Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 3 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>

“Do you have any water, please?”

Her eyes flew open at the croaking words, and she sat bolt upright in a second. The room was growing dark- she must have slept through the whole day – and the fire was back in embers beside her. The thick blanket fell from her shoulders when she moved, and she shoved it away in a flustered panic.

The bird was gone! She could barely see the man in the darkness, but it was certainly a human’s silhouette that filled the narrow bed. She threw another piece of wood on the fire to hide her sleep-hazed confusion, and the mage repeated his question. His voice was so coarse that it made her own throat ache in sympathy.

“I’m sorry for waking you up, miss, but I really am very thirsty. Do you?”

She stood up and fled to the water barrel, flinching when her feet ached at the sudden movement. She stared down into the dark water, seeing her own terrified eyes staring back at her. She looked around for a mug, but of course they hadn’t thought to give her one. She hadn’t thought to ask, either. The only container she had was half full of soup, and she was terrified to waste it. Mindlessly she plunged her hands into the barrel, the cold water shocking her into wakefulness, and carried the water over to him. Then she stopped short as the wood on the fire finally blazed, and she saw the man for the first time.

What am I doing?

She hadn’t taken in his appearance at all. Her eyes refused to take in details- they just showed her a man who she was terrified of, who was so tall his bare feet hung over the edge of the bed. Her eyes reminded her that he was easily big enough to overpower her, even as sick as he was. She froze, arms falling to her sides, and she was dimly aware of the water dripping from her palms as she clenched her hands into fists.

You’re not a coward, Daine. She thought. Stop it. He has to drink, or he’ll die of thirst.

She blinked, dashing away her paralysed terror, and saw that he had very dark eyes. His skin was pale and he was so thin that it was pulled tightly over his bones, making those eyes look bigger and more beseeching as they looked at her. To her surprise he didn’t shout at her for dropping the water, or even mention it, but looked back at her with level curiosity.

“I’m sorry for scaring you.” He said, his voice nearly a whisper now. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

People will say anything when they’re desperate, Daine retorted in her mind, but kept her expression blank. Even she knew that she was wrong to think so. The man was being worryingly sincere. She turned on her heel and dipped up another handful of water, and this time she brought it to him. He smiled and drank, his stubble scratchy against her hands as she tipped her makeshift pitcher up. When she turned to get more he shook his head, eyes sleepy.

“Thank you, but too much at once... will make me ill.” He said. She stared at him incredulously, and couldn’t help looking down at his emaciated arms, torso, his bone-white skin. To her surprise he laughed, a hacking sound barely recognisable as anything happy. “Yes, you’re right. Can’t get much worse, can I?”

She dipped up a second handful of water and he drank obediently, trembling hands raised as if her own hands really were a cup that he had to support. She thought about shaking him off, but she was curious to see what he would do next. She pressed one damp hand against his forehead and was surprised the water didn’t instantly turn to steam. There was some willow bark in the bag though, so she could treat a fever. She was thinking seriously about how to go about it when one of his hands closed around hers. She jumped and yanked her hand back. When she was safely back by the fireplace, panting in sudden fear, she turned and glared at him.

“I’m so sorry, little one.” He said, eyes gentle as he drifted into sleep, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She bit back a sob and stared at the fire, telling herself the smoke was making her eyes fill with tears. She looked up again, and the overlarge black bird was sleeping with its head tucked neatly under one wing.


The next time the bird woke up she had finished making the medicine. Well, perhaps that was too charitable a word for it. She had shredded some of the bark as best she could with her fingernails into the soup canister, topped it up with water, and had left it in the embers of the fire to boil. After an hour or so she had decided to add the meat to the mixture, turning it into a kind of stew.

He’s far too thin. She thought, He needs food more than anything.

She ate the stale bread and some of the cheese, although she wasn’t really hungry, and then took up her place by the fire, hands wrapped around knees, and watched him. She could tell when he woke up; he shivered and moved the wing as if it ached, and then looked out from under the feathers with a curious black eye. She used a rag to get the canister out of the fire and tried to remember where she’d left the spoon. Then she sat on the floor next to the low pallet bed, canister and spoon ready, and waited.

The sound was more like a sigh than the magical sound she’d imagined, but then she realised it had to be something quiet, or else she’d have noticed him doing it before. He looked a little better than he had a few hours before- the water and sleep must have done some good- but he shook from the effort of shapeshifting, and his forehead was dewed with fever-sweat. He smiled a greeting, looking more awake this time, and rolled awkwardly onto his side so he could see her. The movement made him shudder, and Daine remembered that he must be badly hurt.

Well, that would be next. She stood up to get the bandages and cleaning alcohol and sat down next to him with them, letting him see them so he’d understand what she meant to do. He closed his eyes for a moment.

“I... you need me to stay human?”

She nodded. As soon as he shape shifted the bandages would fall away. And besides, the wounds were probably getting torn by all this silly shrinking and growing. The man bit his lip and looked away for a moment.

“It’s... difficult. Very difficult. I’m sorry.”

Daine shrugged, face as blank as she could make it. Gods, but the man was an idiot! She almost wanted to shake him. Any fool could tell you not to use your magic if you were sick! Perhaps he saw some of her scorn in her eyes, because he shut his eyes again and spoke more slowly.

“I’ll try. I’ll try for you, I promise.”

