Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 25 of 69

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"I think I need to congratulate you!"

The voice was young, bright, and Karenna wheeled around with a wide smile. It froze when she took in the speaker – the skinny, dark waif who seemed to haunt the parties like a sullen ghost. Daine looked up at the taller woman levelly, her own face fixed in a smile which followed her words.

"Congratulate me, Miss Annette?"

"Yes! I hear we'll soon be burning some extra incense to the mother and throwing rose petals at your feet." The words were playful, teasing, but there was a dark undertone to them that made Karenna's eyes narrow. Perhaps she'd just imagined it because she disliked the strange little creature, but she couldn't make herself believe the girl was being sincere.

Still, she was Leto's cousin. Karenna forced herself to take a breath, and indicated that they should sit down at one of the card tables together. When she dealt she noticed that, although the smaller woman could play cards capably enough, she held them as if she was scared of damaging them. It made Karenna feel better, somehow. This mysterious country noble was clearly not such a catch, if her family couldn't even afford cards.

"How did you hear about it?" She asked, raising a pointed eyebrow mischievously. Annette hid her expression behind her fanned out cards, and her eyes were wide.

"So it's true?" She gasped, "You're getting married?"

"True in all but the words," Karenna whispered comfortably. Seeing the girl's brow wrinkle in confusion, she sighed and tapped the card deck against the table. "We've reached an understanding. He's just waiting for the right time to actually ask me. Properly, as it were."

"Oh!" Annette reddened and looked at her cards, too distracted to tell whether they were diamonds or hearts. She had trouble playing this game with Hazelle on a good day, so she had no hope of working it out tonight. She put the thick rectangles down on the table, giving up, and met Karenna's eyes. "I'm... I'm very happy for you." She said.

"No you're not," Karenna laughed, and rested a finger against the other girl's lips. "Hush! I know you don't like me. Maybe we'll get to know each other one day. We'll be friends, hm? But you need to practice your lying before the big day!"

Annette blinked and then sat back, her expression going from flustered to a kind of detached curiosity. "Do you love him?"

Karenna gasped. "Well, that was a blunt question!"

"You didn't answer it." Annette said quietly. Karenna smiled and played with a ribbon that laced around one of her cuffs.

"I'd be happy with him." She said eventually. "There. Are you content?"

"Would he be happy with you?"

The question was quick, biting, and Karenna was stung by it. "What? Why would he ever marry me if he didn't think he'd be happy?"

"I don't know." Annette sounded lost for a moment, and then her smile was back on her face. "I'm sorry, he's like a brother to me, you see, and..."

"He isn't your brother. He won't be your brother. He'll be my husband." Karenna said viciously, suddenly, violently wanting the girl to leave her alone. "It's not your place to pry into his life like this. I know he's spoiled you, but I won't. I can promise you that..." she turned her head distractedly as a new guest was shown into the hall, and froze. "Is that...?"

"Sir Alanna of Olau and Pirate's Swoop, King's Champion of Tortall." The servant who announced the nobles gasped over the long list of names, but waved in the newest guest with a flamboyant arm gesture to show her high and noble station. Alanna rose to the ceremony by striding in wearing clothes that were a slightly smarter version of her travelling clothes, a shirt crumpled from being stuffed into a saddlebag for weeks, and a scowl that defied anyone to challenge her choice of dress. Daine wondered fleetingly if Bennitte was rocking quietly in a corner somewhere. The maid despaired when her young charge had a single hair out of place at these parties.

Daine hid a smile. Despite whatever else she was feeling, she had to admire the knight's gall. She strode around the room as if she owned it, interrupting conversations with boyish ease and capturing the attention of the whole room.

"Excuse me." Karenna said, her voice unusually quiet. Daine looked up, surprised, and saw that the woman's father was beckoning her to him with an impatient hand.

Daine watched with curious eyes as they huddled together, the man whispering frantically to his daughter for a moment, until she broke away from him and shook her head. Gesturing at the card table where Numair was sitting, she raised her chin and said something in an obstinate voice which carried across the room. The words were swallowed by the chatter, but the father scowled and then shrugged, striding out of the room without another word. Daine watched as Karenna took a deep breath, smoothing down her dress with one hand as she waited for her nerves to steady, and then the fake smile was back on her face.

