Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 29 of 69

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“Well, if Alanna burned it, she burned it,” Hazelle sighed, “We can get you another dress. And, since you insist on wearing them, some tunics that weren’t made for someone with the muscles of a plough horse.”

She glanced at the tunic Daine was wearing with obvious disapproval, and had tutted between her teeth when Daine explained what had happened to her dress. Now that the woman’s cultured irritation seemed to have ebbed away the girl smiled and thanked her. As grateful as she was to Alanna, there was something nice about the thought of having leggings that she didn’t have to cinch closed with a belt.

“Then I can go into the market?” She asked, keeping her voice light. “It’s the midwinter fair today, you know. It will be so busy that no-one will look twice at me, and there’s some things I need to do.”

“Things?” Hazelle’s eyebrow rose elegantly, and Daine cursed inwardly. It truly was impossible to sneak anything past the old lady.

The expression on Hazelle’s face when her guests had walked into the kitchen for breakfast that morning, hands entwined, had been as blatant as a cat staring at a bowl of cream. She didn’t say anything, though. At the end of the meal she asked Daine to show her the damage to her clothes from the night before. The girl led her to her room and ruefully showed her the ashes. 

When the girl didn’t reply, she repeated, “What things, Annette? I’m sure that we have anything you’d ever need here...”

“You’re very generous,” Daine cut across softly, and smiled, “And I’m fair grateful, but this is... something I want to do without feeling like I’m taking it out of your pocket.”

“I don’t mind,” Hazelle said softly, almost hurt by the idea that she might be. “I’m happy to give you these things, little girl. I can’t hold on to them forever.”

“I know.” Daine impulsively went to kiss the lady’s cheek, smelling the soft chalky perfume that never seemed to fade from the woman’s skin. “You’ve been so good to us. But this is something I want to give away.”

She opened the chest that sat beside the bed and took out a scrap of cloth, which she unwrapped slowly. Hazelle took the bundle with curious fingers, her mind racing. She hadn’t been aware that this thing existed, which meant that Daine had hidden it on the very first night she spent here. The girl must have thought to conceal it even when she was so starved and tired that she could barely see. It must be something very dangerous! Hazelle unwrapped the rest of the cloth greedily and was taken aback by how small the thing turned out to be.

It was a thin, broken silver chain, with scores of tiny disks welded to it. Each disk held a different rune. Although several of them were blackened as if they’d been burned, it was clearly a well-made piece of jewellery.

“What is it?” The old woman asked.

Daine took it back with a look of distaste, and folded it in the fabric without a second glance.

“It’s a slave chain.” She said. “My chain. I want to sell it. If they melt it down into a lump of metal maybe it’ll be worth something to someone.”

“Quite a lot, I’d think.” Hazelle said. “It looks like pure silver! I could send someone to the blacksmith with it for you.”

“N-No.” Her voice was quiet, but stubborn. “No thank you. I have plans for it. I have to do it myself.”

“Then why didn’t you sell it weeks ago?” The old woman asked. “Why keep it a secret from me?”

Daine shrugged rather than answer, and for once the lady let the mystery slide. Daine was glad. One answer was simple enough in its own way – the midwinter fair was far larger than any normal market, and easier to sell something so valuable at without raising comments.

In truth the girl had almost forgotten that she still had the slave chain. She had hidden the dratted thing in the bottom of her clothes chest and had only remembered she had it because she had moved all of her other possessions into Numair’s room that morning. The rag-wrapped bundle had come undone, and the charms glared up at her from the base of the oak chest like baleful silver eyes.

It had taken every fragment of happiness from the night before to stop Daine from slamming the lid back down and finding somewhere to hide until she could stop shaking. As it was, she forced herself to reach in to the chest and pull the rag back over the silver chain, disguising it until she could work out what to do with it.

He might not have even realised it, but more had changed in Daine’s world since Numair had confessed his love for her than just the way she felt about him. As much as he cared about her, it was impossible for the man to truly understand the way she had thought and felt about her strange, meaningless life. Before she escaped Daine had been a faceless slave, and after that she was still a chrysalis: a nameless creature that Hazelle had created.

Escaping from the prison had given her freedom but it was an odd and groundless freedom. She might have learned new things and met new people but at heart she had still felt utterly shapeless. She had no sense of home, even in the friendly company of Hazelle and her household, and apart from confronting the officials there had been no real hopes or ambitions for her to look forward to. How could she make plans when she didn’t really exist?

