Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 21 of 69

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The days fell into the strange pattern of all peaceful times. Even though each minute passed at the same rate, the days seemed to blur together. Looking back, all Daine could see were vague memories. There were the lessons with Hazelle in the morning, where she slowly learned how to act like a noblewoman. Usually she would walk into the warm, bright solar to find Hazelle sitting alone in a large, comfortable chair, smiling a greeting.

Daine liked those mornings. She would sit at the older woman's side, or at her feet, spinning silk instead of coarse wool and listening to her speak in a soft, amused voice. On those mornings it was as if she were seeing the real Lady Hazelle: a witty, warm woman who loved the silliness of life, and wanted to share it with those around her. After a few days she realised that even the woman's chatter was teaching her: when she was sat next to strangers each evening, she could follow their biting conversation more easily, and knew the right kind of things to say in response.

Numair helped her learn too, but in a different way. Both of them woke up early every morning, long before even the scullery maids were even stirring from their dreams. Daine was still keeping up the pretence that she slept in her own room, but even with another hour’s sleep she could still have protected her reputation safely without having to rush. With the flimsy reason in place they used the time to simply be themselves, and enjoy the rare moments of peace a simple locked door gave them.

Often they didn’t speak at all, but drifted in and out of sleep in one another’s arms. Sometimes, though, Numair told her stories. They were the same kind of stories he had told her in the prison, but more nostalgic and less fantastical than his visions of the glittering Carthak. Daine listened sleepily, wondering at the people he described and the way they behaved. She liked those stories, but she yearned for the tales of the years he spent as a player, travelling across Tortall. She drank in the stories of distant places like a woman dying of thirst.

Tell me about the towns, she pleaded, using their silent-mind link. They only spoke aloud to each other now when there were other people around.Are the flowers different in Tortall?

Aren’t you bored of those stories? You’ll see them yourself one day. Numair teased her.

Daine smiled and absently caught up his hand, tracing the shape of his knuckles. Sometimes he drew away from her when she touched him, but by now she understood his odd moods well enough to know when he would scowl at the smallest affectionate gesture and when he wouldn’t mind. Today it seemed he didn’t mind, and so she cuddled a little closer.

Other people talk about those places at the parties. She shrugged one shoulder. But they don’t talk about them the way you do. I think you see them differently. Your stories are more… more…

Verbose? He asked drily, seeing her struggle for a word. Daine pulled a face at him and let go of his hand.

I don’t know what that means. She hesitated. The way you see these places, and the way that the nobles do, and the way that I might one day… they’re all different. I know I might see them myself, but I’d still like you to tell me. I like the way you see them, that’s all. It’s like the sky.

The sky? Numair glanced out of the window automatically, but it was still dark. When he looked back he was surprised to see that Daine looked a little flustered, as if she had admitted something embarrassing.

The sky… it saw things that I never could. She said eventually. It saw beautiful things and brought them back to me. Not in words like you, but in the clouds. There were castles, and… and trees, and colours. I used to pretend that I could escape. That one day I could just disappear into the sky, and not need to come back. I would fly away and dance with the birds, and no-one would never, ever be able to catch me.

She blushed and looked away from his piercing eyes, feeling foolish. I guess that sounds fair silly to you.

No, he looked oddly touched. I’ve never seen the sky through your eyes before, that’s all.

She didn’t answer, and after a moment he drew her closer and gently kissed her temple. Which town did you want to hear about, sweet?

And that was how Daine learned about the world outside of the valley. Through stories and memories and the colours of clouds she slowly grew used to the fact that the world was far bigger than she had ever dreamed. With every story, that thought scared her a little less.

They never spoke about Karenna, though. Daine couldn’t bear to ask.

Those mornings may have had the same predictable peacefulness, but Hazelle's plans were often so bizarre that Daine found herself caught up over breakfast trying to guess what on earth the woman would have dreamed up today. The first time Daine walked through the solar door and saw the chairs pushed back against the walls she honestly thought that the house had been robbed until she saw the lute player bowing to her.

