Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 20 of 69

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Hazelle was waiting for each of her guests by the door of the hall, resplendent in shining wineskin satin which seemed to catch shadows rather than light. Next to it, her silver hair shone and her aged skin looked nearly translucent, like delicate pearls caught on the sun-warmed clay of a dried riverbed. Her smile was gentle, genuine, but her eyes were sharp for those who knew how to read her. They flicked from face to face, reading and remembering every emotion and carefully storing them away for future use. When her two houseguests came up to her she sank into a shallow curtsey, and they returned it with much deeper bows. Daine flushed as she straightened up, realising that she probably should have curtseyed, but no-one seemed to have noticed.

"Annette, my dear! Trust you to be one of the last to dinner." The lady kissed her cheek warmly. "You look absolutely stunning. Doesn't she, Leto? Wouldn't Marianne be proud of her?"

"Surely." Numair smiled approvingly at Daine, and then turned his eyes to Hazelle with a slight warning in them. "People won't be able to look away."

"I do spoil my girls, I know." Hazelle sighed and pushed out her lower lip as if she'd been scolded. Then she brightened perceptibly, and beckoned one of her servants over. "Annette, you're sitting beside me. Mieke here will show you where we are. I'll keep her out of trouble, Leto, don't worry!"

"We're not sitting together?" Daine blurted out, feeling grey panic flutter in her stomach for a moment. Hazelle laughed and shook her head.

"We can't keep this fine man tied to our apron strings all night, dearest!" She fluttered her fingers to dismiss the girl, and then caught Numair's sleeve as he went to follow them into the hall, her playful attitude fading. "Leto, wait, I need to speak to you."

"I heard about the trick you played on Da... Annette, earlier." He replied in the same voice, eyes narrowing. "Don't think I won't step in if you try the same thing tonight. Can't you let the poor girl have a few hours of peace without playing games with her safety?"

"The games will keep her alive." Hazelle sighed, leaning against the doorframe with odd weariness. "But dry your eyes, precious mortal. She'll be safe enough tonight. Safer than she would be with you."

"I keep her safe," he retorted, stung. "At least I don't march her in front of men who..."

Hazelle shook her head, waving one hand apologetically at the unintended insult. "Eyes have fallen on you. Eyes that could get... resentful."

"The officials?" He asked, suddenly alert. The corner of Hazelle's mouth turned up, and she shook her head.

"Sadly not! No, I'm talking about the women. The officials' daughters don't often smell fresh meat, and the arrival of a young lord from the North has them baying for blood."

Numair blinked, and then laughed shortly. "You can't be serious!"

"Perfectly." Hazelle studied her nails. "I know you used to be a spy. You know how to play these games. These women know things that could help us. How circumspect do you think their fathers are around their little girls? I'm sitting you next to Lady Karenna – she's their unofficial leader and, my dear, her eyes have been trailing after you like a sick doe all evening. She looked positively sick when you danced with Annette. She would tell you anything if she thought she might get something in return..."

"You want me to... to woo her?" Numair could barely believe his ears. He stared at her implacable expression incredulously, and then started to laugh. His words were almost impressed. "You knew this would happen! You planned it all from the start!"

"I don't often get attractive young men at my beck and call, I'm sorry to say." She conceded.

"But, if Daine..." he started, and the lady interrupted him so quickly that the slipped name could barely be recognised.

"Annette will be safe with me. Forget about her and concentrate on this. The more we know, the better prepared we'll be. I'll look after Annette, don't worry."

That's not what I meant.Numair thought, but didn't dare say out loud. That's not what I was going to say. That's not how Daine will see this.

He didn't dare look up at the girl for the first half of the meal. He didn't know if it was because he knew that the women were watching him closely, or because he knew the look of confusion in her eyes would be hard to bear. He even tried speaking to her, using their silent mind-voice, but he couldn't reach out to her. I guess we have to be touching.

The Lady Karenna spent the first course staring at him in a kind of stunned silence, fumbling with her knife awkwardly and gasping in embarrassment when she spilled her wine. Numair smiled and took out his napkin, soaking up the red liquid from the white linen cloth before it could stain the wood underneath.