Daine barely saw the smile. Her attention was captured by the expression on the father's face as he turned back and looked at Numair, and then Alanna. His eyes narrowed, and as he stepped out of the room a thoughtful expression spread across his face. The girl shuddered, resisting the urge to wrap her arms around herself defensively, and took a deep breath. She recognised that expression. It was the look he'd had in the prison when someone had broken the rules. And she recognised the same sly, cunning gleam in his daughter's eyes, as she turned their beautiful gaze on to Numair and smiled.


It was early in the morning, and the party was ending. Karenna had only been gone a few minutes before Numair realised he desperately needed some air. She'd gone, and with her had come the crushing realisation that she would never return. The facade he'd been playing for weeks hadn't felt heavy until that moment, and suddenly he felt how caught up in it he'd been. For days he'd done nothing except think of ways to get Karenna to speak to him and now... suddenly... she had. She had told him the name of the man her father answered to, and suddenly she was no longer important. He kissed her hand as she left, and she waved a diamond-shining hand merrily at him from her carriage.

He needed some fresh air. The guests were all shuffling away now, groaning as they left the warm fireplaces to emerge into the cold, icy air of the gardens. He welcomed it, throwing a fur around his shoulders impatiently and strode into the garden, his head reeling. The cold hit him like a shock of water, and he shivered and tried to get his spinning mind to clear.

A servant he didn't recognise followed him down the path, careful on the ice-streaked stones, and handed him a note. Numair took it and nodded his thanks, wondering if Hazelle had a new mission for him. It would be like her not to waste a single minute!

He unfolded the note with cold-drugged fingers, recognising the musky, coiling perfume that drifted from it before Karenna's graceful handwriting swam into focus. The soft torchlight spat a violent, bright flare, and he saw her words in a single, sickened heartbeat.

You lied to me.

"Look out!" The voice was shrill, harsh, and Nuamir ducked instinctively as something whistled over his head. There was a shriek, then a man yelled, and suddenly there were two figures in the dark shadows of the garden. He hadn't even known there was anyone there, but it was as if the trees had suddenly come alive. The two figures clung to each other grimly- two faceless silhouettes catching at each others' hands, trying to trip each other, stopping the other shadow from reaching for weapons. And then the voice shouted again, and he recognised it this time – Daine.

"There's another one! Behind...!" She stopped with a gasp as the shadow she fought spun her around, and she lost her footing. Numair took a step forward to help her, and then heard the crackle of ice behind him as someone disturbed the branches. Reeling around, he crouched down and felt the snow bite frozen teeth into his fingers as a second arrow sped harmlessly over him. This time he drew his belt knife and charged, not giving the archer time to reload before he crashed into him. The man cried out and fell backwards.

"What's going on out here?" An imperious voice rang out, and there was the sound of running footsteps slipping and sliding through the ice. Numair heard them, grimly grabbing at the archer's flailing hand and then throwing the man's dagger harmlessly away. The archer cursed and spat in the mage's face. Numair recoiled backwards just as the archer swung his fist around, and the blow knocked him reeling into the snow.

He launched himself forward almost instantly, blinking grit from his eyes as he reached for the archer. The other man twisted in his grip, slipping as he found his footing, and then the fabric in Numair's frozen fingers was dragged from his grip. He pulled himself upright and took off after the man, but the archer was far faster than him, and melted into the dark garden in seconds. Numair stood for a moment, breathing heavily as heavy footsteps crashed around him. Men streamed past – burly men he recognised from their servants livery – and chased the archer into the trees.

"Daine..." Numair breathed, recoiling from the darkness to run back up the path. Was she alive? She'd been here, fighting another man twice her size. He'd sent her flying with barely any effort at all! He blinked and irritably brushed slush and dirt from his eyes, but he couldn't see either of them.

"They ran through there..." Hazelle's voice was too high, frightened, and she gripped the stone rail of the garden steps with white hands. She looked around for her guards, but they'd chased after the only attacker they'd seen. She turned wide blue eyes on the mage. Numair nodded once, and ran in the direction she had pointed.