"Don't gape, Annette. Close your mouth and come here." Hazelle held out a hand and cackled at the look of horror on the girl's face. "Yes, my dear, you're going to learn to dance like a lady."

The lute player strummed a chord, looked up, sighed, and carefully explained that the little lady should be curtseying to her partner. Daine started laughing. She couldn't help it, the musician looked so appalled! She dropped Hazelle's hand and covered her helpless giggles with shaking fingers.

"This is ridiculous!" She giggled. "Who cares if I can dance?"

Hazelle looked at her seriously, and Daine sobered when she recognised the familiar expression that said, You have to be able to do this, because a slave wouldn't know how, and they'll be looking for it.

Hazelle never actually said as much to her, but she had a sharp way of snapping at the girl's mistakes that showed exactly how seriously she was taking these lessons. Daine had realised that if she betrayed herself Hazelle would be hurt too, and she tried, really she did. It was just difficult to think about grand plans and dangerous mages when it all seemed to hinge on how to fold a napkin at dinner.

Still, saying Who cares? was rude, and Daine had guiltily opened her mouth to apologise when Hazelle held up a hand. The girl was surprised that the old lady didn't even hint at their serious intention. Hazelle looked at her evenly and said:

"Leto might care."

Daine blushed bright red almost instantly and dropped her eyes to the floor.

"Ah, I thought so." Hazelle said, and her voice was unusually sympathetic. She waved a hand, and the lute player made a discrete exit. The old woman stood in a thoughtful silence for a moment, and then sighed and went to sit down in her usual chair, muttering under her breath about it being shoved into a corner.

"I know about everything that goes on under my roof." She said eventually. "It would be an insult to my skills as a spy if I didn't! I know about every sniffle the kitchen maids get, so of course I know about my two most intriguing house guests sharing a bed."

"We just sleep." Daine raised her chin, defiant even as she felt her cheeks flaming. "We get nightmares if we're not together."

Hazelle blinked at her, and then her face split into an amused grin. "Dear Hag's bones, girl, but I do believe you're not lying! That's the truth, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't lie to you." Daine risked a smile and sat next to her gingerly. "There wouldn't be any point!"

"I'm not omniscient, child!" Hazelle laughed, and patted her hand. "I mean, I don't know everything. I just know the right questions to ask. Doesn't he know you're in love with him?"

Daine jumped at the suddenness of the question, and fiddled with her hair awkwardly, thinking of all the answers she could give to that question!

"He knows... well, I told him." She stammered. "He didn't believe me. He said it would wear off, and that we shouldn't... um." If her blush got any hotter she thought she might burn up in front of Hazelle's eyes, but the woman didn't seem shocked by anything she heard.

Steeling herself, stammering awkwardly, Daine recounted everything that had happened on the mountain, and everything that had happened since. She even described the conversation she'd had with the hawk, and once she'd said that it seemed right to explain about the wolf, too. The only thing she didn't tell the woman was that she and Numair had a way to speak silently to each other. She didn't like the idea of anyone knowing about something as private as that, and especially not anyone who might use it for spying.

Hazelle listened in attentive silence, asking piercing questions at strange moments, and then leaned back in her chair. She frowned and steepled her fingers together.

"So you see," Daine finished, her mouth dry from speaking so much, "We need each other. To keep the hawk trapped in his mind, and the wolf trapped in mine, we've had to stay together. And Numair thinks that's... that's what I think love is. Comradeship and... and gratitude, I guess."

"Or he's convinced himself that that's all he feels for you." Hazelle muttered, almost to herself, stretching out one knobbled knee as if it ached. Daine bit her lip and shrugged uncomfortably. It was easier to think that Numair didn't feel anything than to wonder if he was struggling in the same way that she was.

"Well, lovelorn or not, you're still learning to dance." The lady said, with odd finality. "We've kept that poor lute player out in the corridor for long enough, I think!"

She stood to ring the bell cord to summon the musician back, and then turned. For a moment her face was unsure, which made it look strangely girlish. "Did you ever actually tell him that you were in love with him? In as many words?"

"Of course..." Daine's voice trailed off, and she looked confused, "Well, no. But..."

