Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 26 of 69

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By the time Bennette had healed the welt on her forehead, Daine was shaking too violently to speak.

The warmth of the house had brought her out of her faint, and even before Numair put her down beside the fire in the main room the maids descended on the girl like a flock of clucking hens. The girl's eyes fluttered open and she gasped, half-panicked by the way they crowded around her even in her delirium. She shoved at the anxious women uselessly with trembling hands until Bennette appeared like a wrathful god and chased them away.

“What happened?” She demanded, her usual deferent tone clipped.

“She fainted. There was a fight...” Numair started, but the woman cut him off with an imperious gesture and touched the girl’s cheek with the flat of her fingers. Daine pulled away from her touch, gasping in narrow breaths as her eyes flared wildly. The healer scowled at her.

“None of that, miss.” She said briskly, and took her knife from her purse. Seeing Numair’s expression, she cursed and lightly cuffed his cheek. “She can’t breathe, you nincompoop. They look fair pretty, I suppose, but it’s cursed hard to panic in a corset.”

Gesturing for him to set the girl down in one of the long seats that adorned the room, the healer unfastened the back of her snow-stained red dress and swiftly cut through the tight laces which had shaped the bodice. As soon as the laces snapped Daine gasped in a deep breath, and then another, until her panicked shallow gasps began to ease.

“I wouldn’t have thought of that,” Numair said, “I thought she hit her head.”

“Oh, she did,” the woman said grimly, “But our Annette wouldn’t be fazed by that little bump.”

She rested her hand on the girl’s head, and it began to glow with a soft, nurturing light. Daine shivered, and the healer glanced up at a maid with an unspoken order. The door clicked shut behind her as the woman left to fetch dry clothes.

“You’re soaked, too.” Bennette said quietly, “We’ll take care of her. Go and get warm.”

Numair hesitated, “When she wakes up...” he started, and then sat back down again when Daine cried out. Something in her dream made her weakly try to push the healer’s hand away, and when Bennette obstinately refused to move a tear coursed down the girl’s cheek. “No, I won’t go. She’s terrified.” He murmured, taking her flailing hand and holding it between his own. “Why? She was fine in the garden.”

“Fear’s a funny thing.” The healer said, giving up trying to heal and brushing her hands off on her knees. “Sometimes it only bites us when we’re safe.”

“He’ll come back...” Daine whispered, eyelashes fluttering like moth wings as she tried to open her eyes. “He’ll... they’ll...”

“You’re in the safest place in the whole valley.” Bennette told her in a soft but unrelenting tone. “Them as attacks us by night won’t dare risk it in the day. You’re safe, duckling.”

“Not me...” Her eyes filled with tears, unseeing in her half-dream. “Not me. Already broke me...”

“Now you’re just talking nonsense.” The healer hauled the girl upright and leaned her against the back of the seat. “If these men do come back, I’ll give them a piece of my mind for scaring you into this silliness! Now, are you going to let me fix your head, young lady?”

“Yes ma...” the girl mumbled, responding to the tone of Bennette’s voice. The woman smiled triumphantly and pressed her hand back onto Daine’s forehead, and although she couldn’t chase away the shock, she made short work of the bruise that was purpling above one eye. After a few minutes Daine opened her eyes wide and blinked at her, slowly raising trembling fingers to her head.

“Better?” The healer smiled and made a show of dusting her hands off. “Well! Now let’s get you dry.” She reached for the ragged sleeve of Daine’s dress and gaped when the girl frantically shook her head, clutching the torn fabric to her skin.

“I can go, if you like.” Numair said quietly. Daine shook her head urgently and looked at the floor, trying stubbornly to stop her teeth from chattering. The room was warm and her clothes had nearly dried anyway, but she couldn’t stop herself from shaking. A vague, nauseating horror lurked in her stomach and every time she tried to speak to them it choked her, and all she could do was shiver. She drew her legs up onto the chair and curled up against Numair, burying her face in his shoulder and wishing the terror away.