Perhaps it hadn’t been Numair who had changed her. Perhaps she had done it herself. The chrysalid had sat in front of a fire and said – insisted – that she was not Annette, and not a slave, but Daine. The same Daine who had killed innocent people in Snowsdale, but Daine nonetheless. She summoned a living, breathing person who was allowed to have dreams, and who might see them come true. A mortal creature who only needed to be loved to be real. And Numair had breathed life into her as surely as the sun had risen that morning.

And so, even if Numair didn’t see it, Daine felt to the depths of her heart that she had changed. Suddenly she had real plans for the future - things which might actually come true, and which she could work towards rather than have to fight against.

It was a heady feeling.

Both Numair and Daine longed to live safely and quietly together in a place where their past wouldn’t haunt them. The girl set her stubborn mind to work and started planning how that might actually be achieved. Numair had told her in one of his stories that he used to own a tower in Tortall, and so if the king allowed it there was a chance that they could live there.

But even if they had a building, neither of them had a trade. They would need money.

The girl decided that she was going to re-learn how to be a hunter. She would need a bow and a lot of practice, but she used to be good enough to sell leftover game at the market in Snowsdale. Selling the last memento of her slave life to buy a bow to support her freedom seemed somehow right.

But what should she say to Hazelle?

As close as she had grown to the caring old woman, Daine didn’t quite know how she should explain herself to her. Part of the story involved her moving away from Hazelle’s home for good, which she knew the woman was hoping Daine wouldn’t do. The other part of the story was about her wanting to make a life with Numair, and when it came to talking about Numair… 

…well, even the thought made her blush. Words definitely wouldn’t happen.

So in the end Daine just shrugged and smiled reassuringly. She was sure Hazelle already knew some of it. The fact that the woman wasn’t actually asking questions told her that.

The woman sighed, and grudgingly gave permission for the girl to leave the grounds. She laid down a few conditions, though, and half an hour later she grew nearly apoplectic when both of her guests politely told her they didn’t want guards. Seeing her distress, they pointed out that having an entourage was far more noticeable than just being alone.

“We can look out for each other,” Numair had said in a protective voice that dared anyone to argue. Alanna looked up from the map she was scowling at in the corner of the sitting room, startled by the man’s tone of voice. Looking speculatively from Numair to Daine she hid a grin. Then she huffed and rolled her eyes.

“Lady Hazelle, are you going to give them a curfew, too?” She drawled, “Let them go, for Mithros’ sake, or they’ll just sit around making doe-eyes at each other all day. How you’re not sick of the sight of them by now I can’t imagine!”

“You’re not being funny.” Numair remarked drily. Alanna pulled an exasperated face at him.

“Why would anyone need to cast a warding spell in a place as safe as this, Numair? There was an awful lot of silence coming from your room this morning…” She smiled triumphantly when Daine blushed bright red. “There. If that’s not a guilty expression I don’t know what is.”

“I don’t feel guilty.” Daine told her quietly, and something in the girl’s voice made the knight pause in her teasing. Daine shrugged, her face still burning but her words quite steady. “We’re not ashamed. Not a bit. We love each other.”

“Love’s all very well, Annette, but I can’t say I approve of this kind of immoral behaviour in my own home.” Hazelle’s voice was a little sharp. “Under the eyes of the Goddess…”

“The Goddess?” Daine laughed explosively and took Numair’s hand, feeling the tense irritation that lurked dangerously under his skin. She gently wove her fingers through his, stopping him from curling his hand into a fist. “Lady Hazelle, who do you think you’ve been sheltering under your roof these past months? We’re both about as far from moral as it’s possible to be. If the Goddess ever comes a-calling she’ll have better things to punish us for than making love.”

“That’s the past you’re both hiding from though, isn’t it?” The old woman leaned back in her chair and her words were challenging. “You can’t use it to excuse yourselves now. As Annette and Leto – and under my protection - you’re supposed to be respectable.”

“And that nonsense is exactly why we decided to keep it secret.” Numair matched her terse words with his own outburst of anger, and he glanced at Daine when she squeezed his hand soothingly. He sighed and tugged at his nose, not meeting Hazelle’s eyes but looking instead at the smaller hand whose fingers were meshed so perfectly with his own.

“We don’t mean to offend you.” He finished eventually. “If… if we could be blessed by a priest and make a respectable troth than we would, but you have to agree that it’s just not possible while we’re in hiding.”

