Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 33 of 69

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On their last day all four of them ate breakfast together, making the usual jokes about the almost-cold porridge and teasing Daine about the burned toast when the girl picked at her food. After breakfast the mages meditated in Hazelle’s library while the lady left to run some errands in town. When Hazelle returned she told them that she’d paid a visit to the tailor and he’d been asking after Annette, but of course, no-one thought that there was anything unusual about his question until much later that night. By then, they all understood his betrayal keenly.

Lunch was just as normal as a lunch could be. Because it was the last meal, you might expect that one of the servants might trip and fall, or that one of the cats might jump onto the plate of cold fish. But it was unremarkable. It was one of the rare afternoons when Hazelle hadn’t found chores for her guests to do in the afternoon. In the absence of dress fittings or archery practice, Daine and Numair curled up together in a window seat and laughed softly over something the man had found in a book that morning. They turned the pages slowly, whispering to each other as they read.


“How are you two not sick of each other by now?” Alanna drawled, on her way to do some sword drills in the courtyard. They smiled at each other, and she rolled her eyes in mock disgust. “Ugh, it’s like being the third wheel in a honeymoon around here. I’m going to pretend to kill people. That’s what normal people do, you know. Have a nice afternoon!”

They bid her the same, and as soon as the woman had left the room Daine turned and kissed her lover, her eyes mischievous. “How would you like to spend your afternoon, my love?”


“I have a few ideas.” He replied in kind, and laughed at her raised eyebrow. “Alanna said we should have a nice afternoon, after all.”


“We shouldn’t argue with her. It’d be rude!” Daine caught his lips for a fleeting moment and shivered when she felt his arms move around her. Something square poked into her spine, and she winced and twisted around. “What on earth…?”


“I thought I’d do some reading.” The man had the gall to sound pompous as he smirked at her, and the girl made an indignant noise and caught the book he was still holding. He made himself look confused, although he was rather too out of breath to carry off the act for long. “What? It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon…”


Daine hid a smile against his temple and then made her voice stern. “Drop the book, Numair.”


Drop it?” He looked aghast. “Why would I ever do that?”


Rather than answer Numair’s teasing the girl moved to straddle his lap and let her hand slowly drift along his thigh. Holding his gaze with laughing, heated eyes, she let her fingers trace maddening circles higher and higher along his leg until her lightest touch made him shiver. She smiled, not breaking his gaze until she lowered her head to nuzzle against his neck.

“Drop… the book.” She murmured, and caught his ear between gentle teeth.


He hissed between his teeth and there was a thud as the volume fell to the ground. Daine barely had chance to gloat over her victory, because then one of his hands was in her hair and the other was strong on her hip, drawing her closer with a hunger that made her giddy. She opened her mouth under his insistent lips and leaned into him. Even with layers of cloth between them their bodies knew each other, and Daine moaned softly as she felt her lover harden beneath her.

“Wait,” she whispered, and tried to catch her breath. “Not here.”


“You started it,” he retorted, catching her chin to kiss her again. The girl found her thoughts flitting away until his hand moved from her chin to her breast. She shook her head and stopped his hand, dragging herself back. Someone could come in at any moment to clear the lunch plates away.


She kept hold of Numair’s hand and led him up to their room. When the door shut behind them she kissed him again, feeling his lips twitch in a smile as his hands encircled her waist.


Numair started untying her overdress with impatient fingers. When he drew the fabric away she shivered in the cool room, and he wrapped his arms around her for a moment. It was strange to see her translucent skin outlined by bluish-grey winter light, and he thickly realised it was the first time they’d made love during the day. He kissed her and asked curiously, “What’s brought this on, magelet?”


“I don’t know.” She said, a hint of a laugh in her voice as she kissed her way along his jaw. “I didn’t think about it. I just feel so… so odd.”


