Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 19 of 69

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"That's a funny place to sleep, duckling!"

Daine opened her eyes blearily, wondering why they were stinging. Then she remembered that she'd cried herself into darkness. She couldn't have slept for more than an hour or so before the maid found her, but she ached as if she'd been lying on the floor all night. Embarrassed, she scrambled to her feet and winced as blood returned to her legs.

Bennette peered closely at her, seeing the red skin and tear traces under her eyes, but didn't say anything. She washed the girl in the same companionable chatter as the day before, dressed her feet, and left her to dress herself. Daine pulled on the warm blue woollen dress numbly, feeling like she should be doing something, but not having any idea what that something might be. When she'd told Numair that there was absolutely nothing else she could do, she hadn't been trying to be dramatic- it was true. She gritted her teeth and tied the girdle around her waist, yanking the thongs so tightly her fingertips went white.

Even if she wanted to leave, to choose her own path- so what? She had no skills, no money, no way out of this cussed valley! She was so confused and angry that frustrated tears welled in her eyes again.

I don't understand! What does he expect me to do? She thought, and pressed her hands to her stomach. She thought she'd still be full from the night before, but hunger pangs had started darting sharply across it.

He's in the kitchen.

She knew it with the same certainty that she'd known where his room was, last night. Then, she'd used their magical link to find him, to run into his arms. Today she shivered and waited, wanting more than anything else to avoid him. The strange floating confusion in her mind was surely written so clearly in her grey eyes that he'd be able to see it. The thing that enslaved her. The thing he'd accused her of. She didn't know how to hide it from her eyes, but she could at least hide from him.

The door clicked open, and she jumped. Her first thought was to hide, but it wasn't the lanky mage who stepped through the door, but Bennette. She smiled a wrinkled greeting and held something out- a sweet bread roll, filled with honey and sprinkled with sunflower seeds. The cook, it seemed, was taking her mission to fatten up the half-starved girl quite seriously.

"Get that in you, pet." Bennette said, smiling when the girl wolfed it down. "Aie, easy there! There's plenty more food where that came from, and it won't try to escape from you, you know! But you're right to hurry." She fetched a thick pair of leather boots from a chest and laced them onto Daine's feet. The girl swallowed the last of the bread and lifted a foot uneasily. Her legs felt far too heavy.

"You're going out. Riding. You can ride, pet? Herself has asked that you ride out with her."

Outside? Daine couldn't stop the look of horror crossing her face. She might have expected the maid to laugh at her expression, but the woman sighed and patted her shoulder.

"Aye, it gets easier. She has some strange whims, duckling, but she does know what's best. I've never known her put a foot wrong. Or a hoof. Besides, you might like this one." The sky-blue eyes twinkled for a second. "There's a party tonight, you see. She wants to get you looking like a proper lady and... ooh, I thought you'd be happy! Don't look so scared!"

Half an hour later, after three attempts to mount the dainty mountain pony, Daine was too irritated at the stupid dress to feel nervous. Lady Hazelle was looking regal and assured on a silver mare, and smiled a greeting to her "niece" in between directing servants towards certain areas of the market to buy supplies for the banquet. Daine was glad that the woman was too busy to pay her much attention; now that she knew Hazelle was a spy, she watched her with a stunned fascination.

Every word the woman said to her own people was deliberate, direct, but as soon as another noble greeted her she would become vague and simpering, or mysterious, or simply more vacant. There wasn't a single person that she spoke to the same way as another, and none of them seemed to notice it. Years of playing the games of the court had trained Hazelle in the kind of cunning that street con-men spent their lives perfecting. The more she watched the woman, the more Daine realised that Hazelle wasn't just an expert at the game: she loved playing it, too.

"Well, that seems to be everything." Daine jumped as the lady abruptly turned and started talking directly to her. "Shall we go, my dear?" Then, when Daine still hesitated, Hazelle's eyes narrowed playfully. "Annette, you must really stop this silly sulking. People will think you can't speak at all! Your father was just the same. Pshaw, I'll ask you again. Shall we proceed?"