“And you can’t wait?” The woman matched his impatient tone. To her surprise when the man looked up his black eyes were amused, and his voice was bright with unvoiced laughter.

“Well, in that respect we’re both very happy to be utterly immoral.”

Alanna snorted a laugh at that from her corner and then dove back into her work when Hazelle shot a glare her way.

“If neither of you are capable of the tiniest amount of self-control I suppose keeping it a secret is all you can do, then. And that at least is a sensible notion.” Hazelle waved a translucent hand delicately in the air, dismissing her own irritation to speak more bluntly. “If your enemies found out you were lovers then they’d know you’re each others’ weaknesses.”

Both Daine and Numair looked up at her, surprised, and then glanced at each other.

“We hadn’t thought about it like that.” Numair said slowly. “We just thought it didn’t really fit with the characters we’re pretending to be.”

“Also true.” Alanna said solemnly, and then her eyes twinkled. “Which characters are going to the fair today, Numaileto?”

“You’re not helping, Alanna.” Hazelle snapped. She drew a deep breath, looked at the two fugitives who met her gaze with artless eyes, and then shook her head. “Oh, go to the market. Get out of my house and leave an old woman in peace with her illusions of modesty for a few hours.”

Before any of them could try to soothe her hurt feelings, the lady dragged herself to her feet and stalked out of the room.

Numair and Daine exchanged a half-guilty look and then left by the other door. They took warm winter cloaks from the hall and pulled them on over plain padded clothes like the mountain folk wore in winter. By the time they were swathed in the thick outfits they already looked utterly unlike the silk-clad nobles they had pretended to be for so long, but before they left the house Numair stopped and beckoned Daine into an anteroom.

“It’s been so long since we were out of this house I almost feel like we’re escaping again!” He whispered, grinning, and then rested a hand against the side of her face. “But that said, we still need to be careful. So I’m going to cast a glamour on us to disguise us for a few hours.”

“You’re going to use your gift?” She asked uncertainly. He nodded.

“It’s a good chance for an experiment. I’m sure Alanna would offer to do it, but she’s going to be absolutely insufferable for a few days. And more seriously, there’s a good reason that I try. I won’t use my magic unless it’s absolutely necessary and neither should you… but we still need to practice as much as we can. So I need you to help me.”

“Help?” She echoed uncertainly. He smiled and kissed her forehead.

“It shouldn’t be too difficult, don’t worry!” His expression grew serious. “I’ll cast the magic. I need you to... to defend the barrier that you put in my mind. Do you remember what we practiced, about controlling your magic, and not letting it get out of control? If you see the barrier weaken, I want you to fix that part of it – and only that part. Use as little magic as possible, and do everything deliberately.”

“What if I can’t stop it?” She whispered. He squeezed her hands.

“You can. Use some of that wonderful stubbornness on it, and tell it you’re in charge!” He laughed. “It’s your gift, after all, magelet. It’s about time it started listening to you.” 

“Alright. If you’re happy to risk it.” She said, still sounding doubtful. “I’ll try.”

He caught her hand and pulled her next to him in one of the window seats.

Good! He said silently, his mind voice excited as he brushed a stray curl behind her ear. If we can get this to work, then we might be able to work out a system to use our magic properly.

Only if the other person is there. She reminded him, and he smiled.

That’s no hardship, sweetling.

Well, let’s hope people only attack us when we’re not having an argument. I’m not letting you win a fight just so you can save my life again, you know. She smirked when he pulled a face at her.

Follow me, then, my darling fountain of optimism. Numair said dryly, and started to meditate.

Daine smiled at the sarcastic courtly phrase and shut her eyes.

She followed his shade through their connection with an ease that would have stunned her a few months ago. The magic lessons had given her more control over her magic than she ever believed was possible. When she saw Numair’s core she realised it was the same for him – without the hawk running through his mind, the black coils of his gift were neater than they had been before. Before they had been writhing wildly, shooting out violent barbed thorns and trying to bleed into his core, they were now peaceful and came to him readily when his shade stood among them and called to them.

Daine watched his core uneasily, seeing the odd silhouette of black wings as it thudded against the cylinder of bronze fire.

Now that she was here she could feel every impact, as if the bronze gift was an extension of her arms and legs. When the hawk tore black claws against a dimmer patch in the light, she felt the weakness and instantly went to press her palm to the damage.