“Odd.” He repeated, and a fine line appeared between his eyes. “Daine…”


She kissed him again, and he couldn’t help forgetting the question as he spun her around and pushed her back against the door. Her breath caught as he pressed closer to her. She slid her arms sinuously around his shoulders so she could reach up to murmur in his ear, “Why are you thinking so much?”


Numair looked at her for a moment. If he had asked her the question then, her answer might have stopped everything that happened later that night. But Daine was looking back with a guileless expression that said she knew exactly what he was thinking, and why, and that any answer she gave would not involve words.


He decided it was better to wait for her to tell him in her own time. Still, once the thought was in his mind it was hard to shake off, and when they lay down together he held her with loving gentleness as if she were made of Yamani china.


It was growing dark by the time they arose, and rather than bother the servants they helped each other to dress in their courtly clothes, making snide comments about the fiddly clasps and ties and teasing each other mercilessly. Daine caught sight of herself in the mirror and blinked, then raised a hand to her hair.


“I’ve never worn it down before,” she said absently, “They always tie it up for me. But I think it looks fine.”


He smiled and combed the curls out with his fingers. “It’s a little tangled, sweetling!”


“Well, if anyone says anything I’ll tell them that it’s your fault,” she winked at him in the mirror, and then sighed and leaned backwards when he kissed her neck. “Oh, I wish we could stay here.”


He didn’t answer, but finished combing out her hair and ran his fingertips through it until the wild curls lay tamed against her shoulders. “Daine,” he started, the line appearing between his eyes again, “Do you think it’s possible that you’re…”


“Annette!” Hazelle’s voice rang out from the corridor, and they both instinctively looked out of the window at the darkening sky. It was far later than either of them had realised. Daine sighed and turned around.


“We’ve been up here all day. If I’m late to the party too we’ll never hear the end of it.” She reached up and kissed Numair swiftly, biting back a giggle when he caught her waist and pulled her back for a much longer, much more enjoyable kiss. When they heard Hazelle call out a second time they both groaned and parted with some reluctance.


“Daine, are you…” Numair had blushed bright red as soon as he started talking, and he only got a few words into his sentence before he stumbled over the words.


Daine found that his hands had tightened around her waist as if he thought she would run away. She frowned and ran her hand soothingly along his. His knuckles were nearly white, and she knew he’d get leaves printed onto his palms from her belt. That would be difficult to explain away. Whatever thought had distracted Numair earlier in the afternoon had clearly returned with enough of a vengeance that he hadn’t noticed.


The question he had started had failed him. Numair resorted to stating facts. “Daine, you said you feel odd, and… and… and you didn’t eat any breakfast.”


“So?” Her eyes were wide, absolutely innocent. “The toast was burned.”


“Yes. But it wasn’t burned yesterday but you didn’t eat anything then, either. And the day before that…” The man blushed even redder. “Sweetling, you would tell me if you were…”


“Annette!” The delicate old lady’s voice was strident in its irritation. “The guests are asking after you, my dear!”


“I’d better go.” Daine pulled away from him, not meeting his eyes or letting him finish the question. The door clicked closed behind her.


Numair sighed and then followed her.


The guest who was asking after Annette was Lord Parsey, and as he had done for the past few weeks, he greeted her by bowing over her hand and asking her to dance.


When the slow dance was finished the girl was surprised when the official asked her to walk onto the veranda with him. She hesitated, but agreed: although the garden still didn’t seem safe when the officials were around, the paved walkway could be easily seen from the windows of the main hall.


They walked together for a moment, speaking of nothing in particular. Then Parsey said, with absolutely no change in his tone, “I can never get used to how different you look without that chain around your wrist.”


She whitened and tripped, and he reached out a chivalrous hand to help her. “That was graceful, Mistress Annette. Is Annette your real name? From before, I mean?”


“No.” She whispered, knowing there was no use in lying when her own clumsiness had told him the absolute truth. “No, it isn’t.”


“What is your… actually, no.” He pulled a face, and then sighed dramatically. “Why ask? I know you won’t tell me the truth. I have other ways to find out. And it’s not important. You don’t need a name.”


