence to her speak. The lady seemed used to that, and recited information she'd read in Alanna's letter in a soft, cultured tone.

"We're very grateful..." Numair started, and then bit off his words when the lady held up a hand.

"Yes, yes. And I am glad to help. There, we've finished that whole conversation! Now, spare me your compliments, please, they bore me."

Daine hid a smile and ate another spoonful of stew. She knew her stomach would object later to all this rich food, but she couldn't help but try everything. She found she liked the lady more with every sardonic word she spoke. She still couldn't make herself speak to her, mind, but it had only taken half an hour before she could stop staring at her plate and make herself eat. The lady didn't exactly ignore her, but she was distant enough that Daine didn't feel like she was being watched and judged with every bite.

"So, what else did Alanna say?" Numair asked, leaning his head on his hand. He'd been awake longer than Daine, and had apparently eaten before this meal, since he didn't eat as ravenously as his friend. Still, his eyes were a little over-tired, and he picked at his bread as he spoke. Lady Hazelle carefully moved a coil of her steel-grey hair behind her ear, where it blended with the perfectly coiffed ringlets.

"Well, some of it doesn't bear repeating, as you can probably imagine. I declare that she spends more time around soldiers than in polite company!"

"But don't you know her through George?" Daine didn't understand why Numair's question made the lady redden and then laugh, but it seemed to break through some of the old lady's formal ways.

"Well, that's another story, my dear." She picked up her wine again and tapped her fingernail against the glass. "He's a naughty boy, that one, but his little games certainly distract one from the tedium of watching oneself become ancient." She put the glass down, wine untouched, and smiled. "I fear that I cannot show you the letter, Master Salmalin, because you are not the only thing our friends find of interest in this little valley of ours."

"Understood." Numair smiled, seemingly perfectly comfortable with the strange, courtly conversation, although his words were mockingly exaggerated when he replied. "Perhaps, then, a paraphrase would suffice?"

The lady raised her finely-plucked white eyebrows at Daine, who choked back a laugh. Hazelle winked unexpectedly, and then took a breath and turned back to the mage.

"She begins by explaining your plight. She vouches for you, and she says that your word is good enough to trust Mistress Daine, too. Do you have a surname, dear?"

Daine reddened at the question, and looked away. The lady seemed not to notice, and carried on.

"The next part was rather more emphatic. I was explicitly directed to, and I quote, 'find out what that idiot's been doing for all these years' and, further, enquire why you have not contacted your friends before this. I confess myself curious about these same points, but I will not press you for answers."

"That's kind of you," Numair started weakly, but the lady held up a hand to stop him.

"Not, you understand, because I do not wish to know what you will say. It is merely that I will enjoy watching Alanna ask those questions almost as much as I will enjoy hearing your answers."

"...thank you." The man's voice was dry.

Daine wondered what they were talking about. It seemed like some private joke they were sharing, but she couldn't help thinking it was making Numair uncomfortable. A servant took her emptied bowl away and replaced it with some kind of milk and millet pudding. The steam smelled of honey, but she found that it made her sleepy, not hungry. She yawned and rested her head in her hands, not caring that her elbows were rudely planted on the table, and watched the others speak with sleepy fascination.

"In the meantime," Hazelle was saying, "You will both stay here as my guests. My... hm. My distant cousin, I think. Yes, and a great-niece. There will be a few formal dinners, I'm afraid, but the people here are tiresomely dull. You can smile and nod your heads, I'm sure, and they'll be convinced that you are one of their set. My men tell me that the soldiers are scouring the valley looking for a pair of vagabonds." She laughed suddenly, and it was almost a cackle. "Well, by the time I'm through with you, they'll be sipping fine wine in your company and apologising for the curfew! We'll call you Leto. You'll be Annette." She nodded at Daine, who blinked at the sudden change in conversation.

"Leto? Really?" Numair laughed, and the old lady smiled back.

"I thought you might know what it means. The fun is in hiding secrets right under their noses, isn't it, my dear?"