"You might try it." Hazelle rang the bell, and straightened her shoulders. "Words have more power than you might realise, and those words most of all."

And so the dance lessons continued.

How else did the time pass? Daine thought over what Hazelle had said, but she still didn't dare to ask Numair about the noble woman he seemed besotted with, let alone say the few words that might make a difference.

So Daine's days passed in a peaceful, frustrated happiness, especially the afternoons with Numair in the cool, quiet library, where more was left unsaid than spoken aloud.

The evenings were taken up in a whirl of bright colours and soft fabrics. There didn't seem to be a single night when Hazelle wasn't throwing a party, or playing cards, or settling bets between drunken friends. Daine couldn't remember being more exhausted, even when she had been a slave. There, she could let her mind wander away from the endless work. Here, she had to be constantly alert, watching faces and listening to stories, and reporting back to Hazelle in the morning. The woman was strict with her, chiding her for making mistakes or confusing names, and Daine quickly learned how to read a room without appearing to.

But that meant that she had to watch everyone in the noisy gatherings... and that included the Lady Karenna.

At first she was part of a faceless crowd of women: young butterflies in brightly coloured skirts who flitted about the room, sweeping up men in their path. They had been introduced to Daine on the second banquet, and had looked archly at her unpainted face and unobtrusive posture before making cursory platitudes in their shrill voices and speeding away.

Daine wasn't sorry to see them go, although she did wonder what it would be like to be a part of that pack. In a way, they reminded her of the wolves. They had the same hunger in their eyes, the same way of circling the room, the same elegant poise. And then the butterflies dispersed, and there was Karenna.

Even Daine had to admit that she was breathtaking. She was a traditional Gallan beauty, all golden hair and glowing skin, wrapped in tailored dresses which showed off her sweeping curves. Other men often stopped or took a step back to look at her appreciatively. She acknowledged their attention with a flash of her sky-blue eyes, lashes lowered, and then let them invite her to dance so she could show off her dainty walk and her perfect composure.

Ever since Karenna had been placed next to Numair she had reserved a special smile for him: a half-shy, half-mischievous look up through those golden lashes. Daine thought that she must have practiced the look for hours a day in her mirror, and hated the curdled feeling in her stomach when it seemed to have an effect on Numair. He smiled back at the lady in a way Daine had never seen before.

To Daine, that smile looked empty. She couldn't read it, any more than she could work out what he saw in the other woman. He danced with Karenna with effortless skill, showing off his years in the court of Corus. When he danced with Daine he held her carefully, as if she was unbearably fragile, and he never danced with her more than once before returning to the butterflies.

It's so people won't talk about us. Daine told herself, but she felt her hands curling into fists when he saw him laughing at something Karenna had said. I bet that wasn't even funny.

The woman said something to Numair, and he leaned his head closer to hear her over the crowd. Laughing, he shook his head and gestured to his ears, then took her arm to lead her outside. As they slipped through the crowd, Karenna looped her arm around the man's waist, and he turned that strange, empty smile on her again.

I'm sure she really wants to talk. Daine kicked at the floor so savagely she felt one of the tiny flowers that were sewn onto her shoes tear free.

That night she almost didn't go to Numair's room, but when she tried to sleep she could see Karenna's bright smile glowing on the face of every demon. Shuddering, she dragged herself to wakefulness and crept along the corridors. There was no need to be silent really, but even if Hazelle knew the truth it was still disrespectful to their host to blatantly do something that looked so immoral. Daine liked the woman far too much to embarrass her like that. Even though she was angry, she still walked with soft footsteps.

"Daine?" He whispered when the door creaked open, and she guiltily realised that he'd been awake, waiting. As soon as she lay next to him he touched her shoulder, his mind-voice worried. Sweet, are you alright?

I'm tired. she said evasively, and then shivered when he started to ask another question. Please, Numair, don't ask me anything. I'm just tired.

Alright, He said evenly, and then he drew her into his arms and held her tightly. But whatever it is, if you do want to tell me, I'm right here.