"Yes Auntie." Daine mumbled, so nonplussed that speaking aloud seemed almost easy.

Hazelle flashed her a bright smile, and then nudged her horse into a trot. They peeled away from the army of servants, with only a single pair following them. When she looked sidelong at the two men, they were laughing and joking with each other. It was only when Daine looked more closely that she saw the seasoned weapons hidden under their clothes. She bit her lip and paid attention to her pony. The animal was docile, quiet, peacefully following the mare and chewing absently at her bit.

They dismounted by a string of elegant buildings, made of the same grey stone that ringed the valley. Unlike the poorer parts of town, these buildings had carved the stone into intricate patterns. One of them had the shape of a tailor's sign hewn into its door, and when Hazelle strode towards the entry it swung open as if by magic.

"My lady!" The man who had opened the door fawned. "You're here to pick up tonight's attire, yes?"

"My dear Ten." Hazelle smiled, the edges of her eyes crinkling, and gestured behind her. "I have a small, niggling thing troubling me. And I thought- who might help me! And my answer, was, of course..." she gave him her hand, " favourite tailor."

"Flatterer." The man twinkled back, and then glanced at Daine. The girl hung back uneasily, and then remembered she was supposed to be a visiting noble. She raised her chin and stepped forward.

"It's freezing, standing out here." She said. Her voice came out quiet, but sounded much more confident than she felt. The tailor blinked, and then bowed them both into his shop. Hazelle laughed and tucked Daine's arm into her own, patting her wrist and then resting her hand over it, so that the girl's nervous trembling was hidden.

"My great-niece decided to visit me unexpectedly. So unexpectedly, that she forgot to pack a dress! I won't have you wearing that ratty pink thing, no matter what you say, and don't you dare argue with me, miss!" She rounded on Daine, suddenly fierce, and then sighed dramatically. "Ten, you see what trials I am forced to suffer! Will you help me? If anyone can make a dress worth seeing by tonight, then I'm sure it's you."

"Well..." the man hesitated, and then nodded. "She'll have to stay for a few hours, mind."

"Well, Annette, it will serve you right." Hazelle looked around distractedly, and then turned back. "Ten, I heard that Lord Parsey had an appointment with you. I do hope we won't be taking you away from him?"

"He is running a little late, it seems..." The tailor began, and then stopped when his assistant showed in another customer. Daine felt her blood run cold, and had to clutch at Hazelle's arm with suddenly numb fingers. The woman gave her a warning look, and then her fake smile returned to her face as she looked up at the man Daine only knew as an official.

"Lord Parsey," Hazelle said, and exchanged a few pleasantries with the man, who answered them with the same distant decorum. Daine heard none of it- only the panic roaring in her ears, and the echo of her heartbeat as it raced. She forced herself to show none of it on her face, to look distractedly at the shining bolts of fabric and not at his face. She expected him to recognise her at any moment, but his eyes slid over her with little interest.

"Miss?" One of the assistants bowed to her, and then indicated a selection of fabrics. "We have laid out these for you to choose from. We're sorry we cannot offer more, but these are the fabrics we feel we can prepare by tonight..."

Daine let his voice wash over her like warm water. She smiled at the man. He blushed, which surprised her, and then he started speaking again. It was something about each cloth, but Daine already knew which one she would choose. It was a soft blue-grey, the same colour as the eyes of the woman she'd seen in the mirror. When she touched it, the fabric slipped through her fingers, and when it moved it caught the light in a shimmer of icy blue.

"This one," she whispered. The clerk bowed again and whisked it away, promising to return with a tape measure.

"Annette." Hazelle appeared by her shoulder, her voice lowered even though the room was now empty. "Ten's showing Lord Parsey out. Do you know him?"

Daine nodded, swallowed, and then looked directly into the woman's eyes for the first time. There was no confusion, no question in the old woman's expression, and no apology. "You knew I would."