"Yes ma'am, but if it's going to put us in danger..." he started, and Daine yawned. She didn't know what the word meant, she just knew the fire was warm, and her stomach was full, and her feet were starting to ache in the unfamiliar shoes. She saw a servant lean down to whisper into Hazelle's ear, and the woman looked up sharply.

"It seems that Bennitte is ordering you to bed, little Annette. She's determined to mother you! I apologise for keeping you up so late. Give your great-aunt a kiss goodnight, and be off with you!"

Daine stood up and walked around the table sleepily, and as she leaned down to kiss the lady's papery cheek she felt a rush of genuine affection for the woman. She'd let perfect strangers into her house, treated them like honoured guests, and was calmly planning how to hide them in her own home. Hazelle raised her cheek for the kiss and smiled gently at her, her wrinkled eyes showing bright good humour.

"Come and see me tomorrow." She said, catching hold of Daine's elbow before she could leave. "I think you're someone I'd like to get to know better. Just us girls, eh?" She flicked her eyes at Numair, and then grinned widely when Daine couldn't help reddening. "Yes, I think we'll find each other quite entertaining, dearest little Annette."

The lady brushed her own rouged lips against the girl's cheek, and then let go. She flicked her fingers out, and Daine realised Bennitte was standing beside her, arm ready to escort her from the room. She hadn't even heard the woman come in.

This place is bizarre. She thought as they left.


Daine longed for the black dreamlessness she had felt before. Anything would be better than this. She twisted in the too-soft sheets and felt them wrap around her legs, trapping her, making it impossible for her to run. The red glow of the warm, banked fire became a baleful eye in her nightmare, which grinned and scowled at her in equal measure. She held out her hands to stop it, but all she could do was block out the light. When she lowered them and tried to slip back into peaceful sleep, the red eye returned.

It was the early hours of the morning before she finally gave up, gasping as she escaped the clutches of yet another vile demon. The house was silent, and warm, and as much as she gasped for air she felt like she was drowning. Throwing open the window didn't help, because the cold night was still and breathless, and horribly silent. She missed the sounds of marching feet. She missed the distant maniacal laughter. She missed the black exhaustion of being starved and overworked. She missed the things which had sung her to sleep for so many years.

And she wondered why she was only missing them now. She was wondering that, staring at the grey-orange night storm clouds, when she felt the twisting warmth that was her memory of him, and realised that what she missed the most was having Numair's arms around her, keeping her safe and warm. The nightmares had never been able to touch her. Not once.

She turned around without even thinking about it, ready to leave. Would he even want her, now? He had his own soft bed and warm fire. He was probably sleeping peacefully, dreaming of his beautiful palaces and loving friends while she stood sleepless by the window. And yet, she knew that wasn't right. The part of her that was embraced by his black magic felt unsettled, listless, and she could hear the copper magic she had given him calling out to her sleeplessly.

Perhaps she just longed for him too much, and she was imagining it... but she found her way to his room without even thinking about it, drawn by the glitter of their gifts, and opened the unfamiliar door with the sure knowledge that it was the right place.

She crept into the dark room, and stood uncertainly at the side of his bed. He was sleeping, but very uneasily, with the soft pillows thrown onto the ground and his head resting on his arm. When a floorboard creaked under her foot Daine winced, and his eyes flew open. They adjusted to the light, and took in her thin silhouette standing there.

"Daine," he said sleepily, "Is that you? Are you alright?"

She opened her mouth to answer him, and the words came out in a tiny voice she barely recognised. "I can't sleep. I keep dreaming... they're coming to get me... and I'm... I'm all alone... and I don't know what to do."

He blinked at her, and held out a hand without another word. She took it and lay down next to him, like she had for all the nights in the prison, and all the nights in the mountains. She rested her head on his shoulder and felt his arm curve around her, and felt the traces of her nightmare drift away like harmless smoke. She sighed and shut her eyes, simpler dreams already lifting soft wings towards her. Numair kissed her forehead sleepily and shut his own eyes, and when he fell asleep his own dreams were deep and peaceful.


