Continuing Tales


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 34 of 69

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The snows melted and the passes began to clear.

The birds began to sing to each other, but that was the only sound the new dawns brought. Weeks after they had stolen the girl away the officials were still silent. No ransom note or plea for parlay was sent to Hazelle’s strongly-guarded house. It was as if nothing had happened. It was as if the girl called Daine had simply vanished with the melting snow.

It was as if the house was colder, somehow, despite the warmer days. The maids shivered and looked at each other across the stone kitchen, wondering why one girl’s presence had made such a difference. Alanna would have scoffed at their superstitions if she had a moment to listen to them, but she was so taken up with pouring over maps of the valley and dispatching messages to her different troops that she would have passed a ghoul without a second glance.

Numair would have shrugged and dismissed the gossip with a wave of his hand, but he knew exactly why the house was colder. He was the one whose window was left open every night. The open shutter let cool air pour into his room, making the fire spit and stutter, but he didn’t care. The cold hardly mattered. What was important was what the window let out of his room. 
Every night, stepping on silent feet, the man slipped from the window. Wings burst from his shoulders before he hit the ground, and he scoured the valley with keen black eyes.

For the first few nights it was enough to search. Hope kept him sane – the absolute conviction that soon he would glimpse Daine in the window of one of the forts, or that her kidnappers were still dragging her along one of the roads towards the prison. The hawk shrieked in his mind but for once he could ignore it, so fixed was he on his goal.

Then, on the third night, his hope began to fail him. It was not enough anymore. Three days was far too long for any men to travel along the roads, and even when he scried the keeps he could find no sign of her. The chains hundreds of slaves wore about their wrists twisted and confused his gift, and he could not focus.

The hawk laughed at him. It let him take wing for a few more days, and he could feel its dark amusement at his growing despair. He gritted his teeth and cursed at it: I’d like to see you find her!

The hawk had no words, so it didn’t reply, but he felt its thoughts. They were sweet like cloying syrup behind his eyes. There is more we can do. This is pathetic. What kind of weak creature are you? Are you so easily beaten?

He could ignore it for the first few nights, but a few nights later he found himself circling aimlessly above a tidy-looking tower, eyes fixed on the one window that glowed with candlelight. He could smell her. He could taste the subtle sweetness of her scent in that room, but he knew that she wasn’t there. His eyes had told him that. There was just a man – old, nearly decrepid, with a soft-toothed sneer which was mostly gap and gum. His hands shook as he undressed himself in front of the fire, and every robe which he peeled off gave that same maddening perfume.

He’s had her. Numair thought, and fought the urge to be sick. The smell of her… it’s on his skin.

Go on, then! The bird mocked him. Numair shivered and beat his heavy wings against the winter wind.

It won’t help her. He thought, and wondered if he was truly arguing with the hawk or with his own rage.

That official has been closer to her than you ever will be again. The hawk jeered, and the hackles on the back of their neck rose. Numair swallowed, pushed the thought away, banked sharply against a thermal.

I only have a little time before I lose control of my magic. I… I can’t attack old men. They’re not the ones in charge. I have to find out who’s keeping her captive, not just who’s been… been around her. She needs help, not revenge, right now.

If you want to help her then kill them all. The hawk cooed, and its voice was silkily seductive.

Numair hesitated. The hawk’s thought made liquid glee rise in his throat. Still, he couldn't surrender. Not yet. Soft grey eyes stopped him, looking at him pleadingly inside his mind. He remembered her voice, the way it had caught on her whispered words: It won't happen again, will it Numair?

I… She said we couldn’t be murderers any more. We have to be better than them. I have to be better… don’t I? Or she’ll never forgive me…

Or she’ll be dead. The hawk felt like it was shrugging inside his mind, and the man wanted to throttle it. The thought was too immediately painful for him to shove away, though, and he found himself turning back towards the tower with grim intent.

The window was closed, but it was only pathetic wood and glass. Nothing he couldn’t smash through, hardly feeling it lacerating his arms and shoulders as he crashed into the floor. The man’s screams were only sound, after all. His thrashing fists were nothing at all.

Yes. Yes. Kill them all! The hawk shrilled gleefully, and Numair’s mind went dark.

When he came to he was alone, and the world was still and frozen around him. He was lying on a riverbank, one foot trailing into the muddy water. He coughed and wondered if he’d had to swim to shore, but his lungs were clear and his clothes were dry. The odd film that covered him was not drying water but drying blood. His stomach rebelled at the sight and the tart smell of it, and he vomited painfully against the bank.

His stomach was hurt, he realised, and found a large bruise that covered one rib. Broken, he thought, and traced the shape of the bruise. It was square, as if he’d been hit by a coal shovel.

Not that he could remember anything. He rubbed between his eyes and wished his head would stop pounding.

It was nearly dawn. The early mist was just starting to rise, and the man struggled to his feet. There was nothing he could do about the mud or the blood, he knew, but he could still sneak back into his own bed before anyone realised he was gone.