A gentle hand rested against her head, and his voice was soft. “You need to tell us what happened, Daine. We need to know what to expect. Are you in danger? Were you recognised?”

She shook her head again to the second question, but hesitated at the first. Giving her a little time to breathe, Numair softly told her that Hazelle and the soldiers were scouring the grounds for the archer, and that Alanna (in a fit of righteous anger) was scrying the entire valley for a hint of whoever sent them.

“So, you see, you’re safe, and everyone knows what’s going on now,” he finished, “But we don’t know what happened. Do you know who it was? How did you know they were going to attack me?”

Daine shut her eyes in frustration, unable to even think of how to begin. If she spoke out loud she might be sick, and she would definitely descend into gibbering nonsense before she could tell him anything worthwhile.

My words are gone! She thought bitterly, and felt the odd familiar stream of bronze magic carrying the words between them.

“They’ll come back, sweetheart.” He murmured, brushing a curl away from her eyes. His own mindvoice replied to her. 
Tell me like this, then, if it’s easier.

After so many days of silence Numair's magic felt patient and oddly intimate to Daine, pitched against the whirl of a mind that felt raw and vulnerable. Even though she couldn't stop shaking, Daine felt herself beginning to feel safe for the first time in hours.

She took a deep breath, and let the memories come back.

She only meant to draw from them, to remember and repeat back to her friend what had happened, but as soon as she let them surface in her mind the images grew so strong that they poured out of her. All of them, every thought and emotion and sickening detail, fled from her mind into his, and all she could do was relive them again through his eyes.

A flash of gold, the strange watery sparkle of a jewelled headdress, and a candle flickers in the shallow sconce nearby. The wax smells sweet, hot, and you feel the shimmer of heat against your hand as you lean on the wall. The wood is cold under your fingertips, and you hesitate –

- oh maybe I should go back, what if it’s nothing and this is just... –

- you hesitate, and you step outside, because something just tells you that you must. It insists, like a hot stone in your stomach, refusing to move, and your mouth fills with the taste of ash. The snow is crisp and sharp under your feet, and you remember too late that the shoes you are wearing are soft, and delicate, and now they are spoiled.

- sorry -

- the thought is fleeting, and your feet quickly go numb, and you can be silent on light toes. The ice glitters in the moonlight around you, and the soft drip of falling clumps of snow showers from the trees as you near them. Your eyes are sharp, quickly shaping the shadows into shapes, and you see the footprints clearly. A man’s prints, heavy and ponderous, deeper at the toes as if he walked quickly.

- perhaps he’s just going home, or for a walk, and you imagined it, you stupid girl...-

They occur simultaneously, but the emotion rises first, red and grey in the darkness. The sound of weeping comes next, drifting through the garden and barely underscored by the deep gravel of the voice, and...

(Creature, you aren’t worth the rags we dress you in! You killed that horse, you did it on purpose!)

You hear a sound, a harsh slap of skin on flesh, and you raise your shaking hand to remind yourself that it isn’t you that is being struck. Not this time. But the voice! It's so familiar, so spiteful.

You loathe that voice with every scrap of your being.

You creep closer, not trusting your ears, and peer through the trees. They’ve lit a mage light, a soft glow that seems to make the clearing even colder, and the girl they hold hangs limply from the soldier’s arms like a rag doll. You don’t look at her, though. You can’t. You strain to see the face of the other man, because...

- ...but he’s Annette’s da and I’ve seen him before, but not up close, and I’ve never heard him speak, but I never thought...

...if I didn’t recognise him, then perhaps he couldn’t recognise me...

His face tilts up to the light, and dark shadows play across his eye sockets, and he’s smiling sadistically.


No no no...

You scrub at your face with your hands, harsh frozen fingers tearing at the skin, but there’s no mistake. He...

(Don’t untie her. Leave her there.)

(Coarse twine cuts into your wrists and burns against the skin. The stone wall is freezing against your bare back, and the floor is slippery with your blood.)