The voice pulled her from the warm darkness and she moaned and turned her face away, trying to sink back into that quiet, safe haven.

"Daine, sweetling, wake up." Something moved from her waist and she felt pressure against her head. It took her a moment to register that it was a hand, stroking her hair back from her eyes. Grey light fell across her closed eyelids, and she raised a hand to cover her eyes.

"...u-mair?" She managed, confused.

"That's right. Wakey wakey!" She could hear the sadistic humour in his voice. She glared at him from under her hand, forcing her sleepy eyes open and realising how weak the pre-dawn light was.

"'s really early, Numair! I migh' have to hurt you."

"You'd have to actually wake up to do that." He retorted drily. When she lowered her hand, still wincing at the weak light, he was smiling. "There, that's better."

"So, why 'm I awake?" Daine asked the grudging question, rubbing her eyes until they felt like they might actually stay open.

"I thought we should talk, while everyone else is still asleep." He hesitated, and she stopped rubbing her eyes to look sidelong at him.

"Well, c'n I go back to sleep after?" She muttered. He smiled, amused enough to lose his pensive look, and nodded. She smiled back, and rolled onto her side so she could see him without having to crane her neck. "S'ms fair. What's wrong?"

"What do you think of Lady Hazelle?" He asked. Daine blinked, surprised, and wondered what he meant. The lady had seemed friendly enough to both of them the night before, and generous to a fault.

"Did she say something to you after I went to bed?" She asked, bewildered. He shook his head, the hesitation returning to his expression as he chose his words.

"I thought that... because of who George is, and... and how close we are to the border, that..." He shut his eyes in frustration for a moment, and then started again. "I should have told you before we arrived, but for all I knew she could have been one of Alanna's friends from court. I wasn't expecting her to be as deeply involved..." He stopped again and smiled sardonically at himself, and the look of absolute confusion that was written across Daine's face.

His words became blunt. "Magelet, she's a spy. She's built up a network here. She's not asking us questions because she already knows the answers."

That explains all the double talk at dinner. Daine thought, remembering thinking she'd just been too tired to make sense of their conversation. Still, it didn't change anything.

"So?" The girl frowned, "She's helping us. Why should we care what else she does? It's not our business."

"Because... how will we repay her, Daine?" When she didn't answer, he turned onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, as if he could see his worries mapped out on it in shining inks. "Something's going on here, and it's something big. If it wasn't then Hazelle could smuggle us out of the valley in a few days, and Alanna could meet us in Tortall. Why would Jon let her risk coming to a fortified city in the middle of the Gallan border?"

"Galla's not at war with Tortall." Daine pointed out, wondering if she'd missed something in the years she'd been locked up.

"No. But something's going on. I'm sure of it." He sighed and tugged at his nose, thinking. "Well, perhaps I'm being dramatic, but either way... if you want to leave, we can."

She couldn't believe her ears. "Leave! Why?"

He looked at her for a long moment, a line between his eyes. "Daine, if something happens in this valley, like an uprising, how will the officials respond?"

"They'll send out the soldiers." She said automatically, and then added more slowly, "And then the mages..."

"Right. And then someone who knows how the mages think, and how the prison works, would be beyond value. They'd be used as a weapon by one side, and a target by the other." He finished pointedly.

She paled and looked away, wondering why it had taken so long for her to understand. Of course. She knew the layout of the keeps, down to every last corridor. She knew which mages were locked up there: what they could do, and what they had done. She knew... she shuddered... she knew every one of the officials.

Numair reached out to her when he saw her whiten, but the officials faces were so clear in her mind that she flinched away. Of course. Why would anything be different?

"They want to use me." She said flatly.

"Not like that." The man said softly, not trying to touch her again. "Hazelle's a good person, Daine. But you have to see that there's more at stake here than just us. I didn't mean to scare you, I... I just meant that you should know what might happen."