Hazelle was waiting for him, arms folded as she sat beside the fireplace. A large blaze roared beside her, and she looked as if she’d been waiting for a long time. She took in his grotesque appearance without a word, and then threw another piece of wood into the overheated fire.

“Must you do this?” She asked finally, watching the man as he tried to stay away from the scorching blaze. He thought intensely for a moment and then nodded his head. Although he couldn’t remember what had happened after he had flown into the tower, he knew the hawk’s moods well enough to guess the rest. The official had got what he deserved. He saw little downside to that, no matter how sadistically the hawk had behaved.

“Then you choose it.” She persisted. He looked confused, and so she scowled at him. “You choose to become the hawk, and then you choose to become a man again.”

“Yes,” he croaked, and sat down on the bed wearily. She bit her lip.

“So now you choose to be a killer.” She finished. His eyes widened, and he shook his head.

“I don’t remember killing…”

“But you knew what would happen. You chose to let it happen. Whether or not you can remember spilling that blood is irrelevant.” She snarled, and kicked at the hearth rug. “I don’t want a killer in my home. I could live with a madman or a penitent, but not with a murderer. You need to leave.”

“I’m doing it for Daine!” He snapped back, but he already knew he would lose this fight.

“I know.” She said. “And that is why I’m only telling you to leave. I wouldn’t dream of telling you to stop.


Ten miles from the Gallan border, hidden in the lee of a rocky outcrop, a group of knights huddled around a fire and complained about the thick drops of water which always seemed to strike the back of their necks. Despite their words they were pleased, and glanced far more often than they usually did towards the mountains which, because of the snows, had been impassable. A thrill of excitement ran through the air, and they started discussing sending patrols into the mountains. Each of the ten gathered men commanded twenty highly trained soldiers, and each of the men knew that they were getting irritable from boredom. So were the knights, come to think of it.

Now that they didn’t have to go through the border keeps to enter the valley, all the men in the army were keen to see what was going on. They had heard rumours of everything to feral wild-men, to a hidden army. The speaking spell which the lady knight had left with them had given their captain more information, but he was a surly and secretive man, and had told them that they simply had to wait.

Today, he returned to the fire with an odd expression on his face, and sat down heavily. The knights knew better than try to ask him any questions, and after a few cups of cider he belched loudly and said, in a dreary monotone, “Be ready. They’ll be here tonight. There’ll be the hag to pay if you’re caught slacking off from your posts.”

“Who?” One of the louder men asked. The captain scowled at him.

“The Lioness, of course! And that’n she came here to help.” He couldn’t help a glimmer of interest in his own voice, then. They were all curious about what kind of person would make the king’s champion willingly travel in the middle of a winter snowstorm. They hoped he was worth all the cursing she’d directed at them as they travelled together, and the outright swearing when they’d dug in to their cosy winter camp. She’d had to travel through the pass alone. That had been months ago, and they now knew the plain like the backs of their hands- but the mountains were still a mystery to them.

Alanna and the man arrived near sunset, and the soldiers heard their arguing voices long before they saw them. They had cast a spell on themselves, surrounding themselves in a haze which confused the eye enough from a distance to make them invisible. Their voices were clear, though, even if the words were similarly blurred.

As soon as they made it into the camp, the knight headed for the fire, and ignored the other knights entirely until she was warmed up. She looked like she was standing behind a waterfall. Then she snapped her fingers and the newcomers were suddenly clear and visible: two people who were travel-worn from crossing over the mountains, frozen and tired, but arguing heatedly.

“I’m not saying I’m planning to go off on a mad killing spree.” The man lied, running his hand through his hair as if he had repeated this frustrating sentence many times. “I don’t want that. At the moment I can still come back. I can control my magic and I want to help. But sooner or later, Alanna, the Hawk is going to take over. And when it does I’ll be more powerful and more dangerous than… than any army the officials can gather, for a start. So I’m saying we can use that! If we make sure I’m in the right place…”

“You’re not a tinder box, Numair,” The woman’s voice was icy. “I refuse to simply find a place to prop you up until the sparks make you explode into flames.”

“Then I’ll prop myself up,” he said impatiently. “It’s my choice. I just thought you’d be thinking like a tactician about this, and could use it to our advantage. I can’t think like that. But if you can’t either, then I’ll just go alone and…”

“Um, welcome?” The captain managed, completely nonplussed. Alanna nodded at him en route to turning a glare on her companion.

“What do you mean, I can’t think like a tactician?” She demanded. “If anyone’s not thinking clearly, it’s…”

“Shut up, both of you!” The captain roared, and even he looked taken aback by the outburst. Alanna and Numair stared at him, wide-eyed, and he softened his voice. “Sir Alanna, it’s my honour to welcome you back to our camp, but judging from your harsh words to one another you’re clearly exhausted from your journey. We have prepared a tent for you, and one for Master Salmalin, and I’d be grateful if you would both remain there until you’ve had a good meal and some sleep. All this arguing, sir, will wreck havoc on my soldiers’ morale. You know how impressionable the troops are, sir.”