"You did very well. When there are more of them, tonight, you won't be so overwhelmed. We must face the unexpected." Hazelle clicked her tongue against her teeth and looked up at the ceiling. "Yes, if we are used to being surprised then the things we can prepare for will seem much easier. It's a hard lesson to learn."

"You should have warned me." The girl ran a hand through her hair in agitation, her heartbeat starting to return to normal, but instead of agreeing the lady shook her head.

"If you'd come across him in the street, would there have been a warning in advance?" Without waiting for an answer, she leaned in closer. "Tell me, is he the leader?"

"No." Daine remembered the man deferring to others – other men whose faces had no names. "He commands the north wing. With the... the older prisoners. I don't think anyone else wants to do it. He... he..." Her voice trailed off, but her thoughts raced on unbidden.

He smelled stale, like the ashes of ancient memories drifted from the senile prisoners to him, and he always spoke of death. Always, even to me. They withered away in front of his eyes, and he just didn't care. He played cards with the guards and ignored his wards. Their minds had gone. He was supposed to care for them, but he didn't care if it was their age or their sickness or starvation that took them. He just let them rot.

She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered, unable to say anything else out loud. Lady Hazelle rested her hand briefly on the girl's shoulder, and her quiet voice was sincere.

"That's all you need to tell me. I won't ask any more. Thank you."


The house was barely recognisable by the time Daine returned to it. The two guards had escorted her back, and their laughter was so infectious that by the time they made it back to the stables Daine's dark mood had almost gone. She felt a slight flutter in her stomach when she crossed the courtyard, wondering if a certain lanky mage might be looking out of a window... but when she glanced up, the eyes of the house were all shuttered. Amber candlelight was already glowing through the cracks.

It was a huge banquet, judging by the number of people that arrived even as Bernette was helping her to get ready in the new dress, and another maid was doing something strange to her hair that seemed to involve yanking it away from her scalp so hard it stung. Daine listened to the clatter of arriving horses and soon lost count. When she came downstairs, helped by the maid, the ground floor was seething with people.

"There's a dance before dinner." Bernette told her. "Try to look shy rather than terrified, and remember you can duck away any time you like. We'll be watching out for you."

Duck away! When there were so many people that they weren't human any more. They were a seething mass of silk and satin and perfume and laughter. It was beautiful and overwhelming. Daine realised she couldn't make out the officials that she knew were there, because as soon as she thought she might recognise someone, they were swallowed up in a gavotte, or a reel, or swept away towards the mead. She found a chair resting in a quieter corner and sat down, watching the dancers.

How many of their smiles were real? They seemed so artificial, with their glittering jewellery and gilded eyes, that she didn't trust a single one of them. She sighed and kicked her feet against the polished floor, glad, at least, that no-one would ask her to dance. These were the sort of people the prison guard had been talking about, who would be shocked at his sister walking alone with her beau. They wouldn't dream of asking a stranger to join hands with them. Hypocrites. She was guessing exactly how different they would be behind closed doors when a shadow fell across her, and a hand was held out.

She was going to shake her head, and then remembered that she was expected to speak.

"I don't want to dance with you." She told him, her voice distant.

"It will look strange if you don't." Numair kept his hand out patiently, but there was a warning note in his voice. "I can guide you through this next one. It won't look like you don't know how to dance."

"I know how to dance." She remembered, vaguely, some country dances from when she was a child. Those coarse steps were very different from the slow, graceful way these nobles moved, but it was still a dance. "I said I don't want to dance with you."

"How else will I get a chance to apologise?" He demanded, keeping his voice low with an effort. She looked up in surprise, meeting his eyes for the first time, and saw enough to make her look away in quick embarrassment. "Dai... Annette, you can't keep avoiding me. Please, let me talk to you. Just... dance with me. A few minutes, and then you can ignore me for the rest of the week if you need to. But give me this one dance."