They reached a buttress in the middle of the walkway and Daine stopped, knowing that the veranda drew further away from the hall after that point. She leaned against the carved stonework and folded her arms. The gesture was utterly unlike anything the ladylike Annette would do, but she needed its stubborn strength just as surely as she knew that the façade had been shattered.


“I have a name.” she said quietly but forcefully, “I won’t waste it on people like you, but it is just as important to me as your name is to you. You have no right to say things like that to me.”


“Right? Of course I do, silly creature. I own you.” He tucked his hands into his pockets nonchalantly, even whistling a happy tune as she looked at him incredulously. His grin widened at her expression and he slapped his hand on one velvet-covered knee.


“I knew it was you. Of course I did! The others might not be able to see past a layer of dirt, but I can. As soon as I saw you in that tailor’s shop I recognised you. After that your act was… hmm, a little more convincing, perhaps. We can give the others some credit, I suppose. But I imagine that was all that traitor-bitch Hazelle’s doing, wasn’t it? I asked the tailor this morning and he said he’d never seen you before that day. And I knew you were the wolfling from the moment I saw you.”


“Liar.” Daine folded her arms, “You would have turned me in, straight away.”


“For what?” He laughed at her confusion, and made an odd gesture with one hand. Intricate lace fluttered in the breeze.


“The child we found in Snowsdale was executed the very next day. We couldn’t let her live. The townsfolk came in a mob, screaming for her blood. The werewolf died on that day, so how could she escape from our prison years later? No, only one prisoner escaped. Only one prisoner was strong enough to break our defences and he’s the one the guards are still searching for. You, my sweet little changeling, don’t exist. You were erased like chalk before we even put you in chains. No-one even remembers your name.”


Daine reeled and had to rest a hand against the wall, feeling the icy stone graze her palm. It was as if she had been handed freedom and her old chains at the same time, and her mind spun.


“But... then why are you talking to me?” She babbled. The man frowned.


“I wasn’t sure of what I saw. I watched you, with... with him. The others believe you’re some rough-hewn country noble folk, come to visit... but I was sure. I watched you. I watched him. There were a few weeks when I questioned myself, when he ran after Orsille’s girl, but the Lady Hazelle got rid of her quickly enough. And now I’m sure, and I’ve convinced the others, too. They say it’s time. I want to make a deal with you.”


“A deal?” She pressed frozen fingers to her forehead, and then looked up. “You... why?”


“Why? Why not just kill you, you mean? Well, it’s simple: the Hawk Mage is in love with you. He won’t raise a hand against you. No matter what you do that criminal will do anything to protect you. I can see it. The way he looks at you? It would be so touching if you weren’t a pair of murderers.” His voice had degraded into a sneer, and Daine looked up with sudden fury.


“And you?” She hissed, “Should I tell you what you are?”


He coloured but ignored her question. His voice took on a colder edge as if he were pointing out the obvious to an ignorant child. “He won’t kill you. He won’t attack you. He might be able to make the keep burst into flames with a wave of his hand, but he won’t if you’re inside it.”


“You can’t make me go back.” She whispered, seeing his plan with a flash of lucid horror. “You said... I don’t exist. And I can’t... I won’t...” she swallowed to stop herself feeling sick, and then said more fiercely: “He’d tear down the walls to find me.”


“Not if he thinks you’re chained to them.” Parsey smiled greasily and leaned forward. “I’m going to give you a choice, little one.” The words were barbed, and he smiled when she flinched.


His words became honeyed. “You can choose to come back. If you do that I’ll call off the search. When the snows melt he can leave the valley safely. Or... you run away from me now, and within an hour every person in this valley will know that your lovely Leto is the noble mask of the murderous hawk mage. He’ll be hunted down like a dog. Like a wolf.”