(Even the guards look down in horror and it hurts, mama, it hurts, make it go away... and their eyes are full of pity and disgust but he laughs, and the shadows fill his eyes, and I think the black god has come for me... I beg, I plead, make it stop, please, please, but only the guards answered, and only with the pity in their eyes...

...the black god left me, he left me alone there for three days until the laughing man returned and hurt me again... )

“We have our answers, Sir Orsille” The guard’s voice is rough, and you recognise...

... hatred? Pity? Distaste?... his tone when he says, “Perhaps we should stop, now. There’s no need to keep torturing the girl.”

“She might be lying.”

No pity there. You shudder and wrap your arms around your stomach, knowing you’re not trembling because of the cold. You tell yourself

... pull yourself together, dolt!...

And something in you stands up at that, and is still, and you can stop shaking, because you need to be strong. There’s a girl in the clearing, and the men have her, and she needs help, and it’s that simple. Really, it is. You reach down carefully and your fingers find the brittle husk of a branch frozen from a tree. You lift it carefully.

The girl has stopped crying, and hangs limply from the soldier’s arms again. He shakes her and mutters, “Fainted.”

The official’s long fingers scratched his chin idly. “Well, we know they’re onto us. Silly chit might not know much, but she knows who the lady Hazelle is friends with, at least.” He looked up speculatively, eyes made glassy by the moon. “I wonder how they found out? They wouldn’t have sent the lioness here for anything less than...”

You freeze, fingers icy around the branch as you strain to listen, but they’ve stopped talking. “Go and tell Karenna.” He says finally, and the soldier hesitates before dropping the girl to the frozen dirt. She crumples, and her face tilts upwards towards the light. You recognise her...


...from the kitchen, but her face is so bruised that you’re surprised you could see it. The snow wakes her up and she moans...

- No, be quiet, don’t you know you shouldn’t speak? If you make a sound he... –

...and the official looks down. An odd expression crosses his face, and he crouches down next to the girl.

-...not a sound, don't even cry. Especially not that. Because if you cry he... -

The girl moans and stirs, her hair dragging through the snow-laden mud as she struggles to wake up. His hand is unspeakably gentle when he touches her hair, brushes a trail of blood from her cheek, runs his fingernails across her throat.

(There were rough calluses on his fingertips from riding but his touch was careful. He was almost loving, tenderly lifting my face between his hands and tracing the shape of the bruise that had swollen one of my eyes shut. He had told the guards to beat me because a horse had died. I thought he had given the guards the order because he had no stomach to do it himself. The horse belonged to some great lord, and it had taken fever so quickly I couldn’t save it.

I thought, foolishly, that Orsille was kind. I didn’t fully know the type of men the prison attracted, then. I only understood later that they had allchosen to work there. But back then I was still naive enough to believe that they couldn’t all be monsters.

Orsille was silent, but I was so starved of any kindness that I heard false words in his caring touch - words that I had missed desperately since my ma had been torn away from me. He stroked the sweat-stained hair away from my eyes and untied me from the whipping post. I fell into his arms, so he carried me. I was fifteen, and half starved, and he carried me as easily as a child. Stupid, stupid child! I looked at his ash blonde hair and smiling eyes, and because I hadn’t seen him before I thought he was new. I thought he was different.

He carried me to his room and set me down beside the fire. His hands were gentle, and he carefully cleaned away the traces of blood from my face. I felt my eyes sliding shut, as I grew sleepy and warm, and he ran his hand down my cheek and slowly, gently, rested it against my throat.

“You killed my horse.” He said. His voice was pleasant.

I was half asleep, drugged by the warmth and the tenderness. His words made a shock of horror run through me. I stared at him and he smiled. He pressed down with his hand and I remember his smile stayed there, widening in the reddish light until there were sharp teeth showing. I pushed at his hand, choking and trying to breathe but he never moved. When I clawed at his hand he caught my wrist and his nails bit into the flesh sharply enough to draw blood. He kept speaking and his voice was soft, and so friendly, and I struggled but the words still sounded like he was teasing me, and so I still didn't understand...

