Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 24 of 69

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Alanna found Numair sitting by one of the house's many large fires and she hung back, amused, listening to the idiotic things he was saying to the lady he was with. She could smell the woman's perfume- a cloying, almost over-sweet scent which you could taste as it hung thickly in the close air. Her giggle matched the scent- just as overused, and breathy, as if she were exhausted listening to all of the compliments she must have heard a thousand times before.

Alanna had certainly heard the same words before – not directed at her, thank the goddess, but used by the young courtiers in Corus as they trailed after the dainty damsels. Numair had always had a knack for it, she remembered. He spoke to women with the same light-fingered deceit that he used to pull coins from children's ears. Perhaps there was a name for it. Sleight of words? It always seemed to work, although Alanna could have told each of the women that he was about as sincere as a pickpocket trying to misdirect their eye.

She decided not to interfere, seeing that whatever nonsense they were talking about was ending, and waited until the simpering woman had left the room before making her move. To her surprise, when the woman left the first thing Numair did was furtively make a few notes on a scrap of paper he had tucked away in his belt. Alanna hadn't spent years living with spies for nothing; she recognised the whole game in an instant and laughed, seeing him freeze at the sound.

"I see you're still up to your old tricks," she said lightly, stepping forward so she fell into his line of sight. He looked blankly at her for a second, and then a wide smile danced across his face, and he laughed irresistibly.

"Alanna! When did you get here?"

"This morning. Well, a week ago." Alanna corrected herself, and then caught the man up in a bear hug. He hugged her back, delighted, and a thousand questions seemed to ask themselves in a second.

"Whoa whoa there, hold up. You'll get yourself in a tangle." Alanna told him gruffly, trying to pretend that she couldn't see the tears in his eyes. Well, her own eyes were burning, but she could forgive a grown man for crying much more easily than she could excuse it in herself. "Sit down, idiot, and let me look at you in the light. You've been gone so long I still have to check and see if it is you!"

"It is." His voice was adamant, but he sat down obediently. "It's so good to see you, Alanna. How is everyone? How are you? And George, and Buri, and Jon, and..."

Alanna held up her hand and glared at him until he stopped talking. "Are we really going to have ten years worth of gossip before lunch? Besides, before I tell you anything I need to know..."

"Yes, I guessed you'd say that." He sat back, still smiling, "But... oh, Alanna, it's so strange to see you again! You look just the same as the day I left, I swear. And I thought I would never see anyone again from... from home." His voice grew quiet, and he looked away from her then for a moment, eyes directed at nothing. Alanna bit her lip, feeling a little churlish at her curtness, and leaned forward to pat his hand awkwardly.

"We're going home. You're coming back with me." She said, hearing the briskness in her voice and hoping he couldn't hear the emotion that ran through it. "It's all decided. Everyone's well, and they're looking forward to welcoming you back. Jon even kept all your books safe, although I think some students from the university may have borrowed a few of them from time to time. Whatever has kept you here... whatever has stopped you from coming back to us, we'll work it out."

He raised an eyebrow at that, and the corner of his mouth turned up in wry humour. "Will we? I can't imagine what you think I've done."

"Some stupid, fool-beggared thing that you obviously can't fix on your own." She returned with the same sharpness, and he grinned lazily at that, not taking offence at her tone.

"Ah yes, well that's true." He sat back, legs crossed with exaggerated grace, and gestured to his own face in a player's gesture. "And unless you're a different woman now, my dear Lioness, I imagine you've already caught sight of the end result of my little adventure here in the mountains..."

Alanna sighed, and rested her head on cupped hands, violet eyes unfocused for a moment as she looked to see what she already knew. Still, the result made her blink and sit up straight. "There's almost as much bronze in your gift as black. That's someone else's magic in your veins. How are you not burning up in front of my eyes?"

"Because it balances out. There's as much black as bronze in Daine's." Nuamir said, and started explaining everything, starting from his disastrous spying mission and ending with their arrival in Hazelle's fort. Alanna listened with wide eyes, sending many incredulous curses his way at odd moments and pausing her tirade only to narrow her gaze and stare at his combined aura again.

"Why did you do it?" She demanded, interrupting his description of sneaking through the town with a thud as she slammed her foot against the floorboards. "Not her... not this Daine giving you her magic. It sounds like she didn't know what she was doing – I can believe that! - and there wasn't much you could have done to stop her, anyway. But you know what you're doing. Why did you do it?"

"I wanted to help her." He said simply. Seeing the redhead open her mouth again, he held up a hand. "No, Alanna. You don't understand. I wanted to help her, and I knew that I was dying. I thought that, even if I wouldn't be there to protect her, I could still keep her a little safer. She didn't know what I was doing. I made her drink my gift, in this willow tea that she seemed to be endlessly making."