The girl picked up the canister and the spoon, offering them to him. If he can feed himself, I can do his bandages, and then he’ll be asleep again and he won’t keep talking to me like I’m worth being polite to.

He willingly took the spoon, but his hand shook far too much to scoop up the stew, and she didn’t want to risk spilling the precious willow bark. A tiny spoonful at a time, she fed him mouthfuls of the healing broth.

“What’s your name?” He asked between mouthfuls. Daine ignored him, and he tried again. “My name is Numair. It’s, erm, it’s nice to meet you. Under admittedly dubious circumstances, but still...!” he smiled, a sudden brightness which dimmed as he was met by a blank look. “Don’t you speak?”

She shook her head and rolled her eyes. She almost felt ashamed of herself for still being afraid of someone who was obviously so stupid! Words got you beaten, or whipped, or shouted at. Worst, words got you noticed by people whose notice had teeth, and fingernails, and torn clothes. No, she didn’t speak. He quietened at that, thoughtful for a few minutes as she fed him the last of the stew and rinsed out the canister, filling it with fresh water and leaving it by his hands.

“I know,” he said a few moments later, when he heard her intake of breath, “I’m a bit of a mess.”

Daine looked at him with incredulous eyes, wondering how he could sound so calm. Most of the cuts and scrapes were what you’d expect from a scuffle- nothing deadly, most of them wouldn’t even leave a scar. But, red and swollen against his too-pale skin and running halfway across his stomach, was a livid sword cut. She bit her lip and held a hand above it, feeling the heat of infection radiating from it even from inches away. It looked like he’d been turning just as someone had stabbed at him, taking most of the blow across his ribs but leaving a long, deep slash across his torso.

She took a step back and ran a hand through her hair. For the first time since she’d been locked in this room, she really thought he was going to die. She caught his eyes, knowing that her horror was written on her face and not caring.

“I take it you have good news for me?” He asked lightly, and made that same hacking laugh. Even that was enough to start thick drops of dark blood pooling in the base of the gash. Daine desperately pressed her hand over his mouth to stop him laughing, and then scrambled for her bandages. They wouldn’t make a dent.

He screamed when she poured the alcohol into the wound, his neck twisting in thick cords as he tried to deal with the sudden agony. Daine gritted her teeth and carried on, cleaning out the dried blood and dirt which must have been there for days. She pressed a clean rag heavily over it to stem the new bleeding, and lashed it down tightly with the bandage. It was like throwing a pebble into the ocean to stop the tide, and they both knew it.

When she’d finished she fetched the wonderful blanket and pulled it over him, hoping the extra heat would help his fever to break. That, at least, she had a hope of curing. He let her, laying in silence with his shaking hands over his eyes as he tried to ride out the pain. Daine sat back down next to the head of the bed and dampened her last clean rag in the rainwater, then handed it to him. He pressed the cool fabric to his forehead.

“” he gasped, after a few minutes. Daine looked up in disbelief. No-one would thank another person for putting them through that agony! And yet, he was. He was looking at her gratefully with black eyes that were still swollen with tears. She looked away, embarrassed to be a cause of his suffering. She didn’t think anyone would want a stranger to see them like that, so weak and helpless.

“Were they serious?” The man – Numair, she reminded herself- asked after a few minutes. His voice still shook, was still weak, but a lot of the croakiness had gone, and it almost sounded like a human was speaking. Daine didn’t have a clue what he meant, though, and looked up enquiringly. He made a feeble gesture with one hand. “The men who were in here, before. Were they being truthful when they said that if I died...” His voice tailed off. Perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence, but Daine reminded herself that he was a murderer, and insane, and was probably just too weak to speak. She nodded in answer to his question, and his eyes opened wide.


She gaped at him, and had to press her hands to her mouth to hide what was almost a mocking smile. People didn’t like it if they thought you were laughing at them. She didn’t answer, not even a shrug, and he sighed.

“I thought they might be. I’m... not sure if I can help you. I’m so sorry, little one.” She didn’t look around, and he persisted. “I wanted to die, you see. It’s why I stayed as a bird. But when they said... well, I thought it best to live. I’m trying to remember how to fight back, but maybe it’s too late.” He had such casual words to talk about his own death, but Daine barely heard them. He wasn’t making any sense. Was he saying that he was trying to save her life?

Had the healer known he would do that? Perhaps that was why they’d made their threat in front of the bird. It would explain why the guard had threatened to whip her right after being so unusually kind. But... she frowned. But if they thought he would want to save a stranger’s life, they can’t possibly have thought he was the monster I’ve heard stories about. The Hawk Mage wouldn’t care if a stranger died.

This... this “Numair” might, though. Said a small voice in the corner of her mind.

She was very confused.

His eyes were fluttering shut, exhausted now the willow bark had started to work and the pain was subsiding. She looked up into his eyes, looking directly at him for the first time and wondering who this stranger really was.

He touched the bruise on her face with his frozen fingers. “I’m so very sorry they did this to you. It’s not right.” He murmured. The hand dropped as he fell asleep, falling on her shoulder. She rested her swollen cheek against it, her thoughts a confused whirl, and wondered if her warm skin was as relieving for him as the cool fingertips were against the bruise. It was an oddly peaceful thought to fall asleep to.


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 3 of 69

<< Previous     Home     Next >>