She concentrated, working out what she needed to do, and then took a calm breath and ordered her magic to heal that part and nothing else. Her hand felt warm for a moment and when she looked at it the fingers were glowing oddly, but the flow of magic stopped after a few heartbeats. The dim patch blazed with new light.

Daine smiled triumphantly and stepped back, looking and feeling for more weak patches. The second one was easier to fix, and the third barely took any effort at all. She was just looking for a fourth when a hand fell on her shoulder, and she heard Numair’s voice in her ear.

I’ve finished, he said, and kissed her cheek. As a shade it tingled strangely, and they both laughed. Numair took her hand and pulled her back from the core. Shall we go?

Daine opened her eyes and couldn’t stop herself from smiling. “We did it!” She breathed, and grinned at Numair when his eyes opened too. “Numair, we did it!”

She stumbled over her words then when she looked at Numair properly and took in the strange light shade of his hair and the broader cheeks. He still looked like himself, but different enough that even she wondered for a moment if it was really him.

His eyes were the same, though: black and amused.

“How do I look?” He asked. She tilted her head to one side.

“Odd. Different.” The girl ran a finger along his jaw, amused that even though he looked clean-shaven she could feel the rough stubble which she had distracted him from shaving off that morning. She looked up at him with laughing eyes. “But I think it’s still you under there.”

“I’m glad you approve.” Numair’s voice was solemn, and he pulled a strand of her own hair in front of her face so she could see that it was so blonde it was nearly white. Daine whistled softly and pulled her braid over her shoulder, marvelling at the tamed, straight locks that felt like her own wild curls under her fingertips.

“Do I look Gallan?”

“Hopefully we both do!” Numair pulled her closer and kissed her. “I’m proud of you. That was perfect.”

“It was so easy,” she said wonderingly. “Is that how normal magic feels?”

“It depends on the magic. I don’t know what healers do, and I guess you’re more like a healer than I am. I’m more of an explosion person.”

“Explosions?” She blinked up at him, “Like... buildings, and castles, and armies?”

“Yes, I suppose. But mostly candles.” He sighed and rested his chin against her head. “I was never any good at lighting the cursed things.”

Daine giggled, realised he was serious, and then laughed louder. It was such an odd thing for a mage to admit to! “We should get going.”

“There’s something to be said for staying here, you know,” Numair murmured, slipping his hand under her tunic, fingers brushing lightly against the warm skin of her waist. Daine caught her breath, but smiled mockingly at him.

“After all the effort it took to cast that spell?” She pulled a face. “We’re going. Besides,” She brushed a curl away from his eyes and ran her fingers lightly through his unsettlingly coloured hair. He shivered, and she couldn’t stop smiling even as she said, “Besides, you don’t look like the man I’m madly in love with.”

“Honesty at last!” He sighed dramatically. “And here I thought you liked me for my personality.”

“That too,” she smiled at the mock-hurt on his face and ran her fingers lightly down his neck, her eyes mischievous. “When will the spell wear off?”

“Not soon enough,” he whispered, his voice heated as he pulled her closer to kiss her.

“In some ways, this soppy stuff is even more annoying than when you two were arguing.” A familiar voice drawled behind them, and they both jumped and turned, blushing furiously, to see Alanna leaning against the wall. She smirked and held out a hand. 

“Daine, before you get too distracted, Hazelle told me about that... thing you want to sell. If you give it to me I can break the charms off it for you. It won’t take a minute, and then it’ll look less suspicious when you sell it. Otherwise, who could resist asking questions about it?” When they glanced at each other uncertainly, she dug into her belt purse and drew out a small bag. “Oh, and this is yours.”

Daine took the bag and nearly dropped it. It was heavy with coins. She blurted out, “I told Lady Hazelle I didn’t want...”

“It’s not from the lady.” Alanna interrupted. “It’s yours. Back pay. I guess Jonathan will want to reward you properly for warning us about the war, and helping Numair, and fighting off assassins, and whatever else you take it in your head to do. But he’s stuck in Corus, and as predictable as the man is I can’t read his mind. So, in the meantime, you’re on squire’s pay.”

“So this is from you? It’s your money?” Daine persisted, and Alanna rolled her eyes.

“Aren’t you listening? I told you, it’s yours! You earned it.”

“Earned it.” Daine lifted the bag carefully, as if it might bite her, and inspected it. The knight looked at Numair, who was watching with amusement, and threw the second bag of money at him with petty quickness. He caught it easily and bowed his thanks, then tapped the still-stunned girl’s shoulder and reminded her that Alanna had asked for the chain. She flushed and tucked the money into her belt, then produced a knot of cloth.