“Creature, you aren’t worth the rags we dress you in! You killed that horse, you did it on purpose!”

...and he never raised his voice. Never. Not even when...)

He twists the strand of the girl’s hair until it drags against her scalp, and her eyes fly open at the sharp pain.

You can’t just stand here. You can’t. You can’t watch it happen to another person.

You take a shallow breath and snap the branch you hold, feeling dry splinters fly into your palms as the frozen wood shatters. His head snaps around at the sound, and he stands up, walking cautiously in your direction. You circle around the clearing, and wait for him to vanish into the trees before you run towards the girl.

She whimpers and stares at you, her eyes unfocused. “Wake up,” you breathe, “Please, he’ll come back soon.”

“Back?” Her voice is weak. Your fingertips are numb where you’re resting them against the ground, and you press them to her forehead. Her eyes flow open at the cold and her face begins to crumple. “They...!”

“Yes, I know.” You can’t help feeling impatient, wanting more than anything else to run away, but knowing you can’t leave this girl here. You know what he’ll do to her. “So you don’t want them to do it again, right?”

She shakes her head emphatically, and you pull her to her feet. Snow drips from her hair and she sways for a second, looking green in the moonlight.

“Don’t be sick.” You say, and it sounds like the words are coming from someone else. You don’t recognise the distant voice. “We don’t have time.”

- When did I become so... so... cold? -

“Thank you,” she whispers, and catches hold of your hand as you run. The branches whip biting ice into your face, and you want to raise the hand to protect your eyes, but you can’t make yourself let go. She’s younger than you, barely more than a child, but her hand dwarves yours. You run towards the amber lights of the house, and then you hear it.

A crash of snow, a crump as it falls to the ground. Now your ears are alert you can hear footprints.

“He’s following us!” The girl whimpers, and you shush her. Your own heart races, and your dress tangles between your legs, but being frightened won’t help you. You can’t stop yourself from running faster, though, knowing the cold in your stomach has nothing to do with the winter. And then you know. You know for sure...

-He knows we’re here. He’s going to catch us.-

-He doesn’t know there’s two of us.-

...fear... and the coldness, again, drifting over you like smoke. For a moment you can’t breathe. The sudden absence of fear is horrifying, because it’s so cold, so empty...

“Run,” you tell the girl, “Keep running. Go to the stables... they’re nearer. Don’t stop. Tell them what happened. Run.” And you tear your hand away from hers, and shove her onwards when she hesitates. “Run!”

The fear flickers like a candle flame. You know it’s there, but you can’t feel its heat. You draw a deep breath, and the cold stings your throat and nose. You slow down, and listen to the footsteps behind you. They slip in the snow, and grow louder, and you force yourself to walk. To breathe evenly. To be calm. The warm lights of the house are shading the trees when he finally catches up, and he skids to a halt in breathless confusion.

“Why are you running?” You think of every lesson that Hazelle said to you, every habit she tried to nurture. Daine would run away, but you are not Daine. You are Annette, and you draw yourself up proudly.

(Back straight, chin up)

You look at his sweaty face and cover a slight smile with your hand, fingers gracefully extended and not curled into frightened fists. The giggle sounds unnatural to you, but then all giggles sound strange in your ears. He pants and stares at you, and you feel the fear beginning to burn again when your eyes meet.

He raises a hand...

(His hands wrapped around my throat but his voice never changed. He would have strangled me with that same slight smile dancing on his face...)

(The smile widened when he told me it had nothing to do with the horse. Hours after he first untied me from the whipping post he dragged me back there. The stone wall froze my back and the stones were icy under my bare feet but the tarred rope burned against my wrists. He dragged my hands over my head and left me there. He brushed the fresh blood and the tears from my cheeks with lazy, sated fingers and laughed mockingly at the utter betrayal in my eyes.