His hand hadn't moved. She bit her lip, and then reached up abruptly and took it. His face lit up in a genuine smile, and he helped her to her feet. Daine distracted herself by wondering why women wore these dresses which meant they couldn't even stand up properly without someone helping them. She guessed it made them feel protected, or some such nonsense. It made her want to slap the dressmaker.

For all her boasts that she could dance, Daine was relieved when the lutes started playing slowly: it was the kind of music that even the most sophisticated dancers simply seemed to move to, and not really dance. Numair kept hold of her hand and held her waist with his other hand, waiting for her to copy the other dancers and rest her own on his shoulder before they started moving. After the first few terrifying moments Daine found she could relax and think about other things than the likelihood of tripping over her own feet.

"See?" Numair whispered, smiling, "It's not so bad."

She almost smiled back until she remembered she was angry, and the expression fell from her eyes. She looked away quickly, but felt his hand tighten around her own for a moment.

"I really am sorry, you know." He said quietly. She didn't answer, her eyes still fixed on the other dancers' feet. Shiny silk shoes which whispered over the polished floors. They were like the shoes in the stories he'd told her about Carthak. In real life, they were scuffed from dancing and stained with age.

"Will you be sorry the next time?" She asked, hearing the words in her mind as well as in her voice and knowing he could hear them too. Why even bother to speak? She asked the question with her mind, and felt it dance away in copper fire. Will I always be a slave to you?

"No, oh no," He whispered, and then she could hear his reply in her mind, laced with black fire: It was a horrible thing to say. I was angry, and I wasn't thinking.

But you still said it. Even if you were angry, it doesn't mean it wasn't true. You're right. I can't do anything except what I'm told to do. I don't know how to be any other way. That's why it hurt. Because you were right.

Why were the words so honest? It was like being inside her own core. She couldn't hide from the truth in her mind-voice any more than she could disguise the raw pain in each word. Numair didn't answer for a moment, biting his lip as he glanced at their interlocked hands.

"Let me teach you." He said, finally. "We have a few weeks. If you would like that, I'm sure Lady Hazelle wouldn't object to a little less of our company!"

"Teach me... what?" She asked, baffled. Given their conversation, she half expected him to say basket-weaving, or fishing... something practical that she could learn to make a living with. So she laughed out loud when he responded, with an equally nonplussed expression.

"Well – magic!"

"Proper magic? There's no point." She wriggled her fingers on his shoulder, trying to think of a way to explain. "Ma kept testing me, before... everything. I don't have magic."

We just had a whole conversation inside our heads. Numair pulled a face at her, and spun her around to avoid a larger woman who had stopped dancing, and seemed to be wilting inside her many peach-coloured ruffles. And I know you can tell where I am all the time. I can do the same with you. Don't try to tell me that it's not magic doing that, or I'll start laughing in front of all these sour-faced dignitaries.

Why is it happening? She asked. She was relieved beyond words that it had been him that had brought it up. He shrugged, and then pretended he was stretching out a sleepy muscle when another dancer gave him an odd look.

I really have no idea. But it's getting worse. We should probably find out, don't you think? Otherwise we might be stuck in each other's heads forever!

She stopped abruptly, not caring that the other dancers hissed and had to swerve around them. Is that why you want to teach me? She demanded, barely remembering to speak in her mind-voice.

"No." He said curtly. "But feel free to keep thinking the worst of me."

She flushed and looked away, feeling very small and horrible.

"I'm sorry." She whispered. He smiled and ruffled her hair, forgiving her in an easy second.

"Have we reached a truce, little one?" He asked teasingly. She nodded and smiled back, and was about to say something else when a loud crashing sound rang out. Daine squeaked and clung to Numair's arm. He laughed and took her hand.

"It's the dinner gong. Are you hungry?" He began to walk away from the dancing floor, leading her along easily with a stream of meaningless chatter. "I saw them bringing all the food in when you were in town, you know. Candied almonds, and stuffed peppers, and these tiny little fish... I don't know what they're called but they smelled amazing..."


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 19 of 69

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