"There," he said, trying to remember how he used to speak to women when he was in the court in Corus. "No harm done! It is very warm in here, isn't it? I'm feeling a trifle clumsy myself."

She smiled and ducked her head, laughing for a little too long and a little too loudly for it to be natural. He beckoned a servant over and gave him the stained cloth, taking the pitcher from the man's hands to top up the woman's goblet himself. She ducked her head and murmured a thank-you.

"It's no bother. I expect you to do the same for me, when I spill my wine during the main course!" he said, coaxing her into a real smile. "There, that's better- I can see you now! I don't like sitting next to people and not getting to know them. It's rather rude, don't you think?"

She mumbled something, and straightened her back to look him in the eye. On her other side an older man, who he guessed was her father, glanced sidelong at them and smiled approvingly.

"I'm Leto." Said Numair.

"Karenna," Her voice was deep, husky, and deliberately pitched so he had to lean closer to hear her. With a flash of amusement, Numair realised the shyness had been as much of an act as his charm. By the time the meat arrived in great trays of honey-glazed opulence, she was laughing so brightly that half the table were captivated.

And, from the other side of the room, a lone grey pair of eyes fixed on the beautiful woman, froze, and didn't look away.


Numair thought that Daine might ask about the woman when she saw him next, but by the time the house was empty it was so late that it was a struggle to simply climb the stairs to their rooms. As soon as the hallways were dark and silent, Daine slipped into his room in the same exhausted silence she had the night before, and they fell asleep with barely a sentence passing between them. When he woke up in the morning she had already gone.

Hazelle claimed the young woman for her companion for the morning, and had shut herself away in the solar with strict instructions that any men who ventured into this domain would be bored to death. She had, however, left the keys to her library beside his plate, and Numair spent the hours in the stunned happiness of a scholarly man who had not lost himself in a book in years. The lunch bell shook him out of his trance, and he put the book to one side with some regret, making sure to mark his place.

Daine smiled as he came into the kitchen, and he kissed her forehead in greeting. "Hello, magelet! Are you well?"

"Oh yes," she said brightly, the words a little odd. "Lady Hazelle has been teaching me talking, and depor... deport... dee-port-men... oh! Walking. And what people should know." She flushed a little and ate a spoonful of soup. "I think everyone last night thought I was fair foolish. They all know so much about the world, and how to act, and all that. I had to pretend my food was chewy so that every time they asked me a question, I couldn't possibly answer them without being rude."

He laughed and thanked a servant who handed him his own bowl of soup. "That doesn't sound foolish to me."

She pulled a face at him and stirred her food. "Well, it was Lady Hazelle's idea."

"About last night..." he started, and stopped as she cut across him with an over-bright smile.

"Oh! I told her what you said, about magic lessons. And she said it's a good idea, so we can do it in the afternoons if you like. In the library. She says no-one is boring enough to want to go in there."

The man couldn't hide a smile. "You like her, don't you?"

Daine grinned at him. "She's devious and cunning and she's playing us like a deck of cards. I think she's wonderful."

One of the servants laughed loudly, hiding the sound in the pot she was polishing by the fire, and Daine flashed a smile their way. Numair suddenly remembered the shy, quiet creature who had cared for him in the prison. This hardly seemed like the same girl! Where before she would have shied away from the servant, thinking her laughter was mocking her, she now shared in it. She smiled and walked around with her head held high, not shrinking away inside her own skin. When the servants had healed her arm and feet they had healed something else, as well. They had given her a home, a place where she would always feel safe and respected.

It was the one thing that Numair knew he would never have been able to give her, even if they had managed to flee the valley. The hawk would have followed them, and the past quick behind it. They would never have been safe.

He dunked some bread into his soup thoughtfully, eyes straying to the snow that drifted peacefully past the window. He had no doubt that Hazelle's affection for the girl was genuine. There was an odd sweetness in the way she spoke to Daine, a gentleness that was bound up to the sadness that lurked in the older woman's eyes. He knew from the gossip he had overheard at the banquet that the old woman was childless. Her husband had been killed after they'd been married only a few months. The grieving widow had retreated with her fortune into the mountains of Galla to mourn.