Don't untie her, he told the guards. The shadows filled his laughing eyes. Leave her there. I think I'll keep this one.

By then I understood. It had nothing to do with the horse. He did it, he said with a final sadistic grin,because he knew he could do anything he wanted.)

(He kissed my forehead so sweetly, so tenderly before he left that my eyes finally filled with tears.)

(Poor little wolf cub. Time to grow some teeth, my pet.)

...and he wipes sweat absently from his forehead. “Mistress Annette,” he manages, out of breath. “Aren’t you cold?”

“Cold?” You say sweetly. Your voice doesn't shiver. You taste bile in your throat but you answer him with laughter in your words. “Not at all. I needed the air. It was too hot in there, don’t you think?”

His eyes skim over you suspiciously, and you’re suddenly self conscious. You realise that the branches have torn tiny holes in your dress, and the red fabric is clinging to your legs, soaked in snow. You're still more like a lady than a creature, but you have to stop yourself from wrapping your arms around yourself defensively.

“Seen all you wanted, have you?” You say tartly, your mouth dry. He stares at you levelly, his eyes shadowed sockets in the darkness. And suddenly, in a roaring crash, the fear returns. You can’t move, can’t breathe, and it’s because the torchlight flared, and your eyes meet his. The frozen air steams between you, and for a second you wonder if you can see recognition in his eyes. He smiles, so slowly it’s painful.

“You’re walked far from home, haven’t you?” He says in a voice that is too light to be anything but dark. He has dismissed you; you’re not a threat, and as he’s walking away he waves a hand idly at you, as if your paralysed legs could possibly move at the gesture. “Run back, mistress, and see the gift I’ve sent your cousin!” 

...? Terror? Weakness?

... you gasp in a breath, and run... and you hope... you pray...


The word was too harsh, and Daine realised it was because it had been spoken aloud.

“Stop it!” Strong hands closed on her shoulder and dragged her to her feet, pulling her away from the chair until she tripped and fell, still almost blind to the real world after the luminous illusion of her memory. Behind her she dimly heard the sound of retching, and knew instinctively that the shock of being brought out of their link – and the sickening weight of fear - was affecting Numair, too.

“What were you doing?” Alanna demanded, shaking her. Daine rubbed her eyes frantically, trying to see. The dim orange roar in the corner of her eye must be the fire. She drew a breath and felt her throat close up painfully.

“Tell me what you did, girl!” No wonder she was called the Lioness: she almost roared when she was furious. There was an undertone of real panic in her voice, though, and Daine thought that she was worried for Numair more than anything. She felt the woman’s hands on her shoulders again, but could barely hear Alanna’s voice until another broke across her tirade.

“Alanna, leave her alone!” Numair drew a ragged breath – the words had clearly cost him an effort – and the accusing hands fell from Daine’s shoulders as if they’d been scalded. The man’s voice was quieter now he knew the knight was listening, but they held a vein of iron. “I asked her to do it. Don’t be so damned suspicious. Dear Mynoss, if you want to fight someone then find the people who attacked us!”

“We did.” Alanna said grimly, breathing heavily as she regained her temper. “They’re dead.”

“Dead!” The voice was Hazelle’s. Daine blearily made out her silvery silhouette walking across the room. She rubbed her eyes, and some of the room swam into focus. Alanna nodded, her face set.

“They attacked a girl – the sister of one of the hostlers. By the time we’d tracked the attackers down I couldn’t control them... I didn’t have soldiers any more, I had a lynch mob. Those men won’t attack anyone else...” she sighed, “But we won’t get any information from them.”

“We know who they were.” Numair said, his voice shaking slightly. “That’s what...”

“That’s what you were letting that girl into your head for? That’s why you were letting an untrained mage cast dangerous, illegal magic without warding yourself?” Alanna’s voice was bitingly sarcastic. “Oh, well that makes it all fine then, doesn’t it?”

“I said it was my idea.” Numair muttered, rubbing his head as if it ached. “Leave it alone, Alanna.”