He smiled strangely then, and then looked up. "She didn't even know how to meditate, then, so I showed her how to do it. And the hawk... the... the darkness... saw that I was weak, and it came to claim me. I wanted to let it. I was going to let it." He shuddered and wrapped his arms around his shoulders, looking around for another log to throw on the fire. Alanna scowled at the distraction and booted the one nearest to her onto the blaze, making ash explode against the chimney and both of them cough.

"Much as I enjoy this little suicidal heart-to-heart..." Alanna said curtly, not apologising for the fire, "I notice you're still walking among us mortals."

"Yes, because Daine did... something. She gave me her gift. She didn't have to make a potion or cast any runes, she just did it. She linked us together. Magic flows between us like... like the fire between those logs. It doesn't make any sense."

He took a deep breath and glanced upwards, his eyes shadowed somewhere between concern and guilt. Alanna remembered what the maid had said about her friend fighting with the girl and watched him speculatively. He looked tired, she supposed, and her mulish mind tried to make her believe it was lovesickness that made him wan. Not being seperated from his friends or his homeland, or cursed, or possessed by some chaotic shape-shifting creature. She scoffed mentally at those thoughts and rubbed her eyes. Of course he was tired. Half of his gift had been leeched away.

"And it's getting stronger." Numair spoke as if he could hear her thoughts and she blinked, surprised. He was still looking up, his fingers steepled absently as if he wasn't aware that he was doing it. "We can hear each other's thoughts, if we wish it, and we always know where the other person is. Always. She's in the attic right now. If I closed my eyes and concentrated I could probably even tell you why she's there, even though I don't have a clue! But Daine doesn't know what she did to cause this, and neither of us can actually use our magic beyond the most simple spells without being attacked by the... the madness. So we can't fix it. And, at present, I don't see the profit in even making an attempt. The last thing Hazelle needs is two feral mages going on a rampage from her kitchen door!"

"Is that why you're not talking to her? Because you're giving up?" Alanna heard the words coming from her own undiplomatic mouth before she could stop them. Numair looked down, his eyes level, and this time there was a flat wall between him and his old friend when he icily answered.

"No. I'm not giving up. Whatever Daine decides to do is her own damn business."

"Can she... this Daine... can she use your magic?" Alanna asked, and her voice was unusually distant. Numair shot a glance at her, wondering if she was prying, and then shook his head in confusion when he realised that she wasn't.

"What? She wouldn't know how."

"You're betting a lot on her stupidity." The woman muttered, folding her arms and trying not to be surly.

"Who said she was stupid?" Numair snapped, surprised and hurt by his friend's reaction. As angry as he still was at Daine, he had to correct Alanna. "She spent most of her life as a slave, being treated like a dog – or worse – and thinking her own magic was some kind of curse. She's ignorant, but she's not stupid."

He tugged at his nose, trying to guess at Alanna's train of thought, and paled when he remembered the most famous legend that followed her around. If he hadn't seen gift-sharing before, then she certainly had: in the blood of her twin brother, and her worst enemy, as they conspired to destroy the heart of Tortall. He breathed out rapidly, leaning forward and trying to convince her that it was nothing like that, even though now he could understand the suspicion in her eyes.

"What are you thinking, that she is... is scheming to steal my magic? That's not the problem here, not even close. The problem is the hawk, and the wolf. Both of us spent too long being controlled by them for either to be banished by a few hopeful spells. If we'd caught them straight away, then perhaps this would be a very different story, but it isn't. So leave Daine out it. What happened to me is my own fault."

Alanna rubbed her head as if it hurt. "So if I tried to break all these shields out of your mind, you're saying you'd attack me?"

"With every ounce of my strength." Numair said, his voice sad. "And even if I can't use my magic, Alanna, the hawk has no such qualms."

"I see." She bit her lip. "And you have this girl's magic, too. You're far stronger than I am. We'll have to wait until we're back in Tortall – until there are more mages."

"That was my conclusion, too." He bit his lip and stared up at the ceiling. "But only If it's absolutely necessary to do so. I'd rather not return home just to kill my friends. It's one of the reasons I stayed away."

"Yes, well I've saved up several lectures about that." Alanna said in tart tones. "I just have to think for a few more words that mean 'stupid', 'pigheaded' and 'dolt', and then you'll be hearing them."

He grinned and sat up straight. "It is good to see you again, Alanna."

"Yes." She smiled back, and grabbed his hand to drag him upright. "Well, come on then, my fine idiot. They must serve food somewhere in this house, and you are going to show me where!"


The lady knight didn't meet Daine for the first time until the party that night, where she was told the girl's name was Annette. Hazelle had asked what pseudonym the lioness wanted to be introduced as, and took a horrified step back when the knight flatly refused to take one.

"I'm here as me." She said, folding her arms stubbornly. "I'm not playing your games. They know you have friends in Corus, and they're not actually sealing off this valley yet. There's no reason why I should hide away from them. And let's face it: I'm a short, muscular redhead woman with purple eyes and a Tortallan accent. Mithros' shield, who else would I be?"