"And you already knew." Her voice was soft, distant. "You knew. You knew all about it."

"How would I know, Daine? I'm just surmising from current..."

"Surmising." Daine's voice grew even quieter, but she cut off his words instantly. "Surmising. Clever word. It means thinking, doesn't it? Yes, that's what it means. It suits you. Lots of clever thinking, all the time. Thinking too much. When did you start? You told me you planned to be taken in to the prison. Did you plan to take me out of it? With your friends conveniently waiting to take you in?"

"What?" He blinked, "Of course I didn't... I thought that you..."

"More thinking." She sat up suddenly and looped her arms around her knees, not looking at him. "I didn't run away just so I could become someone else's toy. I don't care about Galla or Tortall or spies or anything. Can't I just have a life that's mine? Or do I always have to belong to someone else? Is that how your real world works, Numair?" She rounded on him suddenly, her eyes burning. "Is it?"

"I didn't plan any of this." He said impatiently. "It could all just be a guess. I just wanted to make sure you had time to think about what you might want to do, if..."

"Do?" She laughed tearfully and waved a hand towards the window. The dawn light was spreading slowly over the valley, blocked by the immense cliffs. "What else can I do? Tell me, because I'm fair curious! What else is there?"

He was silent for a fraction too long. Daine bit back tears. She had hoped with all her heart that he would have an answer, because she didn't know it herself. How could she? She'd been locked away from the world for so long that now she had no place in it. She didn't understand it. The thought that he had known that long before they'd even escaped from the fort made her soft voice so bitter she could taste it, like acid, on her tongue.

"You came into my life talking about palaces, and real people, and freedom. You must have thought I was such a fool, believing every word. Trusting you, when you told me that they had to pay for what they did to us... oh, I believed you. I wanted to fight them. I would have... but you didn't want to put a knife into my hand, did you? That was never the plan. I'm just another weapon your friends can use against them. I'm back in another cage. I guess you surmised that, too."

"Then why would I ask you if you wanted to leave?" He asked, cutting her tirade off. She rolled her eyes, knowing she was being childish but not caring.

"There's nowhere for me to go. You know that. I don't have anywhere. I don't... I don't have anyone." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, angry at herself for showing emotion. "Oh, let them use me. Why do I even care? It seems to be my lot in life. But please, for the love of all the gods, please stop lying to me. Even the officials never did that. Either tell me your plans or keep me in the dark, but stop pretending that you care about me. And don't ask about what I want to do. It hurts too much."

He was white, his normally dusky skin looking almost blue in the winter light. He opened his mouth to say something, and then looked away. Swallowing several times, he reached out to touch her shoulder, his voice shaking. "But, Daine..."

"Don't touch me!" She jerked away from him and whirled, her eyes furious. "What makes you think you can do that? You touch me one moment, and push me away the next! It's cruel! What gives you the right to do that to me? I'm not your slave."

"No, you're not a slave at all, now." He said, his voice suddenly detatched, icy. "Apart from inside your mind. You'll lash out at me, but you'd still rather let people use you than think of your own path."

"Says the man who's controlled by a bird." She retorted, and instantly regretted it.

They stared at each other for a long, breathless moment, and then Daine stood up and ran out of the room. Tears burned her eyes, but she didn't let them fall. Not even when she was back in her own room, staring at the abandoned fire which had fallen into cold ashes. She sank down with her back against the varnished wood of the door, and let the anger slip from her eyes into her heart.

It hurt. It hurt so much that she felt it burn. It hurt so much that she wanted to rip her heart out from her chest and hurl it far away. And that was his doing, too. He'd shown her how to feel again, and like a lovestruck fool she'd believed he loved her back. She must have looked so pathetic. She curled her hands into fists, and felt her nails bite into her palms.

"I hate you." She whispered viciously, and felt the words flow from her mind in black-tarnished copper fire.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 18 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>