The trail was easy to follow, but pitch black in the night. Numair followed it blindly, knowing through their link where Daine was and simply going to her. From what he could see in the dim light, the man had tried to flee like the archer, but Daine must have sped after him on god-blessed feet. Branches were broken and lay across the trail where the imprint of a fallen man was often clear in the snow. After a few hundred meters he could hear them, and sped up. The sounds of breaking branches were heavy in the dead winter night, and he could hear the man cursing roundly, but there was no sound from Daine. When he finally caught up with them he saw why. The man was swearing and flailing around as the girl clung to the back of his neck doggedly with her arms wrapped around his throat, legs constricting his waist. Every time he tried to hurl her off she would twist, or lean backwards, throwing him off balance and cutting off his air supply.

"Bitch!" The man howled, "Get... off... me!" He stopped absolutely still for a moment, and while Daine was confused he hurled himself backwards against the ground with all his might. She cried out as she was crushed against the ground, losing her hold on him as he clambered dizzily to his feet and kicked out at her blindly, winded from his own attack.

"Stop!" Numair ran forward and struck the man with the first thing his hand fell on – a broken branch. It exploded into icy shards against the man's shoulder and he yelled out in pain, clutching the dislocated joint with his other hand and reeling to face the new threat. He sized up Numair for a moment, breathing heavily in weariness and pain, and when the man's eyes flicked downwards to the crumpled body of the girl he dived away into the undergrowth, vanishing into the night.

Numair let him go. He ran forwards instantly, picking Daine up and praying to any gods that she was alright. She blinked at him for a moment, and then brushed snow from her hair and said in a surprisingly normal voice, "Well, he won't be coming back."

"Not without his friends," Numair said darkly, and helped her to her feet. "Thank you, Daine. How many times have you saved my life now? I'm losing count."

"As many times as you've done something so cursed foolish..." she started, and then seemed to catch her breath. "Well,'re... safe!" She gasped, and laughed hysterically. It was too loud in the silent woods, and she winced and put a hand to her forehead. "Oh, I'm glad. But how'd you not hear them sneakin' up on you? Dolt."

"I was distracted." He frowned and moved her hand away from her head, seeing the raised weal that was already angrily swelling over one eye. He took a handful of snow and compacted it in his hands until it was solid, then handed it to her to hold over her head. She smiled and took it, sighing when it numbed her headache.

"Should you even be walking?" He asked. She pulled a face.

"I've been beat'n worse." For all her bravado she had to fight to keep the words from slurring, and he walked a little closer to her. It was the closest they'd been in weeks, since they'd last argued, and he was surprised how normal it felt. When he took her hand and her slight fingers closed around his he was suddenly aware how much he'd missed this. Missed her. Her hystericall laughter had faded into a companionable silence, and she began to shiver. He turned to ask if she was cold, and saw that she was in shock, the bruise growing on her head.

"Talk to me, magelet." He told her gently, squeezing her hand. She opened her mouth, thought for a moment, and then looked at their linked hands.

"I didn't... let... the wolf..." she said, smiling strangely up at him. "N't this time."

"Why not? You'd've been safer." He asked. He'd said it automatically, trying to keep her awake, and then realised what she'd said. He winced at the honesty in her reply.

"Di'n't want you... angry at me...'gain." She mumbled the last word sleepily, the ice falling from her fingers as she swayed, and he grabbed her to stop her fainting into the snow.

"I wasn't angry at you." He told her, lifting her easily into his arms. She made an odd sound and he smiled, recognising an argument even when she was barely conscious. He stood for a moment, resting his cheek against the crown of her head as he realised that he was telling the absolute truth. His voice was soft, almost wondering when he said, "No, I mean it. I was angry at myself."

"You... didn't do... anything." She whispered, so softly he could barely hear her.

"I nearly lost you," He shivered at the memory of her spirit dancing away from his hands, and held her tighter. "Don't you know that it would have been the worst mistake of my life?"

The bruise on Daine's head was livid when he got nearer to the house, and he brushed away some of the icy dirt from her face with impatient gentleness. As he was walking towards the door he stopped, and without looking around, spoke to a horrified looking Hazelle.

"It stops. I'm done. It ends, tonight."

"Yes." She whispered, her voice stunned. "Of course."

"And you will never ask me to do anything like that again." He bit off the statement curtly, and didn't look around to see her shamefaced nod.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 25 of 69

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