Daine stared at her feet, feeling the warm shoes holding them with sudden sharp awareness. His words washed over her like water but she felt the threat in them as keenly as the edge of a blade. She felt like a fraud – she felt like their prisoner again. Just like that, she had transformed back into the slave. She had flown away from her cage for a few short months, and they were here to remind her of who she really was. Her feet should be cold, not warm.


Either she would live out her life as a slave, or they would both die. She should agree meekly; Parsey would expect nothing less. But when she raised her tearstained face he darted forward and snapped something around her wrist.


She looked down. It was a chain. It was made of shining new gold and littered with so many charms that it was heavy. She felt its magic roar through her veins like fire, but this time it didn’t burn her.


For a breathless second her magic felt taut, like a drawn bowstring. Then, with a sharpness that made her cry out and press a hand to her chest, she felt something inside her snap.


In a shimmer of shards, the wall that had kept her wolf at bay cracked. Singing into the night, the cord that linked her heart to Numair’s shuddered and screamed. It twisted with vicious cruelty, and she knew that a few rooms away the hawk was tearing at its own cage with delighted, sadistic strength. She fell to her knees and cried out.


This time, the wolf roared back.


This time the feral glory of it fuelled her fury. Her eyes blazed as she dragged herself upright and glared at the human in front of her. Her words were anything but meek. They were a curse, ripped from the depths of her heart and thrown at him with every word tolling the grim future.


“You stupid, stupid man. You don’t understand. You don’t understand anything. You’re signing your own execution order. You think you can use me as a shield? He will tear down every stone you build around me, and rip through every soldier’s throat you set to guard me. And you?”


She took a step closer, manic laughter running through her voice when he took an instinctive step back. “You, we will save until last. You will suffer. You think you’re playing with two lives but you have unleashed four. Without each other we are wild and feral and free. We will dance in your blood. The hawk and the wolf will tear the skin from your bones and we will laugh at every scream we rip from your throat.”


“Stay back,” he whispered as she kept walking forward, his hand fumbling at his belt. He raised a dagger in shaking hands, holding it up as she came towards him. 
Daine kept walking until she could feel the soft warmth of blood trickling down between her breasts and staining her beautiful dress. She felt no pain, only the screaming howl of the magic that was tearing through her skin and the wolf which was howling in agony in her mind.


Parsey’s voice shook and his words were drenched in naked fear. “I’ll kill you.”


She did laugh then, a high-pitched mania which was torn from her throat so unconsciously that it hurt. “You wouldn’t dare, you coward.”


“Stay back!” His voice got higher pitched, and beads of greasy sweat rolled down his face to stain his collar. Behind him, dark shadows peeled away from the trees and turned into figures – guards in livery, their faces set and grim as they ran forward. Their hands were stained with blood, and in the snow behind them Hazelle’s guards rattled out their final breaths.


There was no-one left to help her. No-one else knew.


The guards wrenched her hands away from Parsey’s throat and dragged them behind her back. Daine laughed at them. Laughed at them all. Laughed until the fire finally burned her, and the world dissolved into the black choking smoke of unconsciousness.




“They’ve made their move.” Hazelle said, her voice almost inaudible. “This is the second time they’ve attacked my home. They’re breaking the law. I’m a citizen of Tortall; Jonathan is perfectly in the right if his army intervenes at my request.”


“It’s an act of war.” Alanna agreed, “Against a Tortallan. We have enough information now to strike at them, and we’d be in the right. It’s started. I’ll send a message to the soldiers to mobilise. They should be at the pass first thing in the morning.”


“I can’t believe you’re talking so calmly!” Numair looked up incredulously from the corner he’d sunk into. They had found him there, clutching his chest against a rending pain which had told him more clearly than Hazelle’s tearful words what had happened. His cheeks were flushed with pain and absolute fury, “They kidnapped Daine! We… we have to get her back! We have to…”


“To what? Storm the keep?” Alanna’s voice was harsh. “Perhaps we should raze their farms to the ground while we’re at it! After all, we’re so strong! Mithros’ shield, what do you honestly think three people could do, Numair? We have to wait!”