Alanna took a deep breath, and the captain looked almost ready to defend himself from an outburst. Then she let it go and trudged off after a page, clapping the captain on his shoulder in grateful apology as she passed. Numair tugged his nose awkwardly and looked at the fire.

“I need to talk to a scout before I sleep.” He said, his voice quiet. “The best one you have. It’s important.”

“Important enough that we shouldn’t even take the time to tell our Champion?” The captain’s voice was dry, and he shrugged when Numair looked at him. “If you like. You’ll have to wait, though. The scouts are camped over that rise.”

The mage shrugged and stared at the fire, hands folded into his cloak against the wind as he waited. The watching knights didn’t quite dare to approach him. They would never admit to listening in on a conversation, but one that was shouted in an angry voice by the Lioness was definitely worth hearing. If the man was going to go on a mad killing spree, and Alanna was taking it seriously, they reasoned, then they didn’t really want to get too near him.

The scout arrived – a surly, rugged man whose stocky legs never seemed to tire – and the knights may have (purely by coincidence, you understand) leaned closer to hear their words.

“Did you find the caves, yet?” Numair asked, his voice blunt. The scout raised a bushy eyebrow and pointed at a cliff, where the turrets of one of the keeps blended into the crags of the mountain.

“If there are caves, they’ll be there,” he said. “Where the glacier swelled and melted o’er the years. But speakin’ of meltin’, we’ve not been too keen to go climbin’ with all the soft slidin’ snow on those peaks… sir. Why are you lookin’ for caves?”

“I’m not looking. I know where they are. I hid… er, lived there for a while.” Numair frowned and crouched down by the fire, drawing in the scattered ash. “I enquired if you’d found them. It’s an academic question. I don’t know how easy they are to find, you see. They said you were the best scout in the army, so if you haven’t found them, then they must be well hidden.”

“Is that important?” The man’s forehead furrowed into a series of lines. The other man nodded, biting his lip in concentration as he drew peaks to represent mountains, and stabbed his finger in savage crosses for the keeps. The caves were simple circles, a few miles away.

“If you don’t know they’re there, then it’s a good bet that the officials don’t know, either. They might know there’s a possibility… like you did… but they won’t know for certain.”

The scout grinned and kneeled down to look at the hastily drawn map. “Seems like a well-concealed pass, alright! What are the caves like?”

“I can’t remember clearly.” Numair frowned, and he stood up straight with a groan as his tired legs ached. “I think they went quite far into the mountain, but not all the way through to the valley. That’s why I need you.”

“And with my keen wisdom, I can just bet that you’re goin’ to ask this old scout to do some scoutin’.” The man said drily. Numair looked at him sharply, and then laughed with the suddenness of someone who is not used to laughter being in their life.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to patronise you,” he grinned when the scout pulled a face and held a hand out. “I think this might work well. I’m Numair.”

“I’ve heard your name in stories, my friend,” the scout looped one hand in his belt, and scrubbed the other one off on his tunic before shaking the mage’s hand. “I wondered if you’d be callin’ yourself the Black Mage, or this Hawk thing, or, since you’re bein’ an educated man, Sir-what-d’ye-call-it-with-bells-on. So I’m relieved to hear you’ve got a real name, even if it is a flowery one and no mistake.”

“I guess you don’t, since you haven’t told me yours,” Numair retorted, unable to stop himself from smiling. The scout nodded and stuck his hands back into grubby pockets.

“I’m Rain. Family were mountain folk. For eight months of ten, all you could see out the window would be Snow and Rain, and Snow’s a girl’s name.”

“Rain.” The other man’s voice was flat, but his eyes were amused. “Good. Tomorrow morning, first light, we’ll head out.”
Rain blinked, and for the first time his cocky grin faded in surprise. “You’re comin’ too, Flowers?”

“Of course!” Numair clapped the man on the shoulder, and felt the first shred of belief that he might be able to actually do something useful. He had been in a furious, dark mood since he and Alanna had set out from Hazelle’s home weeks before.

Alanna had insisted that he leave the valley altogether, even threatening to chain him up and drag him behind her if he decided to stay and, as she put it, ‘scare the farmers away from their milking instead of doing something that might have a damn result’. Grudgingly, he’d agreed to join the slowly growing army. He’d realised the breathtaking potential of being on the other side of the mountains when he’d realised where the Tortallans had camped, but he hadn’t shared his plan with the increasingly irritable knight. He knew she would try to stop him. He planned in silence, and the two weeks of crossing the mountains had been the longest of his life, he was sure of it. But now that he could actually do something, and had a plan, the world seemed a little brighter.

“I have to come. I sealed the caves when I left them, you see.” He said, “So without me, you’ll never even see them. And besides…” he glanced at the camp. “I’ll need to avoid Alanna when she finds out I’m up to something.”

“Then the first thing we need to do is find a snowdrift.” Rain said, and glanced at the fire. “I hear she likes the warm.”


A Tamora Pierce Story
by Sivvus

Part 34 of 69

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