Alanna took the parcel which Daine hesitantly handed to her with a frown, and unwrapped it quickly. Her face twisted in an expression of disgust and she looked up at them sharply. “I thought she said it was just a chain. This is… this is vile.”

“Well, you’ve never been over-fond of jewellery,” Numair quipped, but the words felt forced.

He knew exactly what was going through Alanna’s head, because it was what he’d thought when he had first seen the silver chain. Daine had admitted to him in a lesson weeks after they escaped that although she had been forced to wear the chain for years she only knew what some of the runes did. He listened to her description silently: a tracking charm, a listening spell, a pregnancy charm and something the girl vaguely called the punishment charm. That sounded bleak enough, and when Daine had shivered at the memory the man found that he couldn’t bear to describe the others to her.

“Why were there so many charms?” He asked instead, and she had looked thoughtful.

“Well, Dakinn – that healer you yelled at, remember? He was in charge of them. Everyone started with the same chain but then sometimes he would try new charms on someone, or add a couple, or string them in a different order and see what happened.” Her voice grew softer, and there was an almost baffled note in her voice when she admitted, “I don’t think he really knew what he was doing, you know. Anja told me he came up with the chain idea and after that everyone was so relieved that the slaves had no magic that they just let him do whatever he liked. The first time they put my chain on all my hair fell out. I don’t think he would have done that on purpose. It just seems too odd to be anything except an accident.”

Dakinn. Numair had hated the man in the prison, but sitting in the quiet library with his friend on that day he had felt the bitter heat of bloodthirsty anger boiling in his veins. Dakinn. Only a trained mage would know the runes he was casually stringing around people’s wrists, and only then as an academic exercise. Numair couldn’t think of a single person he knew who would willingly use them on another human being. They were charms which you would tie to a disobedient horse or a savage dog.

They were meant to control the mind and stop the thoughts.

They were charms to make you obedient and docile and... caged.

One of them was simply the rune for fear. He had seen it in the prison, wrapped around the wrist of a girl who was too scared even to smile without pressing guilty white fingertips to trembling lips. He had been savagely glad when that had been the first charm to burn.

Alanna looked up with a question on her lips, but stopped and shrugged when Numair shook his head warningly at her.

“Well, I guess it’s a rarity, so thank you for letting me see it. And I hope I never see the thing again.” She muttered, and bowed her head over it. The silver glowed violet for a moment, shuddering as if it were heating up on a hot skillet, and then the light vanished and every single charm dropped from it simultaneously. They rained down onto the tiles and skidded across the hall.

“That was clever.” Numair remarked, relieved that something had distracted Alanna from her questioning. He strolled down the hallway after the charms that had rolled furthest away, whistling nonchalantly when Alanna glared at him. The knight and Daine stooped to pick up the nearer charms, throwing them into the scrap of cloth in an undignified heap.

“Did you want to keep this one?” Alanna asked abruptly, holding out a silver disc. Daine blinked and shook her head.

“No. I don’t want to keep any of it. If I could, I’d smash it into dust.”

“Are you sure?” Alanna’s voice was unusually soft, and Daine looked at the charm she was holding out. She recognised the soft gleam of the pregnancy charm, un-singed and still looking newer than the other tarnished charms. She froze and a thousand thoughts skidded across her mind even while she was shaking her head.

“No.” She answered with absolute certainty, knowing that she would never change her mind. “I’m never wearing another charm again. Ever. Not theirs, not mine, not... not anyone’s. I won’t do it. I can’t.”

“If you’re sure.” Alanna dropped the charm in the pile and shrugged, not trying to argue. Let Numair do it. Looking at the stubborn set of the girl’s jaw she doubted he’d be able to change Daine’s mind any more than the knight could anyway. The subject was dropped by the time Numair came back, hands full of the tiny trinkets. He dropped them onto the pile and dusted off his hands as if he’d touched something unclean.

“I think the sooner we get rid of this, the better.” He said, and his voice was unusually angry. Alanna glanced down at a few of the charms he’d been carrying and shuddered, seeing what they were spelled to do. She folded the cloth over them hastily, and tied a knot in the bundle with vicious speed. Then she handed it to Daine and tried not to wonder what the girl had been like in the prison, with two dozen spiteful curses wrapped around her wrist.

“Here,” she said, and forced herself to smile. “Have fun at the market.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 29 of 69

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