She paced the room, running her own hands through her hair as she thought. For all her logical words she was furious too, blaming herself for allowing Daine to talk with the officials on her own. After weeks of nothing the devils had lured them into a false sense of security, and their move had been as clever as it was vicious.


“She’s a hostage, Numair.” Hazelle’s voice was soft, if bitter, as she tried to talk some sense into the man. “The only reason they have her is because they know we’ll want her back. In all the time they spent with us, the one thing they would have been convinced of is the fact that we all care for her. They’ll have seen the clothes and known I bought them. Alanna spoke to her like she was one of her daughters… don’t argue, Lioness. And…” she hesitated, and then finished, “Well, no-one could misunderstand the way that she looked at you, Numair, nor the way you looked at her.”


“Don’t make this into our fault.” Numair twisted his fist into his stomach to fight the pain, and looked up with gritted teeth. “If we hate ourselves for loving our friends then we might as well be monsters.”


“But that’s exactly what they want.” Hazelle tried to explain to the man, waving her wrinkled hands in the air in mute explanation. “They want you to condemn yourself. Why kidnap a little girl when she doesn’t even want to fight? As a warrior she’s valueless, but as leverage over the hawk mage…”


“So. A hostage.” Alanna sounded disgusted, “Is there nothing they won’t sink to?”


“Nothing.” Numair had whitened at Hazellle’s guess knowing the cunning old woman was exactly right. He curled his hands into fists, not caring that his nails bit into his palms. “There’s nothing they won’t do. While we’re sitting here talking, they could be…”


The man stopped himself from finishing the sentence with an effort, looking sickened. Hazelle moved stiffly across the room to rest her hand on his shoulder.


“My dear,” she said as he struggled with the words. “Don’t let yourself dwell on it. It won’t help her, and you’re torturing yourself enough. They won’t risk hurting a hostage.”


“Hazelle,” he looked up and pleaded in a broken whisper, “I promised her I would keep her safe. I can’t just sit here waiting for the soldiers to break through the pass. I can’t. I’m not dwelling on what they’re doing to her. I know what they’re doing. I’ve seen it.


“When we were locked up together those men tortured Daine in front of my eyes and they laughed. She hadn’t done anything to provoke them. They just liked to hurt her. They wanted to prove that they were stronger than me, and she just happened to be there. But now? Daine killed an official, ran away, exposed their plans and hid right in front of their eyes for months. She helped me to escape. We’ve embarrassed the officials. They’ll be furious. And they’re going to make her suffer for it.”


He stared at the whitened knuckles of his hands as his voice became hollow, darkened with simple truth. “Daine’s not just a hostage; this is their revenge against her, and against all of us. I’m not torturing myself: I’m just telling you the truth. The longer we wait, the more they’ll hurt her. She’s strong, and she’s clever, and she will fight. But in the end they’ll find a way to break her.”


He drew a deep breath and looked at the blood trickling from his palms. His voice grew quiet, but he forced the last words out through gritted teeth. “They will break her. And then they’ll laugh.”


“We have to wait.” Alanna said, and her voice was heavy. “I pray you’re wrong, but even if that’s true, Numair, you have to accept that there’s nothing we can do.”


“No.” He stood up and shook his head. “No, I won’t accept that. It’s not true. There may be nothing you can do – you have to answer to Jonathan, and order the soldiers. And Hazelle, you have to watch the valley. There’s nothing else you can do. I can accept that.”


He drew a deep breath and looked out of the window, where the first rain of spring was just starting to fall. “But I… who do I answer to? I’ve been dead to you for six years.” He ran a finger down the fogged glass of the window, watching the distant shadows of the trees, and a strange half smile played about his mouth.


“I’m the Hawk Mage. I haunted these mountains for five years. There’s plenty that I can do.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 33 of 69

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