Numair could guess the rest. Hazelle had enough money and court connections to be respectable, and carried out her spying under the guise of endless charitable acts and parties. Now that she had renounced the world, she insisted that the world come to her. She was surrounded by people all the time – servants, conspiracists, targets – but she had no family, and now she was growing tired. In a world where everyone around her demanded secrets, or money, or power, she had come across a girl who only really wanted love and safety, and those were things that the old woman had to give in plenty.

Daine should stay here. Numair thought suddenly, and was surprised by how violently his heart rebelled against the thought. It's the right thing to do. I have to leave. She won't be safe if she comes with me. She should stay here.

With that thought, he decided not to explain to her about the Lady Karenna. He didn't want Daine to cling to him, not when he had nothing to offer her. He didn't want to tell her something that might make her dislike the old woman. So he finished his soup in silence, and then forced himself to smile.

"I found a book for you!" He said, and took her hand to help her to her feet. She accepted gladly, still frustrated at how difficult walking in shoes was, and they walked to the library. When he handed her the book she took it as if it were made of pure jade, turning the embossed cover over in her hands carefully.

"What is it?"

"It's for your lessons." He said, and opened the cover. "I found it this morning. It's an anatomy book. This one is birds, but the author talks about other books at the start... mammals, fish..." he frowned up at the stacks of books. For all her talk about bookish people being 'boring', Hazelle had collected a lot of books! "I'll try to find them tomorrow."

"No hurry." She said quietly, looking through the pictures. "I think knowing about birds might be important. And this will take me a long time to read." As if to argue with herself, she flicked from an intricate diagram of a wingspan to a crosshatched sketch of a heron, and then on to a page of eggshell markings. "This is beautiful."

He watched the odd smile which lit up her face. "Yes," he said, "Beautiful."

"Is this what we're doing today? Reading?" She asked, holding the book open at a page of kittiwakes in flight. He shook his head and gently shut the book.

"This is for you to do. It's... I can't teach you it; it's your magic that calls for it."

"Don't we have the same magic?" She looked confused. "You're a bird, I'm a wolf...?"

"Not quite." He smiled and gestured for her to sit down with him beside the fire. Instead of one of the chairs, he asked her to sit in a tailor's seat, cross legged by the warm embers. The fire, he said, wasn't important. He just hated being cold. "We're going to meditate."

She held out a hand, and he shook his head. "No, I'm not going with you this time. You have to do it on your own. We both have to learn to control our magic better!"

"I thought we had to work out what was making us..." she looked confused, and then gestured from her head to his.

"Well, we do, but there's no point until you can see what your core is supposed to be like on its own!" Seeing she still looked confused, he swept some ash from the edge of the fire and flattened it, drawing lines in the grey dust. "See, Daine, when you put this barrier in my mind, I don't know what you did. I do know that you couldn't get past the one that I put into your mind. You said it just... happened. And you didn't know how to make it stop, right? It just poured out of you, like water. That's not magic; you used your life force instead. That's the stuff that keeps you breathing and your heart beating."

"Is that why I slept for so long on the mountain?" She asked. He nodded, and then hesitated.

"It's why, when they told me you'd died in the prison, I almost believed them."

She paled, and looked at her hands. The soft callous from the chains still rung her wrist, and she rubbed at it fretfully. He caught her wrist without thinking and held her hand.

"Don't. That's finished. It's over."

She coloured a little, and tactfully pulled her hand out of his grasp. "They told you the same lie they told me." She said, her voice too flat to properly dismiss the pain of that memory. "And they didn't tell me why I was sick. But this meditating can fix it?"

"Hypothetically." Numair cleared his throat when she glared at him. "...means yes, sweetling."

"Good!" She smiled, and for the third time the man found himself wondering where she'd picked up the eerily over-bright expression which dared him to call her a liar. "Let's get started."


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 20 of 69

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