She opened her mouth to argue, and then took in his wan appearance and seemed to think better of it. “Well, I’m going to go and talk to the sister. Bennette has her, but she’s probably healed her by now.”

She turned on her heel and left, unable to stop herself from taking one last accusing glance at Daine. Hazelle pursed her lips and followed her, eyes speculative. The old lady was so wrapped up in her thoughts she almost tripped over the edge of the carpet, and she barely even noticed the danger. Her normal playful air was quiet and serious, and the sight of her in such deep concern was almost as unsettling as the attack had been.

“I’m sorry.” Daine said as soon the door closed, her voice almost inaudible. The girl’s eyes fixed on Numair. There was a strange sadness in her gaze. “I’m sorry that you had to see all of... of that. I didn’t know it would happen. I didn't want you to know any of that. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please forgive me.”

He looked up, and his eyes were so dark with pity that she flinched and had to look away. She didn’t want him to feel sorry for her. Perhaps he sensed that, because although his words were careful he didn’t apologise, or recite any empty platitudes. He just asked, “Is that what you remember all the time? When you see the officials?”

She looked down at her hands and answered honestly. “N... No. Not all of them. Ors... he was the worst one.” She wrapped her arms around her knees and shuddered. “He’s the one in my nightmares. I see him a lot. But I didn’t recognise his face until tonight. Isn’t that odd?”

He sat next to her, unusually silent for a few minutes as he thought. Some colour was gradually coming back into his cheeks, but he still looked ill. Finally, in a quiet voice, he said, “Daine, I need you to promise me something.”

“Promise?” She asked, confused. He nodded.

“You can’t put yourself in danger like that again. Promise me you won’t.”

She blinked. She’d thought he was going to say something about her using the magic. He looked at her steadily, waiting for her to agree, but she found herself shaking her head. “What if you’re in danger?”

“Then we’ll fight it together.” He reached out to take her hand and held it earnestly. “Promise me, Daine.”

Daine opened her mouth, and then closed it. “I can’t.” She said finally. He stared at her incredulously, and she swallowed. “I can’t make a promise when I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it. You won’t always be there.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” He asked, baffled. She smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder.

“Silly. You won’t always want me bothering you, you know.” She yawned and closed her eyes. “We should go to sleep. It’s nearly morning.”

“Don’t change the subject.” Numair’s voice was sharp and he pulled away from her. “If you’d been recognised tonight by that... that bastard, then...”

“Do you think that girl is alright? The one whose brother made the lynch mob?” She interrupted. He bit off his words as she told him, “If I hadn’t put myself in danger she’d still be out there. With... with Orsille. So, you know, I’d do that again in a heartbeat, and so would you. And I wouldn’t be stopped by a promise. Promises are just silly words that you only remember when you break them.”

He was silent for a moment, and then he made a frustrated sound that was close to a laugh. “You were a lot easier to argue with when you couldn’t speak, Magelet.”

“No, you just only heard half the argument. You never knew when you’d lost.” Daine smiled in an odd, sleepy way, feeling lightheaded from weariness and the odd euphoria of feeling safe again. Numair laughed. The tension faded from the air.

“I’m sorry that I can’t promise.” She said, and meant it.

Numair shrugged, his expression one of self-mockery as if he should have expected her to refuse. Standing up, he lowered a hand to help her to her feet. Daine stood with a groan as her muscles reminded her she’d run a lot more than she was used to. It was the darkest hour before dawn, and when they got into the hallway and she saw the gaping, pitch black doorways that filled the house Daine felt herself begin to tremble again. Any shadow could be...

“Numair, can I stay with you tonight?” She asked in a small voice. “I understand if you don’t want me to, but...”

“Of course.” He said, his voice gentle. “You never have to ask.” He laughed shortly and his hand tightened around hers. “After all, if you won’t make an effort to stay out of trouble, I’ll have to keep a closer eye on you, won’t I!”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 26 of 69

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