She felt her throat close up at the unaffected, intimate way he could read her mood. Like I'm his sister, she thought, and wrapped her fingers around his hand unconsciously.

I'm so lucky really. So lucky. He does care about me. Maybe he even loves me. He just doesn't love me the same way he loves... her. If I'm too much of a coward to ask him about it, then I should stop being jealous of something that's making him happy.

want him to be happy.

The thought was so striking, so passionate, that it made tears well up in her eyes. Because it wasn't one thought, but two. One wanted him to be happy, but the other felt so selfish, so hopeless. It made bitterness and love and anger and loneliness boil in her blood and come out as half-muffled sobs.

I want him to smile at me the way he smiles at her.

Numair's arms tightened around her, and one hand reached up to gently brush tears away from her cheeks. The first time he had done that she had thought it was the hand of a demon about to kill her. Now it was the hand of someone that she loved so desperately that it hurt, and all she could do was cry. If she ever wanted to ask the question that was burning on her lips it was then, but she couldn't. Her mind was such a confused whirl that the words refused to make sense, and all she could do was curl up in the arms of the man who didn't love her and cry herself into darkness.

"Ssh, ssh, I know," he whispered into her ear, and when she sobbed louder he stroked her hair back from her forehead tenderly. "Oh little one, please don't cry. I can't bear it."


The next morning, Hazelle received a message as they were sitting in the solar. She opened the slip of ornate paper and read it, her eyes flicking up to Daine speculatively before she folded it and carefully tucked it into a pocket.

"You'll be staying with me this afternoon." She said stiffly, not meeting the girl's eyes. Daine couldn't stop the panic rising in her voice.

"Why – what's happened to Numair? Is he okay?"

"He's fine, but I do wish you'd remember to call him by his proper name." The lady said tersely. "Leto is receiving company this afternoon, that's all."

"Company?" Daine blanched. "It's that woman, isn't it? Karenna? She's coming here." The words sounded flat in her own ears. The afternoons were her time with Numair. She had been jealous of the woman before, but she didn't feel like Karenna was actually stealing her friend away from her until that moment. She stood up, dropping her spindle.

"It is the Lady Karenna, yes, and you will sit down." Hazelle's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Do you want to spoil everything?"

"How can I?" She felt her eyes well up with tears, and brushed them away angrily. "All I want to do is talk to him..."

"Then you should have done that before, don't you think?" Hazelle was unrepentant, picking up the spindle and groaning at her stiff back when she straightened up. "If he's chosen not to confide in you, then it's not my place to tell you what's going on."

Daine swallowed painfully and sat down in the window seat, pressing her face against the glass so the hot tears wouldn't be seen. The tiny panes were warped and coloured, which usually made a shifting rainbow of light on the floor. With her face pressed against them the image cleared, and she could see the garden. The trees were all dead sticks poking out from the snow, but the holly that ringed the grounds was green and lush, and the morning was bright. Numair was there, and as she watched a lithe, fur-wrapped figure came up behind him and took his arm.

I wish I could hear what they're saying. She thought, and sat back against the cushions miserably. One of the cats that prowled the castle jumped up into her lap, pawing at her until Daine absentmindedly petted it. After a few moments her hand slowed, and the cat looked up at her inquisitively.

- You could go down there, couldn't you? - Daine asked slowly. The cat mewed, not deigning to use its wild voice for a moment, and then admitted that yes, it probably could. The girl pleaded with it for a moment, and finally the cat agreed to go and eavesdrop, in exchange for being brought every kind of treat imaginable from the next banquet.

It was just standing up, paws heavy, when Daine stopped it. – Wait! –

-What is it now, human?- The cat sniffed, trying not to sound annoyed. The girl hesitated, and reached out to stroke between the cat's ears.

- Could I... could I try something? – She had no idea if it would work, but after a few weeks of magic lessons she'd once accidentally found herself staring through the eyes of one of the mice that lived in the library, seeing herself sitting cross-legged on the floor. The shock had made her gasp and drag herself away almost instantly, but she knew it was possible. She explained to the cat, who shook itself to hide the fact that its fur was standing on end.