"Then why are you visiting me? What's the story?" Hazelle asked impatiently, recovering her poise. Alanna shrugged, and a wolfish grin made its slow way across her face.

"Let them draw their own conclusions. We'll see which ones start sweating!"

The lady grinned back at her, one plucked eyebrow raised as she considered the room. It was already filling with nobles, milling around and warming themselves by the fires before they sat down at the tables that were set out for cards. Karenna had arrived a full half hour before anyone else and had dragged Numair into a warm corner, where she was speaking earnestly. Occassionally the high trill of a breathy laugh drifted over to the door. Her father looked on indulgently.

"He lets her come here unchaperoned, now. Well, I suppose she thinks she's landed him for a husband." Hazelle's voice was distant, but there was a grain of pity in it as she smiled a gentle greeting at another guest. "She's told us nearly everything about her father, except who he answers to, and Numair's going to try to get that out of her tonight. I suppose he'll ask who will be the most honoured guest at their wedding."

"Wedding?" A small voice asked, and then stopped as if the speaker didn't want to know the answer to the question. Alanna turned as a slight, dark-haired girl in a wine-red dress ducked her eyes down and curtseyed a wobbly greeting to their host. "My lady."

"Annette." The genuine warmth in Hazelle's voice was matched when she reached out her shrunken hands and drew the girl up, brushing a finger affectionately along her cheek. "That was very prettily done, my dear, although your ankle still wobbled shamefully."

"I know." The girl sighed, looking genuinely remorseful for a second, and then a spark of devilish playfulness flitted across her eyes. "I'm just so awed to be in the presence of so many res-plendant lords and ladies." She gasped a little over the word, but managed to finish her sentence, and then laughed when Hazelle cackled.

Alanna tried not to stare at the girl. She had pictured a Daine in her mind from the stories the maid, Hazelle and Numair had told her, and the picture was nothing like this confident, playful young woman! She'd imagined a shrunken, sulky creature who ducked her head at the slightest threat. Numair had said she barely spoke, so Alanna imagined a silent creature, but one with sly eyes taking in everything around her. She'd imagined a moth, and instead she had been shown a butterfly. The girl was small, it was true, but it looked like she was naturally slight rather than half-starved. She held her head up straight, and although she glanced uneasily at the stranger it seemed more like youthful shyness than fear. And the girl spoke with a quick wit that only stumbled over longer words, and even then it was only when you were listening that you could hear it.

"Annette," Hazelle said affectionately, "This is Alanna."

The girl's eyes widened, and she stared at the woman for a split second. Then, with impetuous haste, she grabbed hold of Alanna's hand and dragged her away from the door, out of sight of the other guests, and flung her arms around her. She even managed to kiss the stunned knight's cheek before Alanna pried her off, and Daine apologised, laughing.

"I'm sorry, but... but I'm so happy to finally meet you! I'm so grateful to you!" She looked as if she were going to kiss her again, and made an effort to stop herself. Her grey eyes shone. "We would have starved if you hadn't helped us, you know, or frozen... it was so cold on the mountains, and we were fair set to die of exposure, but then..."

"Annette." Hazelle's voice held a warning, and she touched the girl's shoulder. Daine reddened and stepped back, laughing awkwardly.

"I'm glad to meet you." Alanna said formally, and found that she almost meant it. Her mind was reeling. The girl's impetuous affection reminded her of her children, and she had to remind herself that this was a dangerous criminal who had been locked up for her crimes. The idea was ludicrous, and she found that it turned a lot of the carefully made, logical plans she'd come up with on her journey on their heads. She's thought the girl could help them fight, but this creature didn't look like she would follow orders.

Daine smiled as if she could read her thoughts, and the knight caught a glimpse of the genuine intelligence under the overlarge eyes. "Oh, this isn't me. This is the way Hazelle taught me to be. I'll be myself again in the morning, and then we can talk properly." She caught Alanna's hand and looked earnestly at her. "Promise me we will? You have to help him, and he won't tell you everything..." She bit her lip as if she'd said too much when Alanna's eyes narrowed.

"I promise." Alanna said, her voice guarded, and was rewarded with another smile.

Ignoring her own slip of the tongue, Daine rolled her shoulders back and winced at the bite of her corset against her back. "Tonight I have to be Annette, right M'lady?"

"You could retain some manners for breakfast, you know." Hazelle sighed, and then winked. Daine smiled back, curtseyed again to both of them as a farewell, and left. Alanna breathed out in one sigh, barely knowing what to think any more.

"You ask me to protect her, Numair asks me to leave her out of it, but she seems more determined than either of you to actually sort things out." The knight said, her voice a sullen monotone. "It seems to me that everyone's in a sorry muddle around here."


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 24 of 69

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