- Doesn't scare me. – The creature lied arrogantly. – But if you're not quick they'll go away. –

- I know. – She looked at Hazelle cautiously, and then turned in the seat so it looked like she was still staring out of the window. Closing her eyes, she began to breathe steadily. It took a horrendous amount of time. Every time she was close to finding her core, impatience jerked her out of it. The cat sat down heavily, and then yawned and started licking itself impatiently.

- I have more important things, human... – It drawled, running its paw over one ear. Daine's eyes flew open and she whispered a curse- she'd been so close!

All the fish. – She said desperately. –Everything I can carry. You can have it. All of it. –

The cat's eyes widened, but it tried to look unconcerned. – Hurry, then! –

A few minutes later, looking slightly dizzy, a pampered housecat padded down the kitchen steps and loped into the garden. Like a normal cat it froze and stared at anything that moved, but unlike any others of its species it ignored the birds and rodent trails, and darted down the path with an odd sense of purpose.

Two humans were sitting in the garden, on one of the stone benches that were scattered around the paths. The cat shuddered at the thought of sitting on that cold stone, but the human creatures were wrapped up in furs, and didn't seem to notice the snow soaking through their boots. As the cat padded closer another voice whispered in its head, and its ears flattened. Don't go closer, they'll see us! Hide so we can listen.

The cat yawned and stretched for a moment, deliberately slow before it slinked into the bushes. A drop of melting ice dripped onto its nose, and it mewed in annoyance. The voice in its head hushed it.

"It's so good to be alone." The female was saying, her voice too shrill for her age. The male smiled in reply, but didn't say anything. The woman seemed uncomfortable with the silence, and rushed to fill the lull in conversation: "My house is always so full of people, you have no idea! A bit of peace and quiet is a blessing straight from the Mother Goddess."

"You surprise me! I would have thought you would have some escape route... some little hideaway." The man sounded teasing, and the woman trilled a laugh in reply.

"Even my private chambers aren't safe," she confided, dropping her voice as if someone could overhear. "So many servants hurrying around – listening in – it really is unbearable!"

"You seem to have overcome it remarkably well," he smiled, and gestured to her face. "Look, not one worry line, nor a single grey hair!"

She pushed her lower lip out sulkily, but her voice was breathy. "I do believe you're mocking me."

"Me?" He raised a hand to his heart, hurt, and then winked. "I don't think I'd dare. Your father might send his army of servants after me."

"Oh, he doesn't have an army." She said dismissively. "They're just mages." She giggled and raised a hand to her mouth, resting manicured nails against her lips instead of actually covering her mouth. "Oh, I shouldn't have said that! But you'll find all this out anyway, won't you?"

"All of this?" He raised an eyebrow. "Nefarious secrets and skeletons in your dungeons, is that it?"

She opened her mouth to retort, and then blushed and looked away. For the first time, her voice sounded uncertain. "Can we talk about something else? My father will be angry with me."

"But, if it's troubling you..." he started, and leaned in closer to touch the side of her face gently. "If it's upsetting you, I want to know. I don't wantanything to hurt you, even if it's just a few words that are screaming in your mind. I'd do anything to make you smile, my darling."

She smiled wanly, and leaned closer. "Do you really mean that?" She murmured, catching his hand in her own talon-like fingers. He smiled oddly but didn't answer.

Then there was a yowl, a hiss and the sound of breaking twigs, and a cat leapt out of the shrubbery into the clearing as if it were being chased by the Graveyard Hag's pet rats. The two humans flinched away from each other, watching the possessed cat with wide eyes as it pawed at its ears in agony, rolling around in the snow as if it was on fire. Then, with another yowl, it sped off towards the stables.

Numair stared after the animal, his confusion turning into dawning suspicion as it again stopped and clawed at its own ears.

It's hearing something it shouldn't. He thought.

He knew there was only one person who could do that. As if to answer him, a voice shouted down the garden. It was the Lady Hazelle, and her normally steady voice was panicked.

"Leto! Come quickly, it's Annette! She's not moving!"